Posts by Tara Culp-Ressler

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Tara Culp-Ressler
Tara Culp-Ressler, Faith in Public Life’s Executive and Development Assistant, came to FPL after graduating from American University and interning with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Interfaith Voices. She blogs about immigration and economic issues.

New U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Appointee Funds Anti-Muslim Extremists

March 28, 2012, 11:53 am | By Tara Culp-Ressler

Prominent Catholic Right figure Robert George and conservative scholar Zuhdi Jasser were both recently appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. As the conservative Becket Fund for Religious Liberty reports:

“The Commission’s principal responsibilities are to review violations of religious freedom internationally and make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress on actions that should be taken to advance greater protection for this fundamental human right.  Becket’s Director of International and Government Relations responded to the announcements, stating ‘Professor George’s expertise in America’s philosophical basis for and historic commitment to religious freedom will re-invigorate the Commission’s founding purpose.’ ”

Some have already noted that Jasser, a self-appointed “expert” on radical Islam and terrorism who was the primary witness during Rep. Peter King’s hearings on the supposed threat of Muslim radicalization, is an inappropriate appointee to carry out this mission.

However, George may also have somewhat of a conflict of interest behind the scenes. As detailed in the Center for American Progress’ Fear Inc. report – a study documenting the extensive funding that fuels the Islamophobia industry – George sits on the board of a foundation that contributes to at least three extreme anti-Islam organizations.

Earlier this month, when Nick asked George whether he saw a conflict between publicly defending the religious freedom of Muslims and privately funding organizations that seek to defame and distort Islam, George refused to answer. But the conflict is evident.

This is symptomatic of a larger issue within the conservative community: the double standard when it comes to religious freedom and the Muslim community. The far right simply cannot continue to champion the value of religious freedom without applying that freedom to faith traditions across the board. George’s and Jasser’s new roles are a stark reminder of this contrast.

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Leprechauns Descend on Irish Embassy Calling for Debt Relief

March 16, 2012, 4:03 pm | By Tara Culp-Ressler

In a creative action in the lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day, Jubilee USA Network organized an event at the Irish embassy today to call for debt forgiveness for the Irish people, who are saddled with massive debt from Anglo, a reckless bank that financed some of the country’s worst property speculators.

Participants dressed as leprechauns to represent the irresponsible banks and hoarded pots of gold to symbolize the money that is being taken from the Irish people.

As one member of Jubilee Ireland was quoted in the organization’s press release:

“People in Ireland are now living through the same mistakes that were imposed on people who have been living through debt crises for generations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It’s time for a line to be drawn under reckless lending and borrowing. Writing down the illegitimate Anglo debt would be a very good place to start.”

In light of last fall’s Vatican document on the global financial market, calling for more equitable financial transactions and more effective regulation of currently unfettered markets, it’s clear that this is a critical aspect of economic justice.

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Religious Leaders Petition Bloomberg to End NYPD Muslim Spying

March 16, 2012, 10:09 am | By Tara Culp-Ressler

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has come under recent scrutiny for supporting the New York Police Department’s massive surveillance operation on Muslim communities and individuals, a broad, unethical intelligence-gathering program that has come to light over the last few months. As a series of investigative pieces by the Associated Press revealed, the NYPD has been targeting Shiite Muslims not because of any previous crimes or wrongdoing, but simply based on their religion. Despite this, Bloomberg continues to deny any practice of religious profiling.

This week, more than two dozen religious groups condemned Bloomberg for continually defending NYPD’s Muslim surveillance. In a letter delivered to Bloomberg’s office, religious leaders (including FPL’s own executive director, Jennifer Butler) called on the mayor to put an end to religious discrimination and profiling.

“As religious leaders, we are concerned that constitutionally-protected activities, like religious practice and assembly, have been cited as possible reasons to suspect criminal activity. Additionally, we bear a sacred responsibility to honor America’s varied faith traditions and to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all…We urge you to conduct an urgent and thorough investigation into the practices of the NYPD to ensure that the agency’s trainings and practices support the constitutionally-protected right to worship without scrutiny for every religious community.”

The letter goes on to ask Bloomberg to eliminate false and offensive NYPD training materials, such as the extremely Islamophobic film that NYPD showed its recruits last year.

It’s encouraging to see diverse religious leaders rallying to support the Muslim community and reminding our elected officials that eroding trust between the Muslim community and law enforcement only makes us less safe. Hopefully, Bloomberg will reaffirm his previous commitments to religious pluralism and denounce NYPD’s harmful profiling program.

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New Study Shows Reliable Access to Contraception Reduces Abortion

March 13, 2012, 11:30 am | By Tara Culp-Ressler

As Kristin noted, we’ve been working to discredit the conservative myth that greater access to contraception isn’t linked to lower abortion rates. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum furthers the case for widely accessible contraception with an important point: studies show that women whose prescriptions includes a year’s supply of birth control pills have lower abortion rates than women who have to refill them on a monthly basis.

“But here’s an interesting thing. The El Paso study that Postrel writes about did indeed find that women who got their pills at a clinic were more likely to stop taking them than women who bought them over the counter. However, that was only for women who got monthly prescriptions. Women who got six-month supplies had discontinuation rates that were nearly identical to those who bought OTC pills.

This gibes with another study done in California that compared continuous use of contraceptives among women who got monthly supplies vs. women who got yearly supplies. Over the following 15 months, the women who got yearly supplies were less likely to run out, less likely to get pregnant, and less likely to have an abortion.”

Making oral contraceptives widely available to women – without the hassle of frequent prescription refills or the indignity of societal scorn – is a common-sense solution to mitigate unplanned pregnancies and abortion. It’s clear that faith communities can unite around this common-ground approach to the abortion and contraception debate, and the culture war rhetoric doesn’t represent the facts.

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TLC Cancels All-American Muslim; Would a Scripted Show Be Better?

March 12, 2012, 5:07 pm | By Tara Culp-Ressler

Last week, TLC announced that it is canceling All-American Muslim, the network’s reality show tracking the daily lives of Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan.  As the Detroit Free Press reports, TLC told the cast that the show’s ratings weren’t high enough to warrant a second season.

When All-American Muslim first premiered, we celebrated the show for helping to break down stereotypes and change negative perceptions of the Muslim community.

Unfortunately, anti-Islam extremists still found a way to attack it, claiming it covered up the “truth” about Islam by featuring peaceful, noncontroversial Muslim families rather than radical terrorists. One Religious Right group even led a public effort to convince companies to pull its advertising from the show, and Lowe’s Home Improvement caved to the pressure.

That decision prompted 200,000 people and faith leaders from around the country to rally around the show and call on Lowe’s to make a public commitment to reinstate their advertising,

However, despite the groundswell of support in that moment, not enough people actually tuned in to watch the show every week. The noncontroversial, unsensationalistic nature of the families featured was certainly helpful in advancing a public conversation about the portrayal of the American Muslim community, but it may not have made for the kind of reality television that scores well in the ratings.

As Alyssa Rosenberg has pointed out, the Muslim community would certainly benefit from greater saturation in the media at large. Consistently including fully-developed Muslim characters in scripted television shows and movies – similar to the way that the LGBT community has broken into pop culture – may help achieve the “normalizing” benefits of cultural exposure without relying on a sensationalizing format. Rather than a reality show, perhaps the next step ought to be more along the lines of a Muslim version of the Cosby Show.

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