Religion looms large in election: News Roundup

In light of tomorrow's election, the news roundup this week will be focused on religion and politics: a look at Mitt Romney's faith journey, Obama's evolving Christian faith, Mike Huckabee tells Christians to "stand the test of fire", religious voting groups could determine the next president, and other stories. 

Romney hopes the nation is ready to embrace a president who happens to be Mormon. But he has faced questions about his faith since first getting into politics in 1994, when he ran for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts against Democratic stalwart Ted Kennedy. When Kennedy’s nephew, Joe, attacked Romney’s Mormonism, the insult drew a strong public response from Romney’s father – a former governor of Michigan who’d himself run for president – and failed to gain traction.

Since then Romney, who was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2003, has played down his faith on the campaign trail. But he did  address it in a December 2007 speech, hoping to stem voter concerns about his religion and how it might influence him as a president. It was a speech he likened to John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 address, when Kennedy was running to be America’s first Catholic president. CNN

Whether or not Obama has been spiritually “reborn” in the evangelical sense, his spiritual counselors say the president’s faith has helped shape his first term in ways that haven’t been appreciated by voters or the news media. And they say the presidency is bringing Obama to a new place in his faith – building on a system of belief and practice that helped bring him to the White House in the first place. CNN

Mike Huckabee has a dire warning for Christians: When you vote on Nov. 6, hell's fire awaits, and a vote for President Barack Obama will not stand up to the flames.

In a new ad, the former Arkansas governor and ordained Southern Baptist minister warns Christians that their votes "will affect the future and be recorded in eternity" and they must cast a ballot that will "stand the test of fire." The Huffington Post

President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney have mostly avoided any mention of their own religious identities and, to the extent that they have engaged in religious-based discourse, it has been of a very general nature regarding their commitments to belief in God and to how faith guides their personal and public lives.

Each candidate recognizes the downsides of emphasizing his own faith tradition, as surveys show substantial-sized minorities of voters expressing discomfort with Romney’s Mormon faith or not accepting the authenticity of Obama’s identity as a Christian. Religious identity nonetheless remains a key factor in the election. The Washington Post

Hindu Americans have run America's major companies and universities, won Nobel prizes and Olympic gold medals, directed blockbuster movies, and even flown into space. But one profession has so far been out of reach: Member of Congress.

That may change next week in Hawaii's 2nd congressional district, where Democrat Tulsi Gabbard is poised to win an out-of-nowhere bid over Republican opponent Kawika Crowley. Gabbard was leading Crowley 70 percent to 18 percent, according to an Oct. 12 poll by the Honolulu Civil Beat.

The heavily Democratic district also elected one of two Buddhists to have ever served in Congress, Mazie Hirono, who won her seat in 2006 but is now running for the U.S. Senate. Gabbard, 31, was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii when she was 2. In 2002, at age 21, she was elected to the Hawaii state legislature. The Huffington Post

A right-wing Super PAC is running attack ads against a Syed Taj, a Democratic congressional candidate in Michigan, in an attempt to portray the Muslim doctor as un-American and tied to terrorism. The 30-second ad charges that Taj "wants to advance Muslim power in America," has ties to Hamas, and is "too extreme for America."

The race to represent Michigan's 11th congressional district was already unusual—the seat became open when five-term Republican congressman Thaddeus McCotter failed to qualify for the primary ballot last spring and was subsequently investigated for allegedly submitting election petitions with fraudulent signatures. McCotter, who also pursued a bizarre and short-lived campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, abruptly resigned from Congress one month before the primary. The New Republican


Obama at the U.N.- A New Religious Doctrine: News Roundup

In the news this week: Obama challenges assumptions about free speech and religion, Egypt and Yemen presidents issue rebuttals against Obama's speech, religious groups denounce anti-Muslim subway ads, and other stories. 

President Obama on Tuesday (Sept. 25) gave a forceful speech at the United Nations, in which he challenged much of the world’s assumptions about free speech and religion.

