Hate-crimes bill divides evangelicals

April 30, 2009, 2:23 pm | Posted by
Associated Baptist Press
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*Faith in Public Life compiled statements of support from religious leaders who had not previously spoken out on hate crimes (including Joel Hunter, David Gushee, Jim Wallis, Derrick Harkins, and Steve Schneck).

Hate-crimes legislation passed April 29 in the U.S. House of Representatives drew mixed reviews in the religious community.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 1913, which passed the Democratic-controlled House by a vote of 249 to 175, would provide federal assistance to prosecute hate crimes. It also would add sexual orientation and gender identity to current classes protected against hate crimes, including race, religion and national origin.

Many religious conservatives oppose the measure, saying it could be used to stifle free speech.

Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called it “an irresponsible piece of legislation” that “puts Christians and many other religious groups in the government’s crosshairs.”

“While we should never condone acts of violence against anyone, for whatever reason, including whether or not that person is a homosexual, this bill proposes to prosecute someone based on their belief about homosexuality and therefore makes religious belief a germane issue in this debate,” Duke said in Baptist Press. “Anyone who holds a religiously based belief about homosexuality is immediately suspect of engaging in a hate crime if a homosexual is involved, even if the person was unaware that the victim was a homosexual.”

…Progressive evangelicals including Jim Wallis of Sojourners, mega-church pastor Joel Hunter and Derrick Harkins, pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, meanwhile, called the measure both moral and necessary.

David Gushee, distinguished university professor at Mercer University and a columnist for Associated Baptist Press, said he supports the bill “because its aim is to protect the dignity and basic human rights of all Americans, and especially those Americans whose perceived ‘differentness’ makes them vulnerable to physical attacks motivated by bias, hatred and fear.”

Gushee said he believes the bill “poses no threat whatsoever to any free speech right for religious communities or their leaders” and its passage would “make for a safer and more secure environment in which we and all of our fellow Americans can live our lives.”

“For me, the case for this bill is settled with these words from Jesus,” Gushee said. “As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

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The Prevention President: A Report Card

April 30, 2009, 2:06 pm | Posted by
RH Reality Check
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*For RealAbortionSolutions.org, FPL built a coalition of religious leaders who were already dedicated to common ground solutions to reduce abortions to support an ad campaign to raise awareness about this approach. So far, ads have run in 11 states and during the March for Life in Washington, DC.

For those in favor of women’s rights, the first 100 days of the Obama administration has been like a honeymoon. We’ve continually been reminded why we fell in love in the first place. Coming off an eight-year abusive relationship (to put it mildly), none of Obama’s kindnesses are lost on us. He seems to be the kind of guy who does what he says he’s going to do, another relief. And his gifts have not just been for the pro-choice movement either. Nearly all of Obama’s actions on reproductive rights to date have focused on preventing the need for abortion, one of his “common ground” issues. And while he’s won no fans in traditional pro-life groups, it’s an approach the majority of pro-life Americans want.

Here’s a report card of the Obama administration’s work on reproductive rights in the first hundred days.

International:

Obama’s first gift was global. In his first month in office, with a stroke of his pen, Obama lifted the Global Gag Rule, a Reagan-era policy that withheld funding from any group that referred a woman for an abortion, most of which were family planning providers.

Lifting the funding ban will restore these NGO’s access to USAID-supplied condoms and other forms of contraception and result in dramatic improvements in women’s health for those living in the most desperate regions on earth. Despite anti-abortion operatives’ claims, the policy change will not increase abortion rates since the funding was never used to provide abortion services in the first place. In fact, we expect just the opposite. Johns Hopkins researchers estimate that every million dollars spent on contraceptive care prevents 150,000 abortions, 360,000 unintended pregnancies, 11,000 infant deaths and 800 maternal deaths .

The Stimulus Package:

There was, to continue the honeymoon metaphor, our first lover’s quarrel too. Obama quickly folded once the Republicans picked a fight over inclusion of a family planning provision in the stimulus package. In Obama’s defense, passage of the package was too critical to hold up for a minor provision that could be included elsewhere. But the concession came easily, a little too easily. Why not stand up to the bullies who happened also to be lying to the American public about what the contraception provision was? Obama could have pointed out that, despite claims to the contrary, there was no $200 million budget line for contraception in the stimulus package. That figure represented the projected cost savings to the states if a simple administrative, non-budgetary proposal were adopted. It gets complicated, but sadly the unchallenged final message was “contraception has nothing to do with economic recovery.” The last few months have certainly proven otherwise. There’s been a surge of American’s getting contraception, and long-acting methods at that. Clearly, pregnancy prevention has a lot to do with individual economic stability. It’s also proven that Republicans are deeply out of touch with what struggling Americans need to protect themselves during tough times, as if we needed more evidence.

