09-08-08

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Race for the White House '08:
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Pastors’ Web Electioneering Attracts U.S. Reviews of Tax Exemptions
New York Times - 9/3/08

There was a time when a minister like James David Manning could stand in the pulpit of his little church on 123rd Street in Harlem and say pretty much anything he liked about a presidential candidate. Beyond his community of devoted parishioners, who was to know? But when Pastor Manning, who is black, posted an angry sermon in February on the Web site of his church, the Atlah World Ministries, denouncing Senator Barack Obama as a “pimp” and Mr. Obama’s mother as a “trashy white woman,” his preaching spread like a virus on YouTube, earning lavish attention on right-wing talk shows — and two weeks ago, the less-welcome attention of a watchdog group, which filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service. The I.R.S., which can revoke the tax exemptions of churches that express support or opposition to candidates for public office, has declined to say whether it is reviewing Mr. Manning’s case. But in the past year, the agency has undertaken its first serious look at the digitized church world that his sermon represents, issuing a set of new guidelines that bar electioneering on the Web. Both partisan-minded religious groups and those that police the boundaries between church and state say the implications of that new scrutiny are great. To explain the latest changes, many religious groups have held online seminars, or Webinars. The liberal-leaning Interfaith Alliance, which favors strict enforcement of the rules on the principle that religion is compromised by involvement in partisan politics, has arranged conference calls for clergy members to discuss the new guidelines with I.R.S. officials.

Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted
Washington Post - 9/7/08

Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules. The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship. "For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church," ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. "It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It's not for the government to mandate the role of church in society." Yet an opposing collection of Christian and Jewish clergy will petition the IRS today to stop the protest before it starts, calling the ADF's "Pulpit Initiative" an assault on the rule of law and the separation of church and state. Backed by three former top IRS officials, the group also wants the IRS to determine whether the nonprofit ADF is risking its own tax-exempt status by organizing an "inappropriate, unethical and illegal" series of political endorsements.

Palin: Iraq War 'A Task That Is From God'
Associated Press - 9/3/08

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told ministry students at her former church that the United States sent troops to fight in the Iraq war on a "task that is from God." In an address last June, the Republican vice presidential candidate also urged ministry students to pray for a plan to build a $30 billion natural gas pipeline in the state, calling it "God's will." "Our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God," she said. "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God's plan." The section of the church's Web site where videos of past sermons were posted was shut down Wednesday, and a message was posted saying that the site "was never intended to handle the traffic it has received in the last few days." Palin told graduating students of the church's School of Ministry, "What I need to do is strike a deal with you guys." As they preached the love of Jesus throughout Alaska, she said, she'd work to implement God's will from the governor's office, including creating jobs by building a pipeline to bring North Slope natural gas to North American markets. "God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that," she said. "I can do my job there in developing our natural resources and doing things like getting the roads paved and making sure our troopers have their cop cars and their uniforms and their guns, and making sure our public schools are funded," she added. "But really all of that stuff doesn't do any good if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with God."

Palin's Problems In the Pulpit
Chicago Tribune - 9/3/08

Are Alaskans violating God's will if they disagree with Gov. Sarah Palin's energy policy? Critics charge the Republicans' presumptive vice presidential nominee recently delivered some troubling remarks in the pulpit of her childhood church. The Washington D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance criticized Palin for using religious rhetoric to divide. Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said he found her words particularly troubling when combined with her advocacy for teaching intelligent design in public schools and her approval of a Christian Heritage Week Proclamation. Speaking to school of ministry graduates gathered at Wasilla Assembly of God on June 8, Palin asked the crowd to pray for the corporate cooperation necessary to build a $30 billion natural gas pipeline across Alaska. But she added that the work she does to secure the pipeline, build schools, and provide guns and squad cars for state troopers doesn’t matter if the "people of Alaska’s heart isn’t right with God." She also said American soldiers have been sent to Iraq "on a task that is from God." "This is the same kind of divisive theocratic rhetoric that President Bush has employed for eight years," Gaddy said. "Gov. Palin is suggesting that people of faith must agree with her energy policy or they risk incurring God’s wrath. Good and faithful people hold differing points of view in this the most religiously diverse nation in the world." Gaddy also criticized controversial sermons preached by the current pastor of Wasilla Assembly of God, Rev. Ed Kalnins, who has said critics of President Bush will be banished to hell, and supporters of Sen. John Kerry may not be able to get into heaven.

Can Palin Also Galvanize the U.S. Left?
Reuters - 9/4/08

Sarah Palin is the magnet John McCain needs to attract religious and social conservatives who are not convinced he's one of them. But the little-known first-term Alaska governor is a big risk for McCain who had hoped to market his brand of maverick Republican politics to Democrats and moderates in his party. Despite his strong opposition to abortion rights, evangelicals have stayed lukewarm on McCain. He did not back a failed federal ban on gay marriage and broke with them on other social issues such as his support for stem cell research. Moderate religious groups and liberal activists have already started to pin the "religious extremism" label on Palin -- a label that wouldn't stick to McCain. They focus on her reported comments to a church in Alaska that U.S. soldiers in Iraq were "on a task that is from God," on her strident opposition to abortion and other "culture war" issues which her candidacy has revived. The moderate Interfaith Alliance said it was concerned by Palin's "theocratic rhetoric." The specter of radical religious government or "theocracy" has been a staple of liberal commentary during the two terms of President George W. Bush, who owes his electoral success to conservative Christians.

