Do you have to be a good Christian to be a good president?

As primary season heats up, Tanenbaum president Dr. Georgette Bennett asks a critical question: Do you have to be a good Christian to be a good president? Check out her answer to that question on the Huffington Post.

Violent, Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes in Brooklyn: News Roundup

In the news this week: Anti-Semitic hate crime in Brooklyn, the effect of Alabama’s immigration law on students, the (possibly secular) origins of Thanksgiving, and other stories.

Peaceful marchers sent a clear message Sunday to vandals who torched cars and scrawled Nazi swastikas in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn where Woody Allen was raised: Don't repeat the kind of attacks that once led to the Holocaust. CBS News
Of the 6,628 hate crime incidents reported for 2010, nearly all (6,624) involved a single bias—47.3 percent of the single-bias incidents were motivated by race; 20 percent by religion; 19.3 by sexual orientation; 12.8 percent by an ethnicity/national origin bias; and 0.6 by physical or mental disability. FBI
An increasing number of state lawmakers say they are willing to consider critical changes to Alabama’s sweeping anti-immigration law, part of which appears to make proof of citizenship or legal residency a requirement even for mundane activities like garbage pickup, dog licenses and flu shots at county health departments.
As they learn more about the breadth of the law, which was already described as the most far-reaching of the state-level immigration laws when it went into effect on Sept. 29, some political leaders have gone beyond acknowledging a general need for “tweaks” to openly discussing specific changes, which in some cases are as substantial as getting rid of certain provisions in their entirety. NY Times
Alabama’s new immigration law is already profoundly affecting educational institutions, administrators, teachers, and students in the state. Under Section 28 of the law, every public elementary and secondary school in the state is required to document and report the immigration status of every student in the school. Schools are also required to report on the immigration status of every child’s parents. Center for American Progress
TENNESSEE – Local and national Muslims called for state officials Saturday to rebuke state Rep. Rick Womick for remarks he made that all Muslims be removed from the U.S. military. Tennessean
Gay and Muslim groups say they are relieved after a Michigan lawmaker agreed to drop a provision in an anti-bullying bill that would have carved out an exemption for religious or moral beliefs.
State Sen. Rick Jones, a Republican, inserted a carve-out for a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” in the Senate version of the bill. The state House of Representatives’ version of the bill did not include the provision.
Jones on Monday (Nov. 14) said he would drop his amendment and vote for the House version after critics said the language could allow gay, Muslim or other minority students to face harassment. Washington Post
Some historians believe the 1621 celebration that's sometimes dubbed the "First Thanksgiving," was not actually a "thanksgiving" day at all. In fact, some historians even call it a "secular event."
"The 1621 gathering in Plymouth was not a religious gathering but most likely a harvest celebration much like those the English had known in farming communities back home," write Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac in their book, 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving. USA Today


Interreligious Relations Since the Holocaust

Tomorrow afternoon, Tanenbaum president and founder Dr. Georgette Bennett presents at the Long Island chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women. 

Her topic: interreligious relations and realignments since the Holocaust, with a special focus on the impact of the establishment of the State of Israel and Vatican Council II.  She will reference genocides that have occurred since the Holocaust and share Tanenbaum's experiences in the Middle East and Gulf Region. 

The lecture takes place from noon to 2PM at the Lawrence Village Country Club in Lawrence, New York, Please call 516-239-1685 for more information.

Faith at Occupy Wall Street: News Roundup

In the news this week: clergy find a role at Occupy Wall Street, a prisoner exchange may facilitate peace between Israel and Palestine, Saudi Arabia plans to build a religious dialogue center in Vienna, and other stories.

