Nov. 23, 2010 | permalink
The 2010 midterm elections renewed discussions about civil unions and same-sex marriage laws in several states, including Hawaii, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa.
The election of Democrat Neil Abercrombie as governor of Hawaii may make it more likely that a bill legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples could become law in the state, according to the Associated Press. Hawaii's House and Senate passed a measure in early 2010 that would have legalized civil unions for same-sex couples, but Republican governor Linda Lingle vetoed the legislation in July. During this year's gubernatorial campaign, Abercrombie repeatedly said that if he was elected and the legislature passed a similar bill, he would sign it, the AP reported. After the election, Alan Spector, the co-chair of Hawaii Equality, a gay rights organization, told the AP, "There's no reason for us to believe that we can't pass the bill again."
The GOP takeover of both houses of the Minnesota legislature may make it less likely that a bill in favor of same-sex marriage will pass during the next legislative session, the AP reported. Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, told AP that the group is trying to get a constitutional referendum banning gay marriage put to a statewide vote in 2012. In Minnesota, amendments to the state's constitution must be proposed by the legislature and then put to a vote among the state's electorate. Although Minnesota state law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman, supporters of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage say the law needs additional protection in the constitution to make it more difficult to overturn in court, the AP reported.
Earlier this election cycle, Archbishop John Nienstedt mailed a video to Catholics in Minnesota urging them to support traditional marriage, ABC News reported (see the Pew Forum's Election News Brief, "Catholic Leaders in the Midwest Take on Same-Sex Marriage Debate").
A measure legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples could be passed in Illinois before the end of this year, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Democratic Governor Patrick Quinn, who supports the measure, was re-elected and the Democrats retained majorities in both state legislative bodies. In an interview with the Daily Herald, Gov. Quinn called himself a "strong advocate for civil unions" and said he believes there are enough votes in both the state Senate and House to pass such a bill.
On Election Day, Iowa Supreme Court Justices David Baker and Michael Streit, as well as Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, were removed from office by a yes or no ballot measure, the AP reported. In 2009, they joined in a unanimous decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state, ruling that an Iowa law restricting marriage only to heterosexual couples violated the state's constitution, according to The New York Times. Several media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, cited this ruling as the primary reason they were voted off the bench.
This is the first time judges have been removed by popular vote since Iowa instituted judicial recall in 1962, the AP noted. Several national groups were involved in the campaign to vote out the justices, including the American Family Association, the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, the Iowa Independent reported. After the judges were voted out of office, David Lane, the executive director of AFA Action, the political arm of the American Family Association, told the AP the group would support similar campaigns in the future if necessary, saying, "For those who impose what we perceive as an immoral agenda, we're going to take them out." The three justices who were voted out issued a joint statement after the election saying that the "preservation of our state's fair and impartial courts will require more than the integrity and fortitude of individual judges, it will require the steadfast support of the people," the Des Moines Register reported.
According to recent polls by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 42% of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while 48% oppose it. This shows an increase in support for same-sex marriage since last year: polls conducted in 2009 found that 37% of the American public favored allowing same-sex marriage and 54% were opposed.
Nov. 18, 2010 | permalink
The media's post-election analysis of Republican Rand Paul's victory in the race for Kentucky's open U.S. Senate seat has focused heavily on the role of negative advertising, with several news accounts crediting Paul's election at least in part to a TV ad by his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, which called Paul's religious beliefs and policy ideas into question, and which may have backfired.
In a post-election interview with The Associated Press, Paul said he hopes the ad set a precedent that questioning a candidate's religion is out of bounds. "I think that you shouldn't attack a person's faith, and I think it did backfire on them," Paul said. "My hope is that when someone loses and that issue appears to have had an influence that maybe it discourages people from those attacks."
Both candidates were perceived by substantial numbers of voters as mudslinging. In the Kentucky exit poll results reported by CNN, 49% of voters said Conway had attacked Paul unfairly, while 39% said Paul had attacked Conway unfairly.