Here are five points from his address, which together, add up to as close to an Obama Doctrine on Religion as we’ve seen:

1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerable

2. Religious respect is a two way street

3. Turn the other cheek

4. One Nation under God

5. The Danger of Extremism

The Washington Post

The new presidents of Egypt and Yemen — both of whom were swept to power by uprisings demanding democratic rights — issued clear rebuttals on Wednesday to President Obama’s ardent defense of Western values at the United Nations, arguing that cultural limits on rights like freedom of speech had to be respected.

President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, who billed his 40-minute speech to world leaders as the first by a democratically elected leader of his country, condemned the violence stemming from a short online video that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and led to numerous deaths, including that of the American ambassador to Libya and three of his staff members.

But Mr. Morsi rejected Mr. Obama’s broad defense of free speech a day earlier at the United Nations, saying “Egypt respects freedom of expression, freedom of expression that is not used to incite hatred against anyone.” The New York Times

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks to CNN's Piers Morgan about people of different ethnic backgrounds and religion. CNN

Religious leaders are rallying against controversial ads placed in 10 New York City subway stations that insinuate that Muslims are savages.

The ads, purchased by the American Freedom Defense Initiative say, “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority initially rejected the ads, citing a policy against demeaning language. However, after AFDI filed suit, a federal court upheld the ads. The Washington Post

Law enforcement is increasingly teaming up with faith groups to combat sex trafficking around the country. Some are calling the faith-based push against human trafficking the newest “Christian abolitionist movement.”

In California, an Underground Church Network has formed to help U.S. trafficking victims. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has developed a human trafficking curriculum. And the National Association of Evangelicals’ humanitarian arm, World Relief, told CNN in February that its North Carolina offices had seen a 700 percent rise in reports of human trafficking last year.

Religious groups have also rallied against, which is owned by Village Voice Media, which they say is a haven for pimps and traffickers. The issue drew the attention of President Obama at former President Bill Clinton's Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday (Sept. 25), where Obama said the estimated 20 million victims of human trafficking would become a major focus of his Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Religion News Service

Bangor Township man who assaulted two men because he thought they were Muslims and was then ordered to write a report on the cultural contributions of Islam has a new assignment before him — to write a report on the history of Hinduism.

The judge rephrased his statement to say that Bell had been convicted of attacking two men he wrongly assumed were Muslims. He added that the victims in the case were actually Hindus, a religion that, rather ironically, differs vastly from Islam in its beliefs.

When Bell entered his plea, Bay County Circuit Judge Joseph K. Sheeran, ordered him to write a 10-page report on “the greatest accomplishments of Muslims.”


Conflict Over Observing Non-Majority Holidays: A Story from NYC’s Subway

While riding the subway in New York City, you’re likely to encounter diverse folks from all walks of life.  My rush hour commute stars a vibrant cast of characters, and as I can’t help but eavesdrop… I’ve overheard plenty of interesting, perplexing, and even offensive conversations.

Yesterday, I listened in on a young Orthodox Jewish couple recounting their work days to each other.  The woman had just finished her very first day of work at a new job, and was explaining to her husband that she had confirmed that technically, employees don’t start accruing vacation days until they’ve been at the company for 3 months.  She was concerned because the Jewish High Holy days (Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kipper) were just weeks away and she would need to take three days off.  When she approached HR, the HR representative’s response was that she was welcome to take 3 unpaid days since it’s a religious holiday, but that there was no way she could use her vacation days before the 3 month mark.  “I feel like I’m starting off on the wrong foot, but I'm not going to change who I am.” 

Yesterday at Tanenbaum, our Workplace program conducted a webinar for over 150 SHRM members on the topic of “other” holidays – the holidays that fall outside of what Americans consider the “Holiday Season.” We focused on tips for accommodating scheduling requests, and provided these HR professionals with useful facts about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, Ramadan, and the Eid-al-Fitr.  Maybe – just maybe – that woman’s HR representative was amongst our attendees, and now has a more complete understanding of what that new employee might need in preparation for the Jewish High Holy Days, and what this time off means to her.

