Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I have many writing projects to complete so this blog is going on hiatus. Thanks for reading the Religion Rogue!

What's missing from this picture?

A Jewish newspaper removed the women, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from thefamous Bin Laden picture because its views on modesty do not allow it to publish pictures of women.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The End of Abortion Rights?

Dahlia Lithwick has an interesting essay in Slate about the Death of Roe v. Wade. She shrewdly points out that although numerous unconstitutional abortion regulations are being passed around the country, they remain unchallenged because pro-choice advocates fear that one of these cases will be used to allow Justice Samuel Alito the opportunity to provide the fifth vote that will overturn Roe, the case that recognized a woman's constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

What makes Lithwick's essay noteworthy is her guess is still that the Roberts court is as uninterested in overturning the law as its challengers are in forcing the issue. It does not want to be the court that makes abortion illegal, or all-but-illegal, in America. The backlash would be staggering. If pro-choice advocates don't challenge the abortion laws, however, then the Roberts Court gets its way: we have a legal system where Roe is on the books but meaningless because women lack access to abortion. Lithwick suggests that is an unacceptable state of affairs and that it would be better to put abortion laws to the test rather than to let the Court overturn Roe without really overturning Roe.

Muslim Women Talk about Wearing the Veil--or Not

NPR has this interesting series of interviews of Muslim women discussing their attitudes toward the veil and reasons why they eventually decided not to wear it. It is a great opportunity to hear the voices of actual Muslim women instead of legislators.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Yemeni Women Protest

The women are protesting their president's comments that it is un-Islamic for women to join men in the demonstrations against his rule. The women went back out into the streets arguing that the president had misinterpreted Islam.

Catching up on Theologians in Trouble

Dr. Mary Hunt, a feminist theologian who is co-founder and co-director of Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) and writer at Religion Dispatches, identifies some Catholic theologians in trouble.

Elizabeth Johnson, a distinguished theology professor at Fordham University, received a lot of media attention after her book, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (Continuum 2007) was condemned by the U.S. Catholic bishops because it “contaminates the traditional Catholic understanding of God.”  More interesting than their conclusion was their decision not to tell Professor Johnson that she was under investigation or to ask her questions about her book before issuing their condemnation. This appears to violate the bishops' own norms for dealing with theologians.

Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois was excommunicated in 2008 for advocating women's ordination and now is being ousted from his religious order unless he recants his support for women's ordination.

Meanwhile 55 of 188 dioceses risk being out of compliance with the bishops' national policy to prevent sexual abuse of children.

Texas Republicans Reject Supreme Court Ruling

Mother Jones tells the story of Texas Republicans' continued opposition to Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision that invalidated Texas' statute prohibiting gay sodomy. Despite the Court's ruling, the state law continues to identify "deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex" as a misdemeanor offense. Republicans are again resisting Democratic efforts to take the unconstitutional law off the books. Houston Democratic Representatives Jessica Ferrar and Garnet Coleman have introduced legislation several times over the last few years updating the penal code, but the Republicans have refused to cooperate. And it doesn't look like they will cooperate this year either.

Governor Rick Perry and the Republican Party's platform oppose Lawrence and want homosexual relations to remain illegal. Just a reminder that supporters of states' rights don't always support individual rights.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Abolish The Ministerial Exception

My colleague Professor Ronald Turner and I posted our opinion of the important ministerial exception case on the American Constitution's Society's blog. We hope the Supreme Court will decide to allow employees to sue their religious employers instead of sweeping these cases under the First Amendment rug.

Listen to Jimmy Carter

“The discrimination against women on a global basis is very often attributable to the declaration by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam, and other religions that women are inferior in the eyes of God,” former President Jimmy Carter said last week.

The Carter Center held a big conference last week on human rights, focusing on how the world's religions may contribute to women's inequality. Two years ago President Carter resigned from the Southern Baptist Church to protest its treatment of women. At that time, he said: "The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Remembering Geraldine Ferraro

Geraldine Ferraro is remembered as as the first woman nominated for national office by a major party thus ending the men's club of national politics. She had a more difficult time with the men's club of the Catholic Church. As a Catholic member of the House of Representatives and as a vice-presidential candidate, Ferraro was attacked by New York's John Cardinal O'Connor for her support of abortion rights. Ferraro had signed a then-notorious letter with other Catholics claiming there was a diversity of Catholic opinion about abortion. O'Connor insisted there was no such diversity.