In the days leading up to the election, fellow Kentucky Republican and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he thought the ad was the "turning point" in the election and that "Conway made a really big mistake by injecting religion into the campaign," according to Politico. Also in October, Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill called the ad "very dangerous" for focusing on details from Paul's college days and said it came "close to the line" of inappropriateness, according to the political blog Talking Points Memo. McCaskill also opined, however, that Paul's response revealed him to be too "thin-skinned" for national politics.
Paul had responded strongly to the ad during the campaign, denouncing the ad at the start of an October debate. During the course of that debate, he referred to Christian Scripture and said that "those who stoop to the level of attacking a man's religious beliefs to gain higher office, I believe that they should remember that it does not profit a man to gain the world if he loses his soul in the process," according to the AP. Paul then declined to shake Conway's hand at the conclusion of the debate, according to Talking Points Memo. The following day, Paul also issued his own religion-tinged ad, accusing Conway of "bear[ing] false witness" with his attacks on Paul, The Huffington Post reported.
When Paul called for an apology from Conway during the October debate, Conway declined to apologize and reiterated his questions about Paul's beliefs, the AP reported. Conway's ad was based on an August GQ article that reported on Paul's membership, during his college years, in a Baylor University secret society called the NoZe Brotherhood, which allegedly performed pranks mocking the school's Christian affiliation, including creating an idol called "Aqua Buddha." After the GQ story was released, Paul denied that some of the alleged incidents ever took place, according to The Huffington Post.
According to a state-by-state analysis of data from the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 67% of people in Kentucky say that religion is very important in their lives – significantly higher than the percentage of all Americans (56%) who say this. Additionally, 70% of Kentuckians say they pray at least once a day. According to exit polls, Paul received the vote of 73% of white evangelical or born-again voters.
Oct. 28, 2010 | permalink
Hawaii Lt. Governor James "Duke" Aiona's religious beliefs and his past involvement with an international Christian organization, the International Transformation Network, have become an issue in his bid for the governor's office, according to Hawaiian media reports. Aiona, a Republican, is running against Democrat Neil Abercrombie, who represented Hawaii's 1st District in Congress from 1991 until stepping down this year to run for governor. Recent polls show Abercrombie pulling ahead of Aiona, according to the Honolulu Advertiser, which reported that some voters are concerned about Aiona's "ability to separate his strong Catholic faith from decisions on social policy."
On Oct. 20, Aiona accused Abercrombie's campaign of disseminating a YouTube video about Aiona's ties to the International Transformation Network and its local affiliate, Transformation Hawaii, according to the Associated Press. On its website, the international group calls itself "a voluntary association of men and women of faith and good will devoted to nation transformation." The video shows a clip of Aiona endorsing the group's prayer ministry, followed by an excerpt from a TV news interview in which Aiona denied that he was a member of the international evangelical group but said he has participated in some of its events because "they share some of the tenets and values of my basic Catholic Christian beliefs." The video also includes footage from several International Transformation Network events that Aiona reportedly attended and accuses Aiona of violating state ethics rules by accepting thousands of dollars in gifts to fly to Argentina to attend one of the group's conferences.
Aiona told the AP that the video was an "unconscionable, fabricated video attacking me and my personal faith." He also said the Hawaii State Ethics Commission had dismissed a complaint against him in connection with the International Transformation Network events, and he accused Abercrombie of resorting to negative campaign tactics, KITV reported.
Abercrombie's social media director, L.P. "Neenz" Faleafine, had linked to the video using a personal twitter account on Oct. 18. Laurie Au, a spokeswoman for the Abercrombie campaign, denied that sharing the video via a personal twitter account amounted to negative campaigning. Au also said that voters have expressed concern that Aiona "is mixing religion with politics in a way that may not be appropriate in Hawaii today," according to the AP.
Earlier in October, the national Republican Governors Association released a series of television ads urging Hawaiians to "rise and shine" and vote for Aiona. According to Maui News, some Aiona supporters and opponents alike interpreted the phrase "rise and shine" as a Biblical reference meant to allude to Aiona's religious conservatism.
