Posts by Nick Sementelli

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First, do no harm

June 8, 2010, 5:24 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released a chilling report yesterday revealing that CIA medical personnel appear to have conducted illegal experiments on detainees in US custody. The healthcare professionals, working for US military and intelligence agencies, were tasked with testing and refining the torture techniques used at Guantanamo Bay.

Baptist ethicist Glen Stassen at said it best:

“These doctors were not trying to develop cures for diseases. They were helping to refine techniques for causing pain. They were not serving patients. They were helping a few government lawyers write justifications for human degradation that violated international law that the United States has ratified, and that is the law of our land. There was no therapeutic purpose.”

And, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture partnered with Physicians for Human Rights on this video (heads up–it’s about 5 minutes long!), detailing the horrific abuses and why the faith community can’t stand by:

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Not Just Arizona

June 7, 2010, 5:45 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Since passage of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant bill in April, Arizonans worried about racial profiling and the spread of fear and anxiety in their communities have been keeping a constant vigil at the Arizona statehouse. Their presence and prayers are a powerful testament to their opposition to the law and a call for Arizona to act on its best values, not its basest instincts.

Now, as state legislatures around the country are considering legislation, people of faith are taking a stand and telling their legislators–”not in my state.” The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is spearheading a “rolling vigil”–”rolling” from region to region for the next 8 weeks, as people of faith pray together, standing in solidarity with the people of Arizona and reminding Congress that the urgent need for comprehensive reform isn’t letting up. In fact, Arizona’s draconian law and the possibility of similar legislation cropping up in other states only speaks to the increasing cost of federal inaction.

Given how important the faith voice has been to keeping immigration reform on the political agenda, it’s great to see how this “rolling vigil”–the Isaiah 58 Summer– is getting some positive television coverage in Philadelphia this week:

Hopefully this creative campaign– and the faith community’s constant reminder of why we need to stem the tide of extremist state legislation and pass federal immigration reform– will make a critical difference.

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To petition or not to petition

June 1, 2010, 5:43 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Michael Sean Winters had a thoughtful post at America last week reflecting on a recent petition campaign by Catholics United in response to the news that a Catholic elementary school in Massachusetts denied admission to a student because his parents are in a same-sex relationship. The petition quickly amassing over 5,000 signatures (including mine) encouraging Archbishop O’Malley to affirm a diocese-wide policy preventing this kind of discrimination.

While affirming that he appreciates Catholics United’s general work providing a counterweight to conservative Catholic groups who treat GOP talking points as religious doctrine, Winters sees this petition as misguided:

“But, the school case in Boston is not about politics. Better to say, the most important thing is to make sure that it doesn’t become about politics. I am sure that for every one of the 5,000 signatures Catholics United got for its petition, a conservative group can marshal an equal number of signatories urging Cardinal O’Malley to take the opposite course and ban the children of same-sex couples from attending catholic schools. A pastor has an obligation to keep his flock together as much as possible. I do not see how petition drives, the counter influences they elicit, or any of the accoutrement of contemporary politics will advance the cause of unity among the faithful.”

Winters’s concern about stoking culture war flames is reasonable, but I think he misses the forest for the trees in this particular instance. Catholics United didn’t politicize this issue; that happened the instant it hit the national media, where years of conservative Catholic politicization of LGBT issues has portrayed the Church as a monolithically conservative institution pitted against liberal secularists. Moreover, the school incident fit into an existing political context because of its similarity to a recent case in Colorado, which garnered national attention and galvanized the Catholic right, ultimately prompting Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to issue a statement defending the policy of expelling children of same-sex parents.

I share Winters’s concerns that political efforts can threaten the unity of the faithful, but I think responsibility for divisiveness lies with advocates of “litmus-test-Catholicism” who use disagreements like these to separate the Church into good and bad Catholics. The way to change this narrative isn’t to sit quietly and hope — hesitation to speak out against partisan polarization in the Church is exactly what got us here in the first place. There’s no going back to a time when events like this school’s decision escape media attention or go un-remarked upon by conservative partisans. To be an effective counterweight, groups like Catholics United need to stand up and demonstrate that the Catholic Right does not speak for the whole Catholic church.