A group, calling themselves the "Protest Chaplains," traveled from Boston to join the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, which claims to advocate for "the 99 percent" of Americans against the "1 percent" who control much of the country's wealth.
The Protest Chaplains, a loose group of mostly Christian students, seminarians and laypeople organized though Facebook, expressed support for the movement the best they knew how: through their faith.
While many of the religious elements of the Occupy movement have been spearheaded by laypeople and students organized through social media, more established clergy are starting to follow the lead of groups like the Protest Chaplains. Huffington Post
In a much-anticipated prisoner exchange that could have broad implications, Israel and Hamas on Tuesday announced that an Israeli soldier abducted to Gaza five years ago would be swapped for about 1,000 Palestinians held by Israel and accused of militant activity. The very fact of any agreement between Israel and its archenemy seemed to offer a beguiling prospect of a new dynamic in the region.
To date, Hamas has not abandoned its ideology that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. For its part, Israel has never accepted the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007. Though neither side hinted at changes in those basic policies, the prospect of even lukewarm relations developing between Israel and Hamas could open a new window for peace efforts. Time
In a statement issued on Friday, the Free Egyptians Party stressed the need for Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to abide by the promise made in May to pass a law criminalizing all forms of discrimination, including religious, and safeguarding rights and freedoms. Ahram Online
Saudi Arabia has defended its plan to fund a religious dialogue center in Vienna, saying Judaism and other faiths would be represented and that it would be free from political interference. Critics of the center say Saudi Arabia’s austere version of Sunni Islam means it is an unsuitable country to promote religious debate. Austria and Spain will also fund the Vienna-based “King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.” Reuters
A former employee has sued one of the government’s most secretive security agencies, alleging he lost his security clearance because his wife attended an Islamic school and worked for a Muslim charity.
Mahmoud Hegab filed the discrimination lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court in Alexandria against the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency at Fort Belvoir. Washington Post
A Muslim woman has won her fight against a west suburban school district after being denied unpaid leave to go on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced it settled Safoorah Khan’s religious discrimination lawsuit against the Berkeley School District, forcing the district to pay $75,000 in lost back pay, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees.
The district also will have to develop a policy accommodating religions consistent with the Civil Rights Acts to ensure something similar will not happen again. Chicago Sun-Times


Intense Conversations on the International Day of Peace

Today, I witnessed an interesting CoffeeHour Conversation held with the International Day of Peace in mind. The conversation was between colleagues at a small organization and included topics ranging from reflections on 9/11 to inclusiveness in the workplace. Part of our work at Tanenbaum has been promoting these conversations and so I knew what to expect in theory, but I was surprised at my intense introspection as the conversation bloomed.

As one might expect, the energy in the room shifted noticeably when personal reflections concerning 9/11 were shared. Colleagues spoke frankly of anger, fear, avoidance, confusion, frustration, and more. One person mentioned that there have been other hateful acts that have claimed more lives than the 9/11 attacks, but also pointed out that the conflicts resulting from 9/11 have arguably claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. Every single person brought a unique perspective to the discussion and dealt with 9/11 and the 10th anniversary in his or her own way.
Colleagues also explored their own biases and attitudes about discussing religion in their office. Someone mentioned that the topic can be taboo or invite conflict. Others were uncomfortable with conversations about religion because their own religiosity continues to evolve and they were concerned about discussing it and maybe not fitting in with their peers. 
As the conversation wrapped up, no concrete decisions or policy shifts were forged, but the air felt lighter. This conversation was not about solving anything, but about sharing and exploring similarities and differences.
So what kind of organization did these employees work for? Well, it was none other than the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. We believe deeply in our work, including its necessity within our own office. We encourage you to explore holding a CoffeeHour Conversation in your own organization and to check out Tanenbaum’s resources for creating an inclusive workplace.
Have a happy Peace Day!
Mike Ward
Communications Associate


Atheist Chaplains in the Military: News Roundup

This week in the news:
Atheists and Humanists work towards being accepted as military chaplains, a New Jersey Muslim community battles zoning laws in court, the ACLU files a complaint against a Tennessee school board, and San Francisco may vote on a circumcision ban.

Chaplaincy in the Military
Must chaplains belong to an Abrahamic faith? If not, must they belong to a faith with a defined deity? This is a consideration that is being put to the military by those from within. Atheists and Humanists are not currently permitted to serve as chaplains, but they that may be changing. The guidelines currently state that an eligible individual must belong to a “faith group”, but what is and what is not a faith group is up for debate. The New York Times sheds light on the movement to allow Atheist and Humanist chaplains in the military.  (NY Times)
Continued Conflict over New Jersey Mosque
In a story that we’ve been following for some time, an Islamic group in Bridgewater, NJ is suing for religious discrimination. (Bloomberg Businessweek) The Al Falah Center was hoping to convert a large hall into a new mosque, but was stymied by a zoning adjustment that precluded houses of worship in that neighborhood. Bridgewater officials are stating that the decision was driven by the small, winding streets of the neighborhood and the lack of sidewalks. Al Falah is claiming that the town bowed to  anti-Muslim pressures. (Wall Street Journal)
Tennessee School Board Gains ACLU’s Attention
The ACLU is representing three families in Sumner County in alleging that the school board has been promoting religion since 2006. As of now, the school board has not been charged, but the ACLU is seeking an injunction to stop religious activities. Among the alleged transgressions are daily prayers and allowing clergy to proselytize during lunch. The complaint also points out that policy and practice has not changed despite a history of complaints from families in the community. (The Tennessean)
Circumcision to be Banned?
A group has secured the minimum number of signatures to put a proposed ban on circumcisions on the ballot in San Francisco. Experts are skeptical that the ban would stand, as it would almost certainly be challenged in court and possibly overturned for religious discrimination. (