A state-by-state analysis of data from the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that 55% of Hawaiians say that religion is very important in their lives, which is nearly identical to the percentage of all Americans who say religion is very important to them (56%).
Oct. 20, 2010 | permalink
With Election Day less than two weeks away, debates over the death penalty are heating up in gubernatorial races in California, Connecticut and Illinois.
On Oct. 14, California GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, a staunch death penalty supporter, released a television ad attacking her Democratic opponent, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, for his position on the death penalty, the Associated Press reported. The AP story says the ad "misleads voters" by focusing only on part of Brown's record on capital punishment. Whitman's campaign released the ad shortly after Brown's Sept. 28 order to temporarily halt executions in California. Brown cited a shortage of Sodium Pentothal, a drug that renders condemned inmates unconscious before they are injected with lethal drugs, as the reason for the stay on executions, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Although Brown did not frame this decision as a political stand on the issue, he has gained a reputation as a death penalty opponent over the course of his decades-long political career, as the AP reported, noting that as California's governor from 1975 to 1983, Brown vetoed pro-death penalty legislation. And during a 1992 Democratic presidential primary debate, he said he was "morally opposed to the death penalty," according to the AP. During this year's campaign for governor, however, he pledged at an Oct. 2 debate with Whitman to "faithfully carry out our law on executions." Whitman has repeatedly accused Brown of being "a moving target" on the issue, according to theSan Francisco Chronicle.
Capital punishment has also become an issue in Connecticut's race for governor, partly because the death penalty could be used in a murder case in New Haven, Conn., that has received national attention. Defendant Steven Hayes was convicted earlier this month of a brutal triple murder, and a jury began hearing arguments Oct. 18 on whether he should receive the death penalty, NPR reported. The Republican candidate for governor, former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, supports the death penalty, while Democratic candidate Dan Malloy, a former mayor of Stamford, Conn., wants to abolish capital punishment in the state, according to local news channel WFSB. The candidates sparred over the issue in an Oct. 5 television debate: Malloy said he would abolish the death penalty in future cases (thereby allowing Hayes to be executed if he is sentenced to death), while Foley reaffirmed his support for the death penalty, pledging not to change the state's laws, the Hartford Courant reported.
Meanwhile, candidates for governor of Illinois disagree on whether the state's 10-year moratorium on capital punishment should continue, according to The State Journal-Register. A campaign spokeswoman for Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn said that although Quinn supports the death penalty "when applied carefully and fairly," he believes the moratorium "gives the state an opportunity to reflect on the issue and create safeguards to make sure the death penalty is not being imposed improperly in Illinois," according to The State Journal-Register. Quinn's Republican challenger, Illinois State Senator Bill Brady, has said he would end the moratorium, The State Journal-Register reported.
According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, 62% of Americans support the death penalty, while 30% oppose it. This is nearly identical to the level of support in 2007, but somewhat lower than earlier in the 2000s and significantly lower than in the 1990s. In 1996, 78% favored the death penalty and just 18% were opposed. Today, roughly one-third (32%) of death penalty opponents say religion is the most important factor in shaping their view of the issue, compared with 13% of death penalty supporters who cite religion as the biggest influence on their position.
Oct. 18, 2010 | permalink
Catholic bishops in Minnesota and Iowa have entered the pre-election fray over same-sex marriage.
On Sept. 22, Catholic bishops in Minnesota mailed more than 400,000 DVDs to Catholics across the state in support of traditional marriage, according to the Star Tribune. Critics of the DVD campaign have said that the video amounts to an implicit endorsement of one of the state's three gubernatorial candidates, Republican Tom Emmer, a current member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, who opposes same-sex marriage, the Star Tribune reported. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton, who represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2007, supports marriage rights for gay couples, according to Minneapolis Public Radio. Independent candidate Tom Horner, a business owner who served as press secretary to Minnesota's former U.S. Senator David Durenberger in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, also supports same-sex marriage, the public radio station reported. Minnesota law prohibits same-sex marriage and same-sex civil unions (see the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library for more information).