I know that if I interviewed a random sample of people on the subway, I would come up with similar stories.  Most of the time, employees’ religious identities stay under the radar in the workplace, and, often, time-off requests are the first time that the Human Resources department encounters an employee's religion or observances around a particular holiday.

With a bit more information, employees and managers alike can proactively address issues that come up around “lesser” known holidays. To that end, I encourage you to take a look at our helpful fact sheets for upcoming holidays, and share them with your friends, family and colleagues.


Annie Levers
Program Assistant, Workplace

A Dinner Conversation: Interfaith Leaders on Syria

On Monday, August 6th, Tanenbaum hosted an interfaith dinner for our Syrian Peacemaker Hind Kabawat, and her friend and longtime mentor, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio.

Father Paolo, an Italian priest who has lived in Syria for over 30 years, was expelled from the country in June for openly criticizing the Assad regime and its crushing response to the civilian opposition. His visit to New York was part of a North American tour which aims to garner greater support for the Syrian opposition and encourage a global response to the violence which has killed nearly 20,000 people since it began 17 months ago.
In attendance at the dinner were the two prominent Muslim members of the Syrian expat community in New York, as well as Dr. Burt Visotzky from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Joe Potasnik who is currently serving as the Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis, and a high profile representative of the Greek Orthodox Church. Despite the wide range of faiths and backgrounds represented at the table, the conversation focused on just one topic: the bloodshed in Syria and what can be done to end it. Each dinner attendee was impressed by the intrepidness of Father Paolo and Hind Kabawat, who continue to work for peace, justice and freedom of expression in Syria at great personal risk. Each offered their support and vowed to help Father Paolo, Ms. Kabawat and the Syrian people in any way they could.
On August 10th, Rabbi Potasnik invited Father Paolo to his talk show Religion on the Line, which airs every Sunday on WABC, to help him reach a greater audience. The interview demonstrates the passion and righteous ire of a man who was expelled from the country he loved for his outspokenness and dedication to peace and interfaith harmony.
You can catch last Sunday’s installment of “Religion on the Line” by following the link. Father Paolo’s interview begins 41 minutes into the show.
Bruce Crise,
Peacemakers in Action Network Coordinator


Cultivating Global Citizenship Summer 2012 – Encouraging Critical Thinking

In many ways, this summer’s session of Tanenbaum’s intensive educator course, Cultivating Global Citizenship, was defined by the incredible questions asked by the participants. From the first hours of the course through to the very end, the questions kept rolling in: 

  • How do we see and understand difference?
  • How do we define diversity? 
  • Where in my curriculum can I discuss these ideas? 
  • What do we do when a student says something prejudiced? 
  • Why do we teach what we teach?
Tanenbaum’s course, Cultivating Global Citizenship, is designed to help educators prepare students to live in the 21st century and become global citizens. Educators are given tools to examine theories of multicultural education, practice differentiated instruction, integrate skills-based curricula, and develop creative ways to establish inclusive learning environments
Over and over, each of the teachers in the course spoke of the importance of encouraging critical inquiry. Students, especially in the younger grades, are often quite curious. How do we channel this curiosity into respectful questions? In order to overcome stereotypes and prejudices, students must learn to think critically – which includes respectfully asking about that which is unfamiliar, such as the scarf on a classmate’s head, the food in a friend’s lunchbox or the traditions celebrated by their neighbors. Furthermore, when learning about different cultures and religions throughout history and around the world, students should be encouraged to actively consider what they are learning and why it is important to study these topics. 
  • From whose perspective does history get told? 
  • Who is a citizen? 
  • What is “fair”? 
  • What is “equal”? 
  • Are “fair” and “equal” the same?
For their final projects, teachers created lessons that translated these theoretical questions into practical measures that they will implement in their classrooms. From a world religions trivia game to a study of African trade routes, a look at the history of sports to an exploration of cultures present in a given classroom, each teacher displayed great creativity and insight when considering how to bring the learning back to their schools.
But perhaps the greatest take-away from the course can be best summarized with yet another question posed by one of the teachers: 
“If we were aware of the religious diversity in the United States – and the world – how could we be anti- anybody?” 
This summer’s Cultivating Global Citizenship participants are now well-equipped to teach about this diversity and encourage their students to always ask respectful, critical questions.


