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Dan Nejfelt
Dan Nejfelt, Faith in Public Life’s Messaging and Trainings Manager, worked at Sojourners magazine as part of his graduate study of journalism at the University of Missouri before coming to FPL. Prior to that, he taught remedial reading and writing to 7th and 8th graders in rural Arkansas as a Teach For America corps member. Dan blogs about health care, the Religious Right and budget issues.

New York Faith Leaders Lobby Against Dangerous Hydrofracking in Their Community

January 17, 2012, 10:53 am | By Dan Nejfelt

In an important story that hasn’t gained much national attention yet, New York state is in the middle of a heated debate about whether to open up vast western areas of the state to hydrofracking for natural gas. Last week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation closed the public comment period on a study of the environmental impact of this destructive form of drilling, pushing the issue into local headlines.

A coalition of faith leaders from MICAH (Moving in Congregations Acting in Hope) and antipollution advocates affiliated with GDACC (Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County) contributed an important perspective by holding a press conference that lifted up the moral dimension of the issue and released a new poll showing a majority of residents oppose hydrofracking. Here’s some local coverage:

I spoke extensively last week with leaders of the movement to protect their communities from the soil, air and water contamination that hydrofracking causes. They were dedicated and well-informed, pointing out that the DEC’s study ignored many key aspects of hydrofracking’s impact (for example, it didn’t even explore public health impacts). These clergy and activists were also motivated by faith to insert a needed moral voice to the debate on an issue with serious health, environmental and economic consequences.

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Faith groups divest from Bank of America

January 13, 2012, 4:31 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

Kristin noted this week that religious groups are playing a key role in the nationwide movement to move money out of predatory big banks such as Bank of American and into more responsible institutions.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer pointed out yesterday that several area religious groups are taking part in the effort:


Two mainstays of the religious left in Washington, the Church Council of Greater Seattle and Faith Action Network, will close accounts at Bank of America and take their business elsewhere.

The groups are proclaiming themselves part of a newly minted Washington Faith-Based Organizations to Divest from Bank of America.

They will settle accounts on Friday afternoon, joined in the University District by what a statement predicts will be  “a broad coalition of people of faith, community members, students, and others who are fed up with banks that have been receiving tax benefits while avoiding tax payments and making profits at the expense of communities.”

Bank of America has proven itself to be a bad actor in communities nationwide, so it’s especially encouraging to see them face consequences from the faith community. Nick pointed out recently:

“Bank of America broke loan modification agreements with struggling homeowners, illegally “robo-signed” hundreds of thousands of foreclosure documents, lied about it, and proceeded to get caught doing it again nearly a year later. During this crime spree, Bank of America has raked in massive profits, announced the largest layoffs in the countrypaid no taxes, and doled out excessive bonuses to its executives.”

As the movement to hold Bank of America accountable for their illegal practices gains steam, I hope to see stories like this one from Seattle popping up nationwide.

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Family Research Council puts politics before people in healthcare lawsuit

January 9, 2012, 3:58 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

The Family Research Council announced today that they submitted a Supreme Court amicus brief on the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) arguing against the severability of the individual mandate from the rest of the law. In other words, FRC contends that if the court finds the requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance unconstitutional, then the whole law rather than just the individual mandate must be struck down.

Think about that for a second. Among other things, the Affordable Care Act protects people with pre-existing conditions from discrimination, has already resulted in 2.5 million young adults getting health insurance, makes prescription drugs much more affordable for seniors, bans the health insurance industry’s most abusive practices, and will expand coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans over the next several years. And FRC made a deliberate choice to argue that it all must be taken away if one part of the law is ruled unconstitutional. In short, they want the Supreme Court to take away protections that are alleviating hardship already and will save countless lives if the law is fully implemented. The consequences would be lethal.

With seemingly little interest in ensuring a feasible, alternative plan would be ready to step in and care for those who would suffer without these valuable protections, this supposedly pro-life organization is sending a clear message about their willingness to toss their values aside when partisan politics demands.

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Cardinal George apologizes for likening LGBT groups to KKK

January 7, 2012, 1:55 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

Cardinal GeorgeBefore Christmas John rightly took Cardinal Francis George to task for suggesting there were similarities between the “Gay Liberation Movement” and the Ku Klux Klan. Among other things, John said

The cardinal’s persistent question – who is the enemy? – speaks volumes about a disturbing strain of Catholicism in public life these days. It’s the quivering voice of a fearful Church that sees itself as a victim, not a reconciler, the voice of institutional callousness drowning out compassionate humanity, a Church eyeing enemies around every corner. I hope the Church I worship in and love is still too full of grace, justice and mercy to embrace that shrunken, embittered posture.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune yesterday, George apologized. Instead of just offering the PR-calibrated “I’m sorry if anyone may have been hurt by what was said” type of quasi-contrition, the Cardinal actually confirmed the substance of John’s critique. From the Tribune story:

“When I was talking, I was speaking out of fear that I have for the church’s liberty and I was reaching for an analogy which was very inappropriate, for which I’m sorry,” George said. “I didn’t realize the impact of what I was saying. … Sometimes fear is a bad motivation.

…George said although church teaching does not judge same-sex relationships as morally acceptable, it does encourage the faithful to “respect everyone.”

“The question is, ‘Does respect mean that we have to change our teaching?’ That’s an ongoing discussion, of course. … I still go back to the fact that these are people we know and love and are part of our families. That’s the most important point right now.”

While I still wish the Cardinal would go further in renouncing his hateful rhetoric, credit where credit’s due. Time will tell, but perhaps George has learned an important lesson.

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Breaking down Santorum’s Iowa Caucus Performance

January 5, 2012, 1:22 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

Rick Santorum’s virtual tie for first place in the Iowa caucuses has generated a great deal of commentary about the importance of his support from social conservatives. Let’s take a quick look at the entrance polling for a fuller picture of what happened.

Evangelical/born-again Christians comprised 57% of caucus-goers, and Santorum received a large plurality of support from them – garnering 38% 32% of the vote, as much as Ron Paul (18%) and Mitt Romney (14%) combined. By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, more than almost 1-in-5 participants in the caucus were evangelical Santorum supporters.

Issue-wise, Santorum won a whopping 58% of voters who listed abortion as the most important issue. Perry came in second among this group, earning the support of just 11%. Among caucus-goers who listed the economy as the top issue, Santorum got 19% of the vote, compared to Romney’s 33% and Ron Paul’s 20%. Santorum came in third among voters who said the budget deficit was most important, earning 19% of votes, compared to Ron Paul’s 28% and Romney’s 21%.

Ideologically, Santorum did best among the most conservative voters. He won a plurality of Tea Party supporters by a 10-point margin, a plurality of self-identified “very conservative” voters by a 20-point margin, and edged out Romney among registered Republicans. He did poorly among moderates (8%, compared to Romney’s 40%), opponents of the Tea Party (13%, compared to Romney’s 43% and Ron Paul’s 21%), and independents (13%, compared to Ron Paul’s 43% and Romney’s 19%).

Age-wise, his strongest support was among 30-44-year-olds and 45-64-year-olds, both of which he won. He came in second among 17-29-year-olds (23%), but because of their low overall turnout and Ron Paul’s dominance among these young voters (48%), just 3.45% of all caucus participants were under-30 Santorum supporters.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find crosstabs that would paint a clearer picture. But the story told by the data we do have is clear – Santorum was not only social conservatives’ favorite, he also won the overall race to the right. And he did very poorly among everyone else.

Photo credit: djwhelan/Flickr

UPDATE: Corrected Santorum’s percentage of the evangelical vote.

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