The archbishop of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese, John Nienstedt, has defended the video, saying that it is part of an initiative to educate Minnesota Catholics about the church's teachings on marriage, according to ABC News. But a group of six individuals who describe themselves as "mostly suburban, mostly middle aged, married Catholics" has launched a campaign to return the DVDs to Nienstedt. The group plans to send the DVDs they collect to the archbishop with a letter encouraging him to make other issues, such as helping the poor, his highest priority, according to the organization's website, Return the DVD.
On Oct. 10, about two dozen Catholics and non-Catholics who oppose the archdiocese's DVD mailing and support same-sex marriage protested outside the Cathedral of St. Paul, Minnesota Public Radio reported. In response, a spokesman for the archdiocese said the archbishop and other church leaders stand behind the DVD and support gay people, but not same-sex marriage, according to the public radio station.
Bishops in Iowa are encouraging Catholics to vote "yes" on Nov. 2 on a ballot proposal to convene a state constitutional convention, the Ventura County Star reported. The Iowa Catholic Conference issued a statement saying, "A ‘yes' vote on this measure will allow Catholics and others to work for a marriage amendment to the Iowa constitution. This amendment would affirm the traditional understanding that marriage is a union of one man and one woman," according to the Globe Gazette. (There are several other issues that could be addressed at a constitutional convention, such as term limits for state legislators, the Sioux City Journal reported.) Same-sex marriage has been legal in Iowa since April 2009, when Iowa's Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, saying it violated the state's constitution, as reported in The Washington Post.
According to recent polls by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 48% of Americans oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 42% favor it. This is the first year in which opposition to same-sex marriage has dropped below 50% since Pew Research Center surveys began asking the question in 1996.
Another recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that more than a third of those who report having an opinion on same-sex marriage say that their religious beliefs are the biggest influence on their views (35%). Among those who say religious beliefs are the most important influence on their opinion on same-sex marriage, only 6% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry, but among those who cite some other influence (such as education, views of friends and family or a personal experience), two-thirds (66%) are in favor.
Oct. 6, 2010 | permalink
Embryonic stem cell research has become a hot topic in the courts and in campaigns in several states, including Florida, Wisconsin and Iowa.
On Sept. 28, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., said federally funded stem cell research projects could continue while the appeals court reviews an Aug. 23 district court ruling that halted all federally funded research involving human embryonic stem cells and overturned President Barack Obama's 2009 executive order increasing the number of stem cell lines scientists could use for federally funded research, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post reported. It could take a year or more for the appeals court to reach a decision, according to the LA Times.
On the campaign trail, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, voiced support for stem cell research during a Sept. 7 visit to the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Orlando's Channel 2 NBC News reported. Crist also spoke out in favor of stem cell research when he ran for governor as a Republican in 2006. After taking office, however, he established a state grant that applied only to research on stem cell lines that President George W. Bush had approved for federal funding in 2001, "a move widely interpreted" as an attempt by Crist at "appeasing conservatives on the issue," according to The Tampa Tribune. Now running for the Senate as an independent, Crist launched a statewide television ad campaign in early September that cites his support for stem cell research as an example of how he crosses party lines. Meanwhile, Republican candidate Marco Rubio opposes government-funded embryonic stem cell research. Rubio's campaign website accuses Crist of running "misleading" campaign ads, including the September ad in which he mentions stem cell research. The website cites a Sept. 7 Tampa Tribune article to back up the assertion that Crist's statements supporting stem cell research are inconsistent with his record as governor. Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek's campaign website notes that during his eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Meek supported efforts to allow research on human embryonic stem cells.
Gubernatorial candidates in Iowa and Wisconsin are also campaigning on the issue. Iowa Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, said on Sept. 10 that his support for embryonic stem cell research will help him win reelection over Republican challenger and former governor Terry Branstad, according to The Eastern Iowa Gazette. The Gazette reported that Branstad opposes research that results in the destruction of human embryos and believes that research using adult stem cells offers the most promise for scientific progress.