It is hard to believe that the bishops are still fighting this battle and that with Republican help they almost shut the government down to stop Planned Parenthood from providing contraception, even to married women. Fortunately Democratic women Senators stepped into Ferraro's shoes and defended women's rights to health care. 

A Strong Dissent from Justice Kagan

Justice Elena Kagan picked up Justice Stevens' Establishment Clause torch in a powerful dissent in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn. Arizona taxpayers challenged a state tax program that gave tax credits to school tuition organizations that discriminated on the basis of religion when they awarded the tuition benefits. The Court ruled that the taxpayers lacked standing in an obscure decision by Justice Kennedy, who wrote that there is a constitutional difference between tax credits and government expenditures so that taxpayers may claim Establishment Clause violations about the latter but not the former. Justice Kennedy's distinction seems to fly in the face of the normal tax rule that foregone revenue is the same as an expenditure.

Justice Kagan's dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor, complained about the "novel" and "arbitrary" distinctions made about tax law and charged that the decision "enables the government to end-run Flast's guarantee of access to the Judiciary." The decision, she wrote, would "diminish the Establishment Clause's force and meaning," and "damage[] one of this Nation's defining constitutional commitments."

Justice Stevens was the strongest defender of the Establishment Clause on the Court, so it is good to see that Justice Kagan has take up his mantle. She uses a great analogy to drive home her point that the Establishment Clause requires taxpayer standing if it is to be enforced:

Imagine that the Federal Government decides it should pay hundreds of billions of dollars to insolvent banks in the midst of a financial crisis. Suppose, too, that many millions of taxpayers oppose this bailout on the ground (whether right or wrong is immaterial) that it uses their hard-earned money to reward irresponsible business behavior. In the face of this hostility, some Members of Congress make the following proposal: Rather than give the money to banks via appropriations, the Government will allow banks to subtract the exact same amount from the tax bill they would otherwise have to pay to the U. S. Treasury. Would this proposal calm the furor? Or would most taxpayers respond by saying that a subsidy is a subsidy (or a bailout is a bailout), whether accomplished by the one means or by the other? Surely the latter; indeed, we would think the less of our countrymen if they failed to see through this cynical proposal.

Thus we should think less of Justices Kennedy, Roberts and Alito for failing to see through this cynical proposal.

Protecting Nonbelievers from Believers

Be sure to read this great article by U. of Miami law professor Caroline Mala Corbin, explaining how nonbelievers, a growing segment of the population, are treated unequally whenever the government uses expressions like "In God We Trust" or places public religious symbols (like crosses) on government property.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ultrasound Legislation

The Burnt Orange report illustrates that some sponsors of legislation requiring ultrasounds for all pregnant women considering abortion don't know about the intrusive nature of the transvaginal ultrasound procedure.

Justice Sotomayor Describes Sexism

In a speech at Northwestern University School of Law, Justice Sonia Sotomayor confirms that women lawyers continue to face a double standard--even when they are nominated to the highest Court in the land. Sotomayor complained about the focus on her private and dating life:

"You know, and I don't mean to be graphic, but one day after I'd been questioned endlessly, for weeks at a time, I was so frustrated by the minutiae of what I was being asked about and said to a friend, 'I think they already know the color of my underwear,'" the justice said.

"There were private questions I was offended by. I was convinced they were not asking those questions of the male applicants," Sotomayor said, alluding to questions about her dating habits. It was unclear if she was referring to private sessions, prior to her formal nomination hearing, with individual senators.

Continuing the conversational thread about dating questions posed to her, she declared, "I wondered if they ever asked those questions of the male candidates. But the society has a double standard."

Sotomayor,who is single, then cited her "many single male colleagues who are judges who date often, bring dates to court affairs and nobody ever talks about them. I knew if I did the same thing, my morals would be questioned. So I'm very careful about whom I date and how public it is." It was unclear but presumably she was harkening to her experiences as a district court, appellate court and, now, Supreme Court judge.

"I don't like people talking about my private life," she said, suggesting that there is a double standard in how single women and men are treated and portrayed. "There are expectations of how men and women should behave." She added, "I'm probably a bit more aggressive than many like in a woman."

Women of Courage

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honors women of courage and urges more participation by women in the new Egyptian government here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Victory for Justice Brennan and the Westboro Baptist Church

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church's right to picket with offensive signs at Matthew Snyder's military funeral. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion for the Court concluding that the church's offensive speech involved a matter of public concern on public property and was protected by the First Amendment. Snyder’s father Albert was thus unable to collect a jury verdict for his emotional distress and privacy invasion. 

Although Matthew Snyder’s father sued the church for the torts of intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy, it was another tort, the tort of defamation, that provided the legal context for the opinion. Over a series of cases since 1964, the Court developed a law of defamation that involves four categories: matters of public concern, matters of private concern, public figures and private figures. The Court then matched those categories—matters of public concern involving public figures, matters of public concern involving private figures, matters of private concern involving public figures, and matters of private concern involving private figures. 

Although the Court never filled in the law for all those categories, in the precedent most relevant to Snyder's case Jerry Falwell was not allowed to sue Hustler Magazine for intentional infliction of emotional distress because he was a public figure. Before Snyder was issued, everyone wondered if the Court would allow Albert Snyder’s lawsuit to proceed because Snyder was a private, not a public, figure.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Too Much Medical Conscience

Conscience clause laws allow medical professionals to refuse medical care to patients without suffering any employment penalty. The first conscience clauses were enacted in response to Roe v. Wade. Their number increased over the last thirty years as religious opposition to reproductive health care increased.

The Obama administration recently issued new regulations about medical professionals’ consciences that replace the rules hurriedly enacted at the end of the Bush administration. Obama’s rules are an improvement over Bush’s. The Bush rules were read to expand conscience clauses to include more procedures, more medical personnel, and more conscientious reasons not to treat patients. According to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the Bush rules upset the balance between patients’ rights to obtain health care and the conscience rights of health care providers

Obama's regulations are less expansive. Nonetheless, the Obama administration remains deeply committed to conscience clause legislation. Obama's rules authorize a Civil Rights office to hear complaints from medical workers who believe they faced employment discrimination because they followed their conscience. Bush pushed his rules through precisely because he believed that conscience was in danger in the workplace.

Both presidents were mistaken to favor medical conscience over patients’ rights and to support and encourage special rules to allow people to practice medicine only insofar as their religion allows. Women’s medical care is under assault on all fronts. The House of Representatives recently voted to ban Planned Parenthood funding. The South Dakota  and Nebraska legislatures considered bills making it a justifiable homicide to kill an abortion provider. Dozens of states are considering new curbs on abortion. Members of the House tried to eliminate all funding for abortion, even supporting a bill to limit federal dollars available to rape victims to those who have been “forcibly raped.” Another House bill would allow doctors to refuse abortion services even if the pregnancy threatens the woman’s health

At a Catholic hospital in Phoenix, a 27-year-old woman's life was threatened by a pregnancy. She had life-threatening symptoms at 7 1/2 weeks and was worse at 11 weeks, when the hospital's ethics committee voted to allow an abortion to save her life. The local bishop immediately excommunicated a nun on that ethics committee and then declared that the hospital was no longer Catholic. Catholic teaching does not permit an abortion to save the mother's life. 

This is what conscience clauses and the Bush and Obama administrations promote: religious freedom to deny life-saving medical treatment to others. If medicine and religion are inconsistent, then professionals should choose between them rather than practice religion with a medical license. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

More Religion from Reagan to Obama

I love this Huffington Post list of the top ten religious quotations by presidential candidates. The author, Brian T. Kaylor, explains  that presidential rhetoric has gotten much more religious since John F. Kennedy promised us in 1960 that he would not govern according to his Catholic faith. Kaylor gives you a sense of  this dramatic shift in presidential rhetoric by adding a bonus, non-campaign quotation from 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, made during the Reagan presidency:

"I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across the country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in the 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral belief to me? And I'm even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. And the religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected with them recognize that religion has no place in public policy."

It's hard to imagine any elected official getting away with that kind of comment today. It is especially odd that the presidents' rhetoric has gotten so much more religious while the percentage of non-believers has increased considerably during the same era.

The trend continued last week when President Obama attended a National Prayer Breakfast and proclaimed again his Christian faith and described himself as an elected leader whose entry into public service was actually through the church.This is the same president whose administration defended the legality of a National Day of Prayer and determined to celebrate it even if the courts declared it unconstitutional. One of the hopes the president expressed at the prayer meeting was that he might walk closer with God and make that walk [his] first and most important task.  Maybe the country would be in better shape if the president's first task were to take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Religious Health Care

Nicholas Kristof recently commented on the hospital controversy that took place in Phoenix over the last year. A Catholic hospital, St. Joseph's, performed an abortion on a woman to save her life. The local bishop, Thomas Olsted, objected because Catholic teaching, unlike American constitutional law, does not allow abortion to save the life of the mother. The bishop first excommunicated Sr. Margaret McBride, a nun on the hospital's ethics committee who approved the abortion. Then the bishop removed the hospital's Catholic affiliation so that St. Joseph's is no longer Catholic.

Kristof--under the headline Tussling Over Jesus--focused on the theological aspects of the debate, contrasting the bishop's emphasis on dogma and rules with the hospital's espousal of compassion and mercy. He and others cited in the article anticipate a moment of change in the church when rank and file Catholics may finally confront the hierarchy over its rigid dogma.

What Kristof doesn't say is that the American bishops continue to be deeply involved in restricting women's right to abortion in religious and non-religious settings around the country. They opposed the health care bill last year because of concerns that insurance companies would fund abortions. Although the bishops are not supporting Republican calls to repeal the entire health care bill, recently they urged Congress to take up two bills introduced last year that they believe would ensure the new health care bill maintains longstanding prohibitions on federal funding of abortion and bolsters conscience rights for health care workers.

In reality all the Catholic bishops are like Olsted. They are opposed even to a non-Catholic woman's right to have an abortion in a non-Catholic hospital when her life is at stake. By taking on insurance and the health care legislation, they strive to cut back abortion everywhere, not just in Catholic hospitals.

The bishops' commitment to conscience clauses is even more dangerous to women's rights. Conscience clauses mean that a woman whose life was endangered by a pregnancy could show up at a secular hospital and still encounter a doctor who refuses to help her....because he follows his conscience instead of her need and her right.

Unfortunately the whole health care system is tussling over Jesus and using him to block women's rights.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Giant Foam Fingers and Blue Cotton Candy: The New Civil Religion?

Some commentators have criticized the atmosphere at the memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooting. Michelle Malkin complained about the blue-and-white "Together We Thrive" banners created for the ceremony and asked Will there be giant foam fingers and blue cotton candy, too? Others have suggested that the event was more like a campaign rally or a pep rally. The Washington Post observed that President Clinton's speech at Oklahoma City was more somber. A writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education argued that University of Arizona officials should teach their students how to behave at a memorial service, which is different from a pep rally.

Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs was more positive; he diplomatically suggested that the crowd was celebrating the miracle of those who survived

Presidents are the leading spokesmen for the American civil religion. In times of war, sorrow and tragedy, they are expected to address the nation and find the proper words to unite citizens. The presidents usually turn to the Bible to express their sentiments, as Obama did twice in his speech in Tucson:

Scripture tells us:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "When I looked for light, then came darkness."

As George W. Bush did in his speech responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11:

Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a Power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.

As Bill Clinton did in his speech responding to the bombing in Oklahoma City:

Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness: Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind.
As St. Paul admonished us, Let us "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
It embodies the lesson of the Psalms -- that the life of a good person is like a tree whose leaf does not wither.

Right now, religious services--especially Christian ones--still provide the models and sources for the American civil religion. As the nation, especially the young generation, becomes less religious, however, we need new models for public ceremonies. Today or tomorrow a pep rally may capture the positive spirit of the American people more directly than a traditional church service that appeals to Christian scripture. 

If giant foam fingers suggest that America is #1in lending a hand to the victims of the Tucson tragedy then why not encourage the new civil religion to flourish? 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Religion and Politics 2010-2011

David Gibson, the incisive religion reporter for PoliticsDaily, posted an interesting take on the top religion stories of 2010. Everyone who missed the end-of-the-year, top-religion-stories-of-2010 lists can find them linked at the beginning of Gibson's article. As usual, Gibson takes the next step and gives more meaning and context to those stories.

Included on Gibson's analytical list, which anticipates what will happen in the new year, are the following:

The tea party huffs, the religious right puffs. Will there be a truce between religious conservatives and the tea party? Will the economy override the social issues favored by religious believers, right and left?

American exceptionalism is the American religion. Gibson argues that the current American civil religion is the belief that America is a divinely inspired nation of chosen people with a God-given duty to be a light unto the rest of the world. 80% of Americans believe this...but only 58% think President Obama shares that view. This may explain why Obama tried to Christianize his rhetoric over the Christmas holidays.

Islam is not an American religion....yet. Are Muslims the new Catholics? Not yet. Gibson links this conclusion to another point, namely that gay rights are not so wrong....meaning that Americans today are more supportive of gay rights than of Muslim religious freedom. This is a good reminder that it can take a long time for new or unpopular groups to gain full freedoms under the Constitution.

Finally, Sex is easy, economics is hard.... and The Catholic Church never gets rid of scandals.

So expect to see more battles over religious diversity in 2011...always with the possibility that the bad economy will force people to put aside religious differences and find common ground on non-religious issues.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Glamour Woman of the Year

Glamour Magazine honored as a woman of the year Dr. Hawa Abdi, a Somali ob-gyn who  protects women and children by running a camp that gives them food and shelter.

The camp grew up around her clinic and hospital. The camp now houses an estimated 90,000 displaced persons. Dr. Abdi also developed a school, teaches literacy and health classes, and opened a jail for men who beat their wives.

Dr. Abdi has even confronted armed militias in order to protect the women and children in her care. Her opponents in the Party of Islam believe that it is inappropriate for women to be community leaders. But Abdi stood up to the militia members and retained control of her hospital.

Read more details about Dr. Abdi's hospital at her website.

Kudos to Glamour for expanding our understanding of what's glamorous.

The Unaffiliated Gap in Congress

Unaffiliateds--agnostics, atheists and those who declare no religion--are more underrepresented in Congress than any other group.

According to the Pew Forum, the biggest mismatch between numbers in the Congress and percentage in the general population occurs in the unaffiliated category. Although 16% of Americans say they are unaffiliated with any religion, only 1% of congressional representatives self-identify as unaffiliated.

The new Congress remains a majority (57%) Protestant and 29.2% Catholic. Methodists and Baptists are the largest Protestant groups. Episcopalians, Jews and Presbyterians enjoy greater percentages in the Congress than they do in the general population. Muslim and Buddhist representation in Congress matches their percentage in the general population. No Hindus or Jehovah's Witnesses serve in Congress. There are 2 Muslims and 3 Buddhists.

Instead of worrying about whether the president goes to church or is really Christian or Muslim, we should worry about whether the unaffiliateds' interests are represented in the government.

Religious Freedom Day, 2011

January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, which honors Virginia's 1786 Statute for Religious Freedom. Thomas Jefferson wrote the statute, which was a precursor to the First Amendment. According to Jefferson's document, no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Noteworthy is  Jefferson's focus on individual freedom. In the opening section of the document, Jefferson warned against civil as well as ecclesiastical rulers who try to set limits on the free mind, recognizing that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time.

In the age of government aid to faith-based organizations, championed by George W. Bush as well as Barack Obama, it is worth reconsidering how we should interpret Jefferson's strong criticism of forcing individuals to support religions that they oppose: to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Atheists' New Year

On Wednesday (Jan. 5, 2011) an atheist will give the invocation at a Colorado city council meeting for the first time ever. The Western Colorado Atheists & Freethinkers (WCAF)  have worked for the last two years to participate in the Grand Junction City Council's meetings. In 2008 WCAF studied the prior invocations and noted that 90 percent of the invocations before the council were Christian with a token Jew about 10 percent of the time.

WCAF first asked the council to ban specific deities names' from the public prayers. The atheists had good reasons for their request. The name of Jesus or Allah or any other deity is not inclusive. A city council is not like a church, synagogue or mosque; it is supposed to include all citizens. When people pray in the name of one deity before a city council meeting, believers in other deities and non-believers are excluded.

The City Council refused WCAF's request but came up with an alternative. They decided to make the process more inclusive by opening the invocation process to more community groups. Finally the atheists will have their turn. This is a good compromise option that should be adopted around the country as long as governments continue to open their meetings with prayers.