Posts by Nick Sementelli

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Tracking Islamophobia

September 24, 2010, 5:27 pm | By Nick Sementelli

We’ve noted before how the anti-Muslim sentiment seen in opposition to the Park 51 project isn’t an isolated incident specifically related to Ground Zero. Muslim communities across the country are experiencing discrimination, intimidation and violence because of their faith.

Today the Pew Center released an interactive map tracking the various places around the country where anti-Muslim incidents have occurred. It’s a great visual reminder of how widespread this problem is.

Pew Center Mosque Map.JPG

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The real Stephen Colbert

September 24, 2010, 2:39 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Comedy Central news anchor Stephen Colbert testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security today about his experience doing farm work with committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren earlier this year.

Colbert’s presence brought a much needed jolt of attention to the issue of comprehensive immigration reform, and his trademark satire exposed the argument of opponents as both uninformed and morally flawed.

Colbert impressively managed to stay in character for the majority of the hearing, but poignantly let down his guard to answer a final question from Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). Asked why he was interested in working on this issue, Colbert, a Catholic, quoted from the familiar Gospel passage Matthew 25 to explain his desire to speak for the powerless.

COLBERT: I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and this seemed like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here and at the same time ask them to leave. That’s an interesting contradiction to me. And, you know, “whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers,” and these seem like the least of our brothers right now. A lot of people are least brothers right now because the economy is so hard. And I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish anything like that, but migrant workers suffer and have no rights.

I thought it was an inspiring answer and a great example of putting faith into practice.


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Fighting Poverty with Faith

September 24, 2010, 10:12 am | By Nick Sementelli

According to last week’s census data, one in seven Americans is now living below the poverty line–a fifteen-year high. These federal numbers are supported by the experiences of social service providers on the ground, who are seeing demand for assistance rise across the country.

In many places, religious groups are stepping up to meet these growing needs. As this article from the Center for American Progress’s Marta Cook and Brian Thorn shows, houses of worship of all faiths are expanding food pantries, medical services and housing to thousands of families in need.

These services are a testament to the positive role faith communities play in the lives of their neighbors, but on their own they are not enough. As Pope Pius XI reminds us, “charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into account.” With a jobless recovery, foreclosures, a decade’s worth of wage stagnation, and other structural problems sending more and more Americans into poverty, we should keep our focus on both charity and justice.

This is a lesson faith-based organizations know particularly well, and, as Cook and Thorn note, they’ve joined together to bring it to the forefront. With the Fighting Poverty with Faith campaign, religious organizations around the country are dedicating the month of October this year to education and advocacy around poverty and justice issues with the goal of cutting poverty in half by 2020. Bolstered by their direct experience fighting poverty in their communities and by their prophetic moral voices, faith groups are in a unique position to help make that happen.

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Bringing health reform home

September 23, 2010, 12:42 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Today marks the six-month anniversary of the passage of historic health care reform and the implementation date for many of the law’s benefits and protections. The provisions going into effect are online at

One of the most important aspects of the law is the creation of high-risk pools for people who have trouble getting insurance on the open market. This video about a cancer survivor in New Hampshire who was the first to sign-up for the high-risk pool in her state illustrates well why these reforms are so important:

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Cause and effect

September 13, 2010, 5:03 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Lately I’ve heard numerous opponents of the Park51 Islamic center invoke public opinion polls in their arguments against the project, as polling shows that a majority of Americans oppose locating the facility close to Ground Zero.

Leaving aside that we don’t have a tradition of using popular referenda about minority religions to determine where their houses of worship will be built, their argument should come with another caveat: pundits and politicians who oppose the project have engaged in a months-long campaign — based largely on innuendo, outright falsehood, fear-mongering and bigotry – to manipulate public opinion. Media Matters recently released a thorough timeline of this campaign, which stretches back to late last year

The findings, while shocking in some ways, reflect an all too familiar tactic from a conservative media echo chamber that ignores progressive and moderate voices. For example, between April and August Fox News featured 35 guests who oppose the community center, compared to 11 supporters. Guests made outrageous claims about Park51, calling it everything from an “outrage and an insult” to a “command center for terrorists.”

It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone who opposes Park51 is a bigot (although a recent Washington Post poll suggest that a majority of opponents admit to having unfavorable views of Islam). But if we’re going to have an honest dialogue, we need to admit that public opinion does not evolve in a vacuum, and that concerted misinformation campaigns are, sadly, very relevant to the debate that’s played out over the last 9 months.

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