Following the Aug. 23 federal district court ruling on President Obama's stem cell policy, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democratic candidate for governor of Wisconsin, affirmed his support for stem cell research, noting that "Wisconsin is a global leader in stem cell research that can cure diseases and save lives," according to The Capital Times. Barrett accused his Republican opponent, Scott Walker, of opposing embryonic stem cell research for "purely ideological reasons," calling Walker's position extremist, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Although Walker's campaign did not respond directly to Barrett's comments, Walker's spokeswoman, Jill Bader, said the Republican candidate would only support stem cell research that does not involve destroying human embryos, according to The Capital Times.
In a 2009 poll, the Pew Research Center for People & the Press found that 54% of Americans said it is more important to conduct embryonic stem cell research that might result in new medical cures than it is to avoid destroying the potential life of embryos involved in this research, while 32% said they favor protecting the potential life of embryos over pursuing new medical research. Public attitudes have been consistent on this issue for several years.
Oct. 1, 2010 | permalink
About 100 pastors across the country took part in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" on Sept. 26 by endorsing political candidates during their sermons, ABC News reports. The event was organized as part of a protest against a provision in the Internal Revenue Code that bars houses of worship and other tax-exempt organizations from supporting or opposing political candidates or from otherwise intervening in political campaigns. (For a detailed discussion of restrictions on religious organizations' participation in the political process, go to the Pew Forum's 2008 report, Politics and the Pulpit.)
Pulpit Freedom Sunday was first organized in 2008 by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian legal group. The group contends that by regulating what pastors may or may not say in a sermon, the government is violating religious leaders' right to freedom of speech. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Alliance Defense Fund and the pastors who participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday are trying to force the Internal Revenue Service to challenge the pastors' actions in court, which would open the door for a lawsuit over the constitutionality of existing tax laws.
On Sept. 28, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit group that advocates for maintaining the separation of church and state, filed a complaint with the IRS against Fairview Baptist Church in Edmund, Okla., one of the churches that participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, according to USA Today. The IRS has not yet responded to the complaint.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that 70% of Americans oppose churches and other houses of worship endorsing specific candidates for public office, while 24% support houses of worship making such endorsements. The public is more divided on whether churches should express their views on social and political issues; 43% say they should express their views, while 52% say churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters.
Sept. 27, 2010 | permalink
Candidates in Illinois and Florida, as well as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have raised the environment as an issue during this election season, sometimes framing the topic in religious or moral terms.
One candidate prioritizing the environment is Democrat Ben Lowe, who is challenging incumbent Republican Peter Roskam in the race to represent Illinois' 6th district in Congress. Lowe lists "Green Jobs/Clean Energy Economy" first among the "Key Issues" on his campaign website. According to the Pioneer Press, he co-founded Renewal, a nonprofit organization that encourages students at Christian colleges to take an active role in environmental protection, and he co-wrote a book, Green Revolution, about religion and the environment. In a 2009 interview on the Christian website CrossWalk.com, Lowe said he believes Christians are "called to be good stewards" of God's creation. In a piece on Huffington Post earlier this year, the Christian author Brian D. McLaren described Lowe as "an Evangelical" who "represents a new generation." "If he speaks at a Tea Party," McLaren wrote, "it will be herbal tea!"
The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April prompted many churches and Christian groups to organize aid for people affected by the spill and pray for those working to plug the leak, according to Religion News Service. One race the BP oil spill could impact is Florida's three-way competition for the U.S. Senate, where environmental issues may play an important role, according to The New York Times. Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek contended in a television ad in early September that he is the only candidate who was "against off-shore drilling before - and after - the BP spill." (The ad does not, however, couch his environmental positions in religious terms.) Current Florida governor Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent, said in a 2008 interview with Grist Magazine that he emphasized environmental issues as governor because it was an "opportunity to do what's right to protect God's work."