Regardless of whether the petition influenced Archbishop O’Malley, it certainly had an effect on the media coverage of the story and disrupted the idea that the school pastor or Chaput’s previous statement spoke for all Catholics on this issue. Combined with Archbishop O’Malley’s ultimate decision to help place the child in another Catholic school, I think the story stood out as a welcome change in Catholic coverage, showing a compassionate, reasonable side of the faith over a politicized, divisive one.

To be clear, I don’t mean to read Winters’s post as a general dismissal of progressive faith work. Fair with both his support and critiques, I think his opinions are valuable insights for progressive groups, and I’d be interested to hear more of his thoughts on how they can best make an impact in the Church and the public square.

Full disclosure: I previously worked for Catholics United

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The right-wing freak-out

May 27, 2010, 5:41 pm | By Nick Sementelli

We’ve been following the ridiculous arguments right-wing organizations have been making about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for a while now. So it comes as no surprise to us that this week’s news of a DADT repeal has them upset. But even I wasn’t anticipating the depths to which they’d sink this time.

The right has gone into full freak-out mode, portraying LGBT soldiers as dangerous rapists whose “disease-tainted gay blood threatens our troops.” If polemical religious right arguments are to be believed, without DADT, LGBT Americans will join the military en masse (because they aren’t serving already), sexually assault their straight counterparts, and intimidate their superiors into covering it up under threat of political correctness?

The basis for these revolting claims? An “analysis” produced by FRC Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg who claims his review of a Department of Defense report on sexual assaults reveals that homosexuals are “three times more likely to commit sexual assault than heterosexuals.”

Sprigg’s theory doesn’t really deserve a response, but Joshua Tucker at the Monkey Cage provides a statistical dismantling anyway:

1. First and most significantly, the study provides no evidence of the proportion of same-sex assaults that are committed by homosexuals. This is crucial to the study, because the authors want to leverage the information in the study to argue that homosexuals should not be allowed to serve in the military. But their data measure assaults by men against men or women against women, not the number of assaults by homosexuals. Thus without any understanding of the proportion of same sex assaults that are committed by homosexuals, the inference that homosexuals are more likely to commit sexual assault is invalid.

2. Second, we don’t know if the proportion of homosexuals in the military matches the proportion in the general population. The authors of the study assume that the proportions are similar, but if homosexuals are overrepresented in the military relative to the general population, then the inference is invalid. Moreover, it is not even clear that the general population is the right reference group; the military is overwhelmingly made up of young men. So even if we think the demographic composition of the military reflects the general population – which it may very well not – we’d still want to know something like the prevalence of homosexuality among 18-30 year old males, not among the population as a whole.

3. Moreover, even if we assume that the proportion of homosexuals in the military mirrors the proportion in the general population, the conclusions of the study are dependent on a low estimate of homosexuals in the general population (<8.15/3, or <2.7%). Other studies have found higher estimates.

While it’s disheartening to see attacks are coming from groups claiming to espouse Christian values, maybe the extreme nature of their arguments will convince Congressional leaders who have sided with them in the past and are threatening to block the bill to re-think their alliances. The House is expected to vote on repeal tonight and many in the faith community hope they’ll stand up against attacks like these in favor of dignity and equality.

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Repealing Injustice

May 25, 2010, 5:57 pm | By Nick Sementelli

Today’s announcement that President Obama reached a deal with Congressional leaders and the Pentagon to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was welcome news for the overwhelming majority of Americans who support this change (including a broad coalition of religious groups). As they know, our country will be safer for having a military that doesn’t waste time and money discharging good soldiers and that can actively recruit the best and brightest citizens who want to serve.

Combined with passage of the hate crimes bill last year and the new hospital visitation policy announced earlier this year, this repeal is another important step towards full equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters.

Encouraging more policy changes like these, a Gallup poll released today showed support for gay relations in general at an all-time high. Included within the poll report was the following table showing cross-tabs by religion.


As you can see, the stereotype that people of faith are overwhelmingly opposed to gay rights doesn’t hold up. Particularly in the last four years, acceptance among Christians has increased significantly with a solid majority of Catholics now in favor and Protestants coming close to 50% support.

These numbers reinforce what we’ve been saying for awhile now–people of faith support overturning a policy that doesn’t serve our nation’s best interests or its values, and religious leaders who use DADT to unfairly malign our troops and LGBT Americans are becoming further and further out of touch.

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