Appointments:

With the key positions that impact women’s health and rights most, Obama has appointed wisely. Hillary Clinton overseeing foreign policy will impact women’s health worldwide. She is the possibly the strongest pro-choice advocate we’ve ever had in government and there was no better display of her pro-choice backbone than an exchange she and anti-abortion/anti-contraception Rep. Chris Smith from NJ had last week.

Without question, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the most important federal agency for American women’s health issues. That’s one reason why the chief of staff to one of Bush’s heads of HHS, Tommy Thompson, described it as “ground zero for the ideological wars in this country.” HHS includes the FDA (approves new reproductive health drugs), the Title X program (nation’s contraception program for the poor), the Office of Medicaid (pays for 1/3 of all US births and the largest health payer of contraception services for the low-income;) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (oversees STD prevention programs.) For this post Obama chose Governor Kathleen Sebelius who was confirmed yesterday. During her confirmation hearings, the anti-abortion movement, in true Rove form, attempted to portray the exceedingly moderate Sebelius as an extremist on abortion. Very little of what HHS does has to do with abortion rights, though, so the charge was not only false but irrelevant. Sebelius, through her role, is likely to make contraception more available, implement the most effective sex education programs, and focus on preventing the spread of STDs: all strategies the traditional anti-abortion establishment has historically opposed. Of course, it was better for them to say she’s an abortion nut than a prevention nut.

Common Ground:

But not all pro-lifers were opposed to Sebelius’ nominaton. One of the most revolutionary and inspiring events to emerge from the election of Obama’s has been real common ground partners in a growing segment of the pro-life movement. These are people who while disagreeing on some fundamental issues have pledged to seek points of agreement with pro-choice activists. Catholics United is one such pro-life common ground group. Among many of their cutting edge campaigns was Catholics for Sebelius, which defended her nomination by arguing that her policies have led to dramatic declines in the unintended pregnancy and abortion in Kansas. Several other pro-life groups, like Pro-Life Pro-Obama and Realabortionsolutions.org, as well as a handful of pro-life leaders, have risen to answer Obama’s common ground call. These groups and leaders believe that rather than focusing on banning abortion, which has never had a significant impact on abortion rates, Obama’s prevention policies hold the greatest promise for those seeking tangible pro-life results.

Obama has committed his administration to finding common ground in the abortion conflict. He’s assigned his Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to work with his Council on Women and Girls on the task. Last month, the White House hosted its first conference call of leaders on each side and presented a broad strokes common ground agenda. It’s decidedly straightforward and hard to argue with from both pro-choice and pro-life perspectives. The focus will “look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.” Both sides of the abortion debate have much to gain from this common ground effort. If it results in any success, which is still no certainty, the American public, particularly women, and our political discourse will be the greatest beneficiaries.

Plan B:

One of the greatest examples of the abuses of the Bush administration was the very transparent derailing of the Plan B, emergency contraception (EC), over the counter application at the FDA. Bush appointed anti-contraception ideologues to the panel reviewing the application. The majority of the panel wound up recommending over-the counter access to EC for all women and the application had support from all women’s and adolescent medical groups. Still the Bush FDA denied minors over the counter access to emergency contraception. This decision is held up as a one of the greatest examples of Bush’s attacks on science and the administration’s misuse of agencies for purely ideological aims. Obama has set about restoring confidence in our scientific agencies. One step in that direction was sending the Plan B decision back for review and demanding the agency base it’s decision on over-the-counter access solely on scientific evidence. In the meantime, Obama directed the agency to establish immediate over-the-counter access for 17 year-old women to the highly effective contraceptive method.

Obama also restored affordable birth control for college-aged women. After Bush removed college health centers from discounted drug programs, contraceptive costs increased as much as 900% for college women. Obama signed legislation to restore access to affordable birth control for college-age women who, statistics show, are most in need of it: they’re the demographic with the highest rate of unintended pregnancy, the highest rate of abortion, and little disposable income.

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Hate Crimes Legislation and the Pulpit

April 30, 2009, 1:22 pm | Posted by
Beliefnet, Progressive Revival
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The Hate Crimes Bill passed the house yesterday 249-175 and so we have taken another step towards decency in our country and respect for all of our citizens. This has been seen as a threat by conservative religious and legal groups, but others of us see it as evidence of the goodness of our democracy that nobody should be singled out for abuse and violence for who they are.

It has been gratifying to see new Evangelical voices supporting this legislation. One of these is Dr. David Gushee… is speaking up about this current Hate Crimes legislation writing through the folks at Faith in Public Life:

“As a Christian, I believe in the immeasurable and sacred worth of every human being as made in the image of God and as the object of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ. In our sinful and violent world, there are tragically very many ways in which this sacredness is violated. This bill deserves Christian support because its aim is to protect the dignity and basic human rights of all Americans, and especially those Americans whose perceived “differentness” makes them vulnerable to physical attacks motivated by bias, hatred and fear. The bill simply strengthens the capacity of our nation’s governments to prosecute violent, bias-related crimes. I am persuaded that the bill poses no threat whatsoever to any free speech right for religious communities or their leaders. Its passage will make for a safer and more secure environment in which we and all of our fellow Americans can live our lives. For me, the case for this bill is settled with these words from Jesus: “As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40).”