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D- CA), who is not running for reelection this year, reportedly used religious rhetoric in a September speech to Canadian environmental organizations. Graham Saul, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said Pelosi "spoke very eloquently about the moral imperative for action on climate change in terms of how we owe it to future generations, and she spoke clearly about God's creation and the need to respect and honour that," according to The Globe and Mail.
A new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests that religious beliefs are not the primary shaper of most Americans' views on the environment; just 6% say that religious beliefs have the biggest influence on what they think about tougher environmental rules. The survey finds, however, that the environment is a frequent topic of sermons in churches and other houses of worship. Nearly half (47%) of people who regularly attend worship services say they hear about the environment from their clergy, and they report hearing mostly pro-environment messages. Roughly three-in-ten (29%) say their clergy encourage them to "protect it" or "clean it up," while 11% say their clergy encourage conservation. One-in-five (20%) report hearing warnings and discussion in church or other worship services about environmental damage, including the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (6%). One-in-ten (10%) of those who hear from their clergy about the environment say the messages include explicit religious language and themes promoting stewardship of the earth or care for God's creation.
Sept. 17, 2010 | permalink
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" – the 17-year-old policy that bans gays from serving openly in the military – has become a heated issue in elections in Nevada, Missouri and Florida.
The issue gained prominence in late May, when the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full House of Representatives voted to allow the Department of Defense to repeal the rule, The New York Times reported. On Sept. 9, a federal district judge in California ruled that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" violates the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, according to CNN. And on Sept. 13, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the 2011 defense authorization bill, which includes a repeal of the policy, could be put to a vote in the Senate as early as the week of Sept. 20, according to Politico.
Reid, who favors repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," is in a neck-and-neck race for re-election in Nevada against Republican challenger Sharron Angle, the Associated Press reported. The Family Research Council Political Action Committee, a conservative Christian advocacy group, has run a television ad on Las Vegas cable stations criticizing Reid's position on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and urging voters to "Stop Harry Reid on Election Day," PR Newswire reported. The FRC has also declared the issue a "Prayer Target," encouraging individuals to pray that the policy is not overturned.
Republican candidate Vicky Hartzler has raised "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in Missouri's 4th congressional district race. Her Democratic opponent Ike Skelton, who has held the seat since 1977, helped author "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and voted in May against allowing its repeal. While Hartzler, like Skelton, supports keeping the policy intact, she has questioned Skelton's leadership on the issue. After the House voted May 27 to allow repeal, she posted a statement on her Facebook page saying the bill's passage showed that Skelton "is powerless to win important battles when needed most," The Hill reported. In June, Skelton said his constituents have not raised the issue with him, according to The Huffington Post.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has also become a topic of debate in Florida's Senate race. Florida governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, previously opposed repealing the policy but changed his position after the Senate Armed Services Committee's vote in May, according to The Palm Beach Post. Both Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek, who advocates repealing the law, and Republican candidate Marco Rubio, who opposes the repeal, have said that Crist's changing opinion on the policy marks him as untrustworthy and opportunistic. Crist attributed his change of view on this and other gay rights issues to the "wisdom" of experience, according to a Sept. 15 WSTP News report.
According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military by a two-to-one margin (60% favor vs. 30% oppose). Public attitudes on this issue have been stable since 2005, previous polls show. In the most recent poll, majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (64%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while Republicans are more divided; 47% favor and 43% oppose.
Sept. 9, 2010 | permalink
Politics in Arizona's 3rd congressional district sure are getting "Dirty."
Jon Hulburd, the Democratic candidate in the district, recently released a radio spot on three Christian radio stations and a conservative talk radio station accusing his Republican opponent, Ben Quayle, of contributing to TheDirty.com, a racy website about Arizona nightlife, according to Politico. In the ad, a woman who identifies herself as "a Christian and a mom" says that Quayle helped create "one of the most offensive websites I've ever seen."
Quayle, who is the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, was first confronted with accusations of writing for TheDirty.com during the primary campaign. Just weeks before the Aug. 24 primary, Nik Richie, the founder of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based website whose legal name is Hooman Karamian, told Politico that Quayle was one of the original contributors to the site when it launched in 2007 as DirtyScottsdale.com. Richie claimed that Quayle published eight to 10 blog posts on the site under the alias "Brock Landers" – the name of a fictional porn star from the 1997 movie "Boogie Nights."
Politico reported that Quayle, who campaigned as a "family-values conservative" according to the Associated Press, initially denied any involvement with the website. But one day after dismissing the accusations, Quayle changed his story, telling Phoenix's 12 News that he "just posted some comments there to try to drive some traffic" but could not remember what those comments were, according to Politico.
The day after Quayle won the Republican nomination, an Arizona Republic blog reported that Hulburd had released a statement that called the general election a race "between Jon Hulburd and Brock Landers," identifying Quayle by his alleged alias.
The controversy seems unlikely to fade in the coming months, with Democrats eager to put Quayle on the defensive in the Republican-leaning district, according to The Arizona Republic. On Sept. 8, the Quayle campaign began running an ad on Phoenix radio stations criticizing Hulburd's positions on social and moral issues. Among other things, the ad accuses Hulburd of using his "massive wealth to fund abortion lobbies," Politico reports. The ad also notes that Quayle is pro-life and that he "strongly supports constitutional protection of marriage between a man and a woman."
Sept. 2, 2010 | permalink
Some subtle references to religion have cropped up in YouTube videos posted by or on behalf of several candidates this election season.
James Lankford, a first-time candidate for office who ran a Baptist youth camp for 13 years, won the Republican nomination for Oklahoma's 5th congressional district after the primary runoff on Aug. 24, as The Oklahoman reported. Contemporary Christian music artist Chris Tomlin, who has known Lankford since high school, endorsed Lankford in a video posted on July 22 on Lankford's YouTube page. Tomlin is not identified as a Christian artist in the video, nor does he mention religion as a reason for his endorsement, but he is a very prominent name in the evangelical Christian community, as noted by Religion News Service's Religion News Blog in 2009. An earlier video posted on Lankford's YouTube page promoted a fund-raising concert featuring Tomlin and several other Christian performing artists. While the video does not identify any of the artists as Christian, about half way through the video, the words "An Incredible Night of Worship" flash across the screen.
Roy Barnes, the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia, posted a campaign ad on April 30 on his YouTube page titled "Providence" that shows him sitting in a church. None of the issues he discusses in the ad are directly related to religion, nor are any religious symbols, such as a cross, visible in the ad, but the rows of pews clearly show that Barnes is using the church as a backdrop.
Finally, the National Republican Senatorial Committee posted this ad on Aug. 4 on its YouTube page criticizing Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, for swearing at a church picnic in 2009. As USA Today reported in August 2009, Conway called himself "one tough son of a b–" at St. Jerome's Catholic Church's annual Farm Fancy picnic, prompting the planners of the picnic to ban profanity at the event in 2010. Conway, who has served as Kentucky's attorney general since 2008, will face Republican candidate Rand Paul in November in a race that has captured national attention, as reported by The Washington Post. Following this year's picnic, Paul found himself in hot water with Farm Fancy organizers after he told conservative radio talk show host Sean Hannity that Fancy Farm was "a wild picnic" and that speakers "worry about people throwing beer on you and throwing things at you," according to the Associated Press. Paul apologized for his remarks the day after the Hannity interview, the AP reported.
Aug. 18, 2010 | permalink
Abortion has been a hot-button issue in the primaries this summer, fueling negative campaigning in several races.
Prior to losing the U.S. Senate Republican primary in Kansas to Rep. Jerry Moran on Aug. 3, fellow GOP Rep. Todd Tiahrt criticized Moran for votes he cast on abortion legislation as a state senator two decades ago, the Associated Press reported. A Tiahrt radio ad alleged that Moran has "voted against parents' rights and responsibilities" and "refused to co-sponsor the Right to Life Act." In response, Moran reiterated his opposition to abortion, saying, "I consider myself pro-life because [of] my religious beliefs, my faith, the way I grew up," the AP reported.