State Department Report Shows Increasing Religious Discrimination: News Roundup

In the news this week:  State Department report shows rise in worldwide religious discrimination, U.S. Federal Court blocks portion of new Health Care mandate,  opposition to mosque may determine Tennessee election, and other stories.

Religious minorities continue to suffer loss of their rights across the globe, the State Department reported Monday (July 30), with a rise in blasphemy laws and restrictions on faith practices.
Almost half of the world’s governments “either abuse religious minorities or did not intervene in cases of societal abuse,” said Ambassador-at-Large Suzan Johnson Cook at a State Department briefing on the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report.
“It takes all of us — governments, faith communities, civil society working together to ensure that all people have the right to believe or not to believe,” she said. Washington Post
The U.S. District Court for Colorado on Friday blocked the Obama administration from requiring an air-conditioning company in Colorado to provide no co-pay contraceptives to its employees, as the Affordable Care Act directs.
It was, as Sam Baker points out, the first time a federal court has ruled against that provision of the health-care law.
It’s not yet, however, exactly a victory for the contraceptive mandate’s opponents: The injunction is specific to that one company, and it holds only until the judge can reach a verdict on the case’s merits. Still, it could mark the start of a long period of litigation involving one of the health-care law’s most polarizing provisions.
Hercules v. Sebelius is a case brought by Hercules Industries, a Colorado-based air-conditioning company. The four siblings who own the business say they oppose contraceptives — such medications are not included in their current health coverage plan — and “seek to run Hercules in a manner that reflects their sincerely-held religious beliefs.” Washington Post
A female judo fighter from Saudi Arabia will be allowed to compete in the Olympics wearing a form of headscarf after a compromise was reached that respects the "cultural sensitivity" of the Muslim kingdom.
Judo officials had previously said they would not let Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani compete in a headscarf because it was against the principles of the sport and raised safety concerns.
But an agreement was reached after several days of IOC-brokered talks between the International Judo Federation and the Saudi Olympic Committee that clears the way for her to compete Friday in the heavyweight division. Huffington Post
An argument over who is more opposed to the Islamic faith and the construction of a mosque near Nashville has become an unlikely issue in a nasty Tennessee Republican congressional primary to be decided on Thursday.
Freshman Republican Representative Diane Black is challenged by Lou Ann Zelenik, who lost to Black in a primary to represent the rural district two years ago by less than 300 votes.
The heart of the struggle is over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, about 30 miles south of Nashville, which has been controversial since construction began two years ago. New York Times
Richard Land, the highly visible top ethics official for the Southern Baptist Convention, announced Tuesday that he would retire next year.
Land said he will step down as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in October 2013 on his 25th anniversary at that post. Washington Post


Golden Rule Guides Obama’s Support for Same-Sex Marriage: News Roundup

In the news this week: Obama draws on faith to support same-sex marriage, a converted Muslim employee in Kansas is called a terrorist, and other stories. 