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Baptist minister leading evangelical movement for nuclear disarmament

April 29, 2009, 3:24 pm | Posted by
Dallas Morning News
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*Faith in Public Life coordinated the media launch of the Two Futures Project.

Young evangelical leaders on Tuesday announced a national initiative to enlist Christians online and in schools and churches to make a moral case for nuclear disarmament.

“I know when most people think of the elimination of nuclear weapons, they think of tie-dyed activists,” said Tyler Wigg Stevenson, a 31-year-old Baptist pastor.

Stevenson, who outlined his Two Futures Project during a religious conference in Austin, said many under-40 evangelicals see nuclear disarmament as consistent with their values agenda.

“It’s not about conservatives becoming in favor of a liberal issues. It’s about evangelicals raising an authentically Christian voice about a nonpartisan issue,” he said.

Stevenson and other evangelical leaders were joined Tuesday by President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz on a conference call to brief reporters about the effort.

Stevenson said young evangelicals with no memory of the culture wars of the 1960s and ’70s are more open than their parents’ generation to curbing nuclear weapons.

In addition to the religious concerns – sanctity of life and stewardship of the earth – Stevenson said there’s a practical reason to pursue disarmament: Cold War strategies about deterrence don’t work any more.

He said the primary threat increasingly is from terrorist groups who might get their hands on nuclear material, not major states whose safety during the Cold War depended on their ability to retaliate.

The Two Futures Project is aimed at pressing policy makers to pursue multilateral agreements to phase out nuclear weapons.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama delivered a speech calling for “a world without nuclear weapons,” and next week, diplomats meet in New York for a review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Supporters of the effort include conservative Chuck Colson and three members of the President’s Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships – Dr. Joel Hunter, the Rev. Noel Castellanos, and Jim Wallis.

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Hate Crimes Bill Heads for Vote Amid Mixed Christian Reactions

April 29, 2009, 1:44 pm | Posted by
Christian Post
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*Faith in Public Life compiled statements of support from religious leaders who had not previously spoken out on hate crimes (including Joel Hunter, David Gushee, Jim Wallis, Derrick Harkins, and Steve Schneck).

Conservative Christians and a few like-minded congressmen launched their last effort Tuesday to persuade Americans, especially Christians, that a hate crimes bill is not only unneeded but dangerous.

“Let me just say: everybody here believes as I do that every human being in America deserves protection, everyone,” stressed Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) at the start of a press conference on Capitol Hill before the expected House vote.

But Americans – including gay, transgender and bisexual people – are already protected under existing state laws and so the passage of the hate crimes bill is not needed, the Texas lawmaker argued. He listed several popular cases often cited by proponents of the hate crimes bill and noted that even without the legislation convicted hate crimes criminals all got life imprisonment or the death penalty.

“When you look at sexual orientation and you examine the Diagnostic Statistic Manual that sets out all the different medical and psychological conditions, there are about 30 different types of sexual orientations and they can include exhibitionism or voyeurism or things so offensive such as pedophilia or necrophilia and bestiality,” Gohmert said.

Supporters of the bill, he emphasized, did not want to exclude any of those sexual orientations and even voted down the amendment to exclude pedophilia.

“So what can be the purpose [of the bill] if there is no epidemic [and] there is no need because it doesn’t change the outcome of cases around the country? Then what can be the purpose?” Gohmert asked.

A fellow lawmaker later offered an answer and claimed that the “bad” piece of legislation is to repay some of the Democratic Party’s supporters.

Meanwhile, Christian leaders mainly zeroed in on attacking the bill for endangering the free speech of pastors and any Christians who want to speak out against homosexuality. Under another existing law, if a person aids, counsels or induces someone to commit a crime, then that person is just as guilty as the one who committed the crime….

Supporters of the bill, meanwhile, have their own backing of Christian leaders including Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, and Dr. David P. Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Georgia. They argue that the bill does protect freedom of speech while strengthening the federal government’s ability to prosecute violent crimes motivated by bias.

“I would think that the followers of Jesus would be first in line to protect any group from hate crimes,” said Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland – A Church Distributed in Florida, who has expressed support for the hate crimes bill. “He was the one who intervened against religious violence aimed at the woman caught in the act of adultery. He protected her while not condoning her behavior.”

“This bill protects both the rights of conservative religious people to voice passionately their interpretations of their scriptures and protects their fellow citizens from physical attack,” Hunter continued. “I strongly endorse this bill.”

Others Christian leaders that support the hate crimes bill include the Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and Stephen Schneck, director of Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

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