McCain Campaign Courts Critical Catholic Vote
Associated Press - 9/5/08

Shortly after a priest's opening prayer and a screening of a short film on John McCain's faith, Sen. Sam Brownback stepped to the microphone and didn't waste words. "Just to get to the whole meat of the matter, the Catholic vote is a swing vote," the Kansas lawmaker and Catholic convert said at a Catholic reception during this week's Republican National Convention. "It is a critical vote in swing states," he said. "It is a vote we can win _ but only if we work to win it." Catholics are shaping up to be the battleground religious vote of 2008. Recent polls show McCain and Democrat Barack Obama neck and neck among white Catholics _ a better indicator of swing voters because Hispanic Catholics lean Democratic. With an estimated 47 million U.S. Catholic voters, the stakes are huge.

Faith on Full Display at Republican Convention
Reuters - 9/2/08

Faith was on full display at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night with prayers from a pastor and tunes belted out by a Christian pop star. Miles McPherson, a senior pastor of The Rock Church in San Diego and former professional football player, evoked patriotism and faith while leading the convention in prayer: “Thank-you God for always being there for us. And thank you for making America the greatest country in the world. We pray these things in Jesus’ name,” he said to warm cheers from the crowd. Such overt displays of religion, politics and nationalism would be almost unheard of in many European countries but are common in America, especially with Republican crowds. The invocation was given by a former U.S. Air Force chaplain while Christian singer Rachael Lampa sang her songs “When I Fall” and “Blessed” on a night dedicated to the theme of “service.”

As a Matter of Faith, Biden Says Life Begins at Conception
New York Times - 9/8/08

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for vice president, departed Sunday from party doctrine on abortion rights, declaring that as a Catholic, he believes life begins at conception. While Mr. Biden's views may not be new to Democrats in his circle, his comments, in an interview on 'Meet the Press' on NBC, came at a time when his party is confronted with a new face: Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, whose anti-abortion stance and decision to give birth just five months ago to a baby with Down syndrome have revved up the conservative base of her party. In the interview Sunday, Mr. Biden tried to walk the line between the staunch abortion-rights advocates in his party and his own religious beliefs. While he said he did not often talk about his faith, he said of those who disagree with him: 'They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life — I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception.” ~~~~~~~~~~
National News:
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Terror Claims Against NJ Muslim Leader Rejected
Associated Press - 9/4/08

An influential New Jersey Muslim leader accused by some federal officials of having terrorist ties but praised by others as being an important ally won his fight to gain permanent U.S. residency Thursday. A federal immigration judge in Newark ruled that Mohammad Qatanani, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, can remain in the U.S. The ruling brought cheers, tears and applause from about a dozen Qatanani supporters who gathered in the courtroom. "I would like to thank the judge for working hard in this case," Qatanani said. "This is a beautiful thing. The justice system in this country is great."

Do Americans Really Know Who Evangelicals Are?
Christian Post - 9/4/08

The word "evangelical" floats around in churches, the media and particularly this year's election but Americans often have no idea what an evangelical is, a new study shows. As Christians themselves still have a hard time agreeing on what exactly defines an evangelical, Ellison Research asked the average adult American what they believe is an "evangelical Christian." Thirty-six percent of them said they had no idea. "I'm not sure; all I can think of is Billy Graham," said one 40 year-old woman from Florida who does not attend worship services, in the survey. "I am not sure, and I am a Christian," said a 55-year-old man from Indiana. Although Americans who would call themselves evangelical were much more likely to have an actual definition for the word than others, the survey, released Wednesday, found that 14 percent of those self-described evangelicals couldn't guess what an evangelical is. Evangelical leaders were also asked to provide a definition. Richard Cizik, vice president for Governmental Affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, gave a three-fold definition: "(1) the Bible is authoritative (i.e., infallible and inerrant in original autographs) in faith and practice; (2) born-again experience (i.e., a conversion to believe in and follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord through rebirth by the Holy Spirit); (3) shares this message of faith with others through evangelism and social witness." He admitted, however, that even his three-fold test is not perfect.

NY Court Backs Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages
Reuters - 9/2/08

New York officials should recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries where they are legal, even though New York State does not allow gay marriage, a state court judge ruled on Tuesday. Justice Lucy Billings rejected arguments by the national Alliance Defense Fund that New York Gov. David Paterson overstepped his authority in May when he instructed officials to recognize same-sex marriages conducted outside New York. "Nothing is more antithetical to family stability than requiring (couples) to abandon that solemnized commitment," Billings wrote in her decision. Many state agencies and municipalities have followed that policy for years, civil liberties groups said. The lawsuit against Paterson marks the fourth failed legal challenge of Paterson's directive brought by the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund.