Category: News & Politics

Setting the record straight on charities and political speech

By Tim Delaney

There’s a core American belief that just about everyone agrees with regardless of political stripes: People employed to serve the public good should not, in their official capacity, endorse or oppose candidates for public office. That core belief, long codified in federal and state laws, holds true for all public servants, whether they are government employees or representatives of charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, or foundations. Yet, some in Congress are seeking to repeal or weaken this important taxpayer protection in the omnibus spending bill.

We all received a reminder of this core value when news broke that presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway allegedly violated the Hatch Act by taking sides in the Alabama Senate race. How the White House responded has undeniable implications for the generations-old Johnson Amendment that similarly curbs partisan endorsements by charitable, religious and philanthropic organizations.

Last week, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced its determination that Conway violated the Hatch Act when she engaged in partisan, election-related speech on two television interviews last year. The White House responded that Conway “did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate,” which is the legal standard under the Hatch Act. The response stressed, “In fact, Kellyanne’s statements actually show her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act, as she twice declined to respond to the host’s specific invitation to encourage Alabamians to vote for the Republican.”

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Tony Perkins: Liberals Are Using Trump’s Affair to “Shame” Evangelical Voters

By Hemant Mehta

Why do so many people point out the hypocrisy of conservative Christians who support Donald Trump? Why do liberals keep mentioning that the people who have long claimed the moral high ground due to their “family values” are currently frolicking in the bottom of the barrel? Why are even fellow Christians quick to shake their heads at white evangelicals who cling to Trump for short term judicial victories?

Religious Right leader Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, knows why: It’s because liberals are trying to “shame evangelicals for their political participation.”

“The intensity of this is growing and this is an effort to shame evangelicals for their political participation. And since I’ve spent the last 25 years, since I left the law enforcement realm and entered into the political realm both in activism and in public office, is to bring Christians to an understanding of what our role is, and our role is to be salt in the light,” Perkins said. “Now, first and foremost, that is to take the gospel to people — living it out.”

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Pruitt tapes revealed: Evolution’s a ‘theory,’ ‘majority’ religions under attack

By Emily Holden and Alex Guillén

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt dismissed evolution as an unproven theory, lamented that “minority religions” were pushing Christianity out of “the public square” and advocated amending the Constitution to ban abortion, prohibit same-sex marriage and protect the Pledge of Allegiance and the Ten Commandments, according to a newly unearthed series of Oklahoma talk radio shows from 2005.

Pruitt, who at the time was a state senator, also described the Second Amendment as divinely granted and condemned federal judges as a “judicial monarchy” that is “the most grievous threat that we have today.” And he did not object when the program’s host described Islam as “not so much a religion as it is a terrorist organization in many instances.”

The six hours of civics class-style conversations on Tulsa-based KFAQ-AM were recently rediscovered by a firm researching Pruitt’s past remarks, which provided them to POLITICO on condition of anonymity so as not to identify its client. They reveal Pruitt’s unfiltered views on a variety of political and social issues, more than a decade before the ambitious Oklahoman would lead President Donald Trump’s EPA.

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Evangelical Christianity Had Plenty of Problems Before Donald Trump Came Along

By Hemant Mehta

Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and graduate of evangelical haven Wheaton College, is a card-carrying conservative Christian. That’s why his new cover story for The Atlantic, all about how evangelicals have screwed themselves over by latching onto Donald Trump, can’t be dismissed as another liberal screed.

His thesis is correct, and it’s something critics of the Religious Right have been saying for years: the Trump-loving Christians are hypocrites who routinely ignore his litany of problems in exchange for lip service and right-wing judicial nominees. In doing so, they’ve turned their once proud brand into something toxic.

… there appears to be no limit to what some evangelical leaders will endure. Figures such as [Jerry] Falwell [Jr.] and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Judge Roy Moore in the December Senate election in Alabama. These are religious leaders who have spent their entire adult lives bemoaning cultural and moral decay. Yet they publicly backed a candidate who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl.

The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.

Gerson also notes that white evangelicals today — and that’s an important distinction since black evangelicals know better than to follow Prophet Trump — are more influenced by Fox News than, say, Rick Warren.

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GOP reintroduces bill pitting ‘religious freedom’ against gay marriage

By Julie Moreau

The First Amendment Defense Act, commonly known as FADA, has been reintroduced in Congress by Senator Mike Lee of Utah and 21 other Republicans — despite being called “harmful,” “discriminatory” and the “vilest anti-LGBT religious freedom bill of our time” by gay rights advocates.

The bill, Lee said, is “designed to prevent the federal government from discriminating against individuals or institutions based on their beliefs about marriage.”

“What an individual or organization believes about the traditional definition of marriage is not — and should never be — a part of the government’s decision-making process when distributing licenses, accreditations or grants,” Lee said in a statement. “The First Amendment Defense Act simply ensures that this will always be true in America — that federal bureaucrats will never have the authority to require those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage to choose between their living in accordance with those beliefs and maintaining their occupation or their tax status.”

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Lobbyist for Archdiocese tries to gut childhood sexual abuse bill

By Ty Tagami

A Georgia legislative proposal to give adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse more time to sue pedophiles and organizations has encountered opposition from the Catholic Church.

A lobbyist for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta proposes gutting a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for lawsuits and make it easier to sue entities that harbored pedophiles.

The Archdiocese is led by a clergyman who was in charge of the U.S. Catholic church’s response in the early 2000s to the priest pedophilia scandal and who has publicly spoken out for justice for the victims.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory issued a statement Friday after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sought comment about the church’s lobbying effort, saying the bill was “extraordinarily unfair” to the church and would hinder its mission by allowing lawsuits for actions that occurred years ago.

The legislation, dubbed the “Hidden Predator Act,” extends the statute of limitations for victims from age 23 to 38, and creates other avenues for adults to sue long after that age. It passed 170-0 on the floor of the House of Representatives, despite what those close to the process say was quiet lobbying by the church, the Boy Scouts and other entities that would face increased exposure to liability.

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When Will Non-Religious Americans Finally Become an Effective Voting Bloc?

By Rick Snedeker

Even though Americans unaffiliated with any religion now make up nearly a quarter of the United States’ population, our political influence is disproportionately slight and likely could remain underpowered for a good while.

The problem is that “Nones,” as demographers call us, are a surprisingly disparate group whose fragmented nature undermines developing the unity and interconnectivity necessary for an effective national political base. And we apparently aren’t big voters, either.

In 2016, even though Nones represented 21% of registered voters, we comprised only 15% of those actually casting a ballot, according to thr Pew Research Center and nationwide exit poll data.

Nonetheless, secular activists are intent on turning around that voter apathy starting with this fall’s midterm elections, a first step in hopefully making non-religious people a prominent, powerful voting bloc.

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A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches

By Campbell Robertson

FORT WORTH — Charmaine Pruitt wrote the names of 12 churches on a sheet of paper, tore the paper into 12 strips, and dropped them into a Ziploc bag. It was Sunday morning and time to pick which church to attend.

This time of the week two years earlier, there would have been no question. Ms. Pruitt, 46, would have been getting ready for her regular Saturday afternoon worship service, at a former grocery store overhauled into a state-of-the-art, 760-seat sanctuary. In the darkened hall, where it would have been hard to tell she was one of the few black people in the room, she would have listened to the soaring anthems of the praise bands. She would have watched, on three giant screens, a sermon that over the course of a weekend would reach one of the largest congregations in the country.

But Ms. Pruitt has not been to that church since the fall of 2016. That was when she concluded that it was not, ultimately, meant for people like her. She has not been to any church regularly since.

Ms. Pruitt pulled one of the slips out of the Ziploc bag. Mount Olive Fort Worth. O.K. That was where she would go that day.

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‘News’ spreads faster and more widely when it’s false

By Philip Ball

Fake news spreads faster and more widely than true news, according to a study examining how 126,000 news items circulated among 3 million Twitter users.

“This is the most comprehensive descriptive account of true and false information spreading on social media that we have to date”, says Dean Eckles, a social scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (MIT) who was not involved in the work1.

Untrue ‘news’ is as old as gossip, but its proliferation has become particularly troubling in the era of social media. False stories amplified on Facebook and Twitter, such as the claim that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy for the US presidency, have been implicated in tilting election outcomes.

The role of false stories in Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 election victory or the UK’s Brexit vote, for example, is subject to intense debate. Part of the answer hinges on understanding how fake news travels, say Sinan Aral and his team at MIT, whose study was published in Science on 8 March.

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Can an atheist win public office in Tennessee? We’ll find out Tuesday.

By Holly Meyer

Gayle Jordan, a Democrat running for state senate in Trump country, will soon find out if an openly atheist candidate can win public office in Tennessee.

Jordan does not believe in God. It is a fact she shares, but not a focus of her campaign for the vacant District 14 seat that will be decided Tuesday in a special election.

“It’s incidental to who I am,” Jordan said.

But Shane Reeves, her Republican opponent, and state GOP leaders have made her lack of religious belief an issue in the Middle Tennessee race, which could have greater implications for how the November midterm elections unfold.

“I just feel like her views are radical,” said Reeves, a Murfreesboro businessman and Christian. “They’re out of touch with the district.”

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