As pundits and politicians struggle to divine the political fallout from President Obama's sudden endorsement of same-sex marriage, one thing has become clear: The Golden Rule invoked by Obama to explain his change of heart is the closest thing Americans have to a common religious law, and that has important implications beyond the battle for gay rights.
In fact, one of the most striking aspects of Obama's revelation on Wednesday that he and his wife, Michelle, support marriage rights for gays and lesbians, is that he invoked their Christian faith to support his views. In past years, Obama — as many believers still do — had cited his religious beliefs to oppose gay marriage. USA Today
A Muslim trained by a Jewish agency to work with a coalition largely composed of Christian churches, Ms. Faiza Ali is not just the poster child for monotheism. She forms part of a vanguard of faith-based community organizers who have been selected in part for their religious devotion and then trained to cross denominational lines in pursuit of common cause.
“There’s a healthy tension,” as Ms. Ali, 27, put it, “when I want to talk about an issue campaign and the first line of questioning I get is, ‘What’s that thing you’re wearing and where are you from?’ I kind of anticipated those questions. It was a reminder of how few people have met Muslims. I can answer their questions and address the stereotypes head on and then do the work together. It’s created a different sense of community for me.” NY Times
A Kansas City woman who converted from Christianity to Islam has been awarded $5 million in punitive damages by a jury who found the telecommunications giant AT&T created a "hostile work environment" after her conversion, according to a judge's order issued Friday.
Susann Bashir, a 41-year-old married mother, sued AT&T unit Southwestern Bell for what she said was a pattern of offensive and discriminatory conduct by her supervisors that began when she converted to Islam in 2005, six years after she started working for the company as a network technician.
After Bashir started wearing a religious head scarf known as a hijab, and attending Friday mosque services, her managers and co-workers called her names including "terrorist," and told her she was going to hell, said her attorney Amy Coopman. Reuters
Aboul Fotouh, who was expelled from the Muslim Brotherhood last year because of his moderate stance, is running second behind secular former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa but ahead of the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi. His fortunes surged with support from Salafi groups, including a reformed terrorist organization. The endorsements snubbed the Brotherhood and realigned the contentious inner workings of Islamists searching for a galvanizing political voice to rise from the "Arab Spring." LA Times


Scriptural Reasoning: A Path to Seeing Difference as Normal

The world of interfaith efforts has generated some dynamic methods for addressing prejudice and misinformation.  While Tanenbaum focuses on practical interventions that improve how we act with one another in every day environments, other programs focus on building deep sharing across the texts of religious traditions. 

One initiative that I recently got to know a little better is the use of Scriptural Reasoning. Scriptural Reasoning consists of people from different traditions going through guided sessions of reading passages of scripture from their various religious texts, which are linked together by a common issue or theme. The experience affords them the opportunity to interact with their own beliefs and other faiths and their practitioners in a really profound way. From what I can see, participants in these gatherings have a strong interest in their own traditions, expansive curiosity and the courage to listen to how others understand their texts so that they can explore them with greater breath and depth (i.e., facing both the differences and similarities among the traditions and the challenges in and importance of accepting difference.)

Last summer, I was honored to share Tanenbaum’s work and what I call The Tanenbaum Method for two days of instruction to a group of emerging religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities (from the U.S., the U.K., Oman and Canada), who were attending the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme Summer School and were intensively applying this method.  David Ford, who led the program, is one of the founders of Scriptural Reasoning.  So is Professor Peter Ochs from the University of Virginia Department of Religious Studies, who was another of the leaders at the program. This year, Peter will conduct Scriptural Reasoning sessions here in the U.S. at the University of Virginia and in NYC.  This is an area with which all who care about respecting one another across our different beliefs should be informed.  I’m happy to share with Tanenbaum’s friends this great opportunity.  Additional details about the course can be found on the Scriptural Reasoning website:
Joyce Dubensky

French Gunman Kills Based on Religion and Identity: News Roundup

In the news this week: Jews in France killed by gunman, Americans grow uneasy with religion in politics, the largest gathering of atheists in history, and other stories.

Children spilled out of Beth Hanna Jewish school under a spring sun and the watchful eyes of armed police. Leah Chicheportiche mingled with other waiting parents in this northeastern Paris neighborhood, including many men sporting the trademark black hat of Hasidic Jews.
"We're a bit worried — even here in Paris — after the incident," said Chicheportiche, a mother of five, keeping a watchful eye on two daughters licking ice-cream cones on Tuesday (March 20).
A day after a motorcycle gunman mowed down three children and a rabbi in the southern city of Toulouse, she added: "We hope they'll arrest him quickly."
As schools across France marked a moment of silence for Monday's victims and the government notched up its terror alert for the southwestern region and increased security around religious institutions, many ordinary French are grappling for answers. Religion News Service
Back in 2001, when Pew first asked the question, just 12 percent of Americans complained that their politicians talked too much about religion.
That number has risen steadily ever since and hit a record high in the new poll: 38 percent of Americans, including 24 percent of Republicans, now say their political leaders are overdoing it with their expressions of faith and prayer. The Pew study said that between 1996 and 2006 the balance of opinion on this question consistently tilted in the opposite direction – favoring more church input on political and social issues.
And more Americans than ever, 54 percent, believe churches should keep out of politics. That's up from 43 percent in 1996, according to the Pew Research Center. Christian Science Monitor
A coalition of atheist and secular organizations are coming together on Saturday to hold what is being billed at the largest gathering of atheists in history.
David Silverman, chairman of the event committee and president of the American Atheists, said the rally is aimed at uniting atheist organizations and letting the religious know that there are nonbelievers among them. CNN
Religious leaders in Wisconsin are voicing their support for a planned mosque in Brookfield, as minor opposition to the project begins to foment in some quarters.
Members of the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network were drafting a letter in support of Masjid Al'Noor, the mosque proposed by the Islamic Society of Milwaukee in an industrial area of the city.
"This is about the rights of decent human beings to have a place to worship," said Rabbi Steven Adams of Congregation Emanu-El in Waukesha, who was drafting the letter on behalf of the group. "Part of our mission is to foster dialogue and support for religious expression, and we feel very strongly that this is in keeping with that." Journal Sentinel
When a Sikh family in Sterling, Va., received a death threat in the form of a letter addressed to “Turban family,” on February 28, it was not the family’s first experience with religiously motivated threats to their safety.
They had seen a hate letter of this kind, demanding that the family leave the country or be killed, back in 2003: “We used to live in Gaithersburg, Md., where we got two letters, and graffiti (was scribbled on) our home. At that point it was very scary.” The graffiti said something along the lines of “Osama go back” or “Go back to your country.”
The victim, who asked that his identity be kept confidential for security reasons, said his family contacted the county police, who investigated but were unable to find any suspects. Divanee
At this point in 2011, 22 state legislatures had either passed or were considering bills to prohibit judges from considering either Islamic law, known as Shariah, or foreign law in their decisions.
What a difference a year can make.  
The wave of anti-Shariah legislation has broken in recent weeks, as bills in several states have either died or been withdrawn, raising questions about whether the anti-Shariah movement has lost its momentum. Religion News Service


Joyce Dubensky to Speak at UN Interfaith Harmony Week Event

This Monday, Tanenbaum’s CEO, Joyce Dubensky, will participate in a panel discussion on the role of faith-based organizations and interfaith initiatives in reconciliation and peacemaking. The event has been scheduled to coincide with World Interfaith Harmony Week, which was adopted by the UN in 2010.

Hosted by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the United Nations, the event includes moderator Ambassador Ufuk Gokcen, Permanent Observer of the OIC Mission to the UN and co-panelists:

  • H.E. Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the UN
  • Professor Marc Gopin, Director of the Center on World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (CRDC) at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
  • Dr. William Vendley, Secretary General, World Conference for Religions of Peace (WCRP)
  • Dr. Azhar Hussain, Sr. Vice President for Preventive Diplomacy, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD)

We encourage all representatives of Permanent and Observer Missions to the UN to join us for this enlightening discussion.  For event details, please take a look at the event flyer and if you have any questions regarding this event, please contact