A different ad targeted several candidates in the GOP primary for Kansas' 4th Congressional District seat (currently held by Tiahrt, who is not seeking re-election). According to The Wichita Eagle, the pro-life organization Common Sense Issues Kansas produced a radio spot accusing state Sen. Jean Schodorf of "refus[ing] to sign a pledge against taxpayer funding of abortion" and candidate Wink Hartman of wanting "to give taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood." Mike Pompeo, who received the endorsement of Kansans for Life, went on to win the Aug. 3 primary, the Wichita paper reported.
In Georgia's Aug. 10 Republican primary runoff, former congressman Nathan Deal narrowly defeated former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel to win the GOP's nomination for governor after a heated series of exchanges over abortion, the AP reported. According to the wire service, Deal "opposes abortions except where the life of the mother is at stake," while "Handel supports additional exceptions for cases of rape and incest." Early in the campaign, the AP story said, Deal attacked Handel for voting in 2005, when she was chair of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, to provide over $425,000 in funding to Planned Parenthood. A counterattack came from RedState blogger and Handel supporter Erick Erickson, who accused Deal of voting to give Planned Parenthood $500 million in federal funds for "actual abortions" during his first term in the U.S. Congress, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. (On his Peach Pundit blog, Erickson later retracted the statement and apologized to the Deal campaign.) Amid the charges and countercharges, both Deal and Handel described themselves as pro-life, with Deal attributing his position to discussions with "my minister, friends who are religious advisors and friends within the pro-life community," according to the AP wire.
Controversy over Handel's position on abortion continued through late July, when the executive director of Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) told Politico that Handel would have allowed the abortion of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's youngest child, Trig, who was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. Handel angrily denied the claim and told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that GRTL's leadership should resign. Palin subsequently endorsed Handel and defended the candidate's anti-abortion position, saying, "Despite what they are throwing at her, Karen is pro-life and will walk the walk," The Augusta Chronicle reported.
The Pew Forum's abortion resource page includes an overview of the abortion debate in America, a history of key U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the issue and religious groups' official positions on abortion.
Aug. 16, 2010 | permalink
Politicians across New York and beyond are debating the proposed construction of an Islamic center and prayer space two blocks from the World Trade Center site.
The American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative received tentative approval in late May for construction of the $100 million Islamic center in lower Manhattan, as reported by Fox News.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio voiced concern over the project in early July, according to NPR, calling on N.Y. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is also the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, to investigate the center's funding. According to the website of the New York political program Capital Tonight, Cuomo rejected the call for an investigation and responded to Lazio in a letter, asking, "What are we about, if not religious freedom?"
Carl Paladino, Lazio's opponent in the Sept. 14 GOP gubernatorial primary, said in a radio ad that, if elected, he would use the power of eminent domain to prevent construction of the center. According to The Times-Union, an Albany-area newspaper, Paladino said the center is "about the Islamists wanting to illustrate that they have conquered America by taking down the World Trade Center." Recent polls show Paladino "gaining in his challenge to Rick Lazio," The Buffalo News reported on Aug. 3.
Other New York Republicans who have voiced opposition include Michael Faulkner, a congressional candidate in New York's 15th district, who argued against the center on Chris Matthew's television program, Hardball, and Dan Maloney, a candidate in New York's 4th district who gave a speech at a rally hosted by the organization Stop Islamization of America. Republican George Pataki, the former governor of New York, argued against the construction on Fox News and MSNBC. The New York Observer reported that nine-term Congressman Peter King and Senate candidate Gary Berntsen voiced concerns about the Islamic center in a shared conference call.
Not all New York politicians are opposed to the Islamic center, however. In addition to Cuomo, the New York Post reported that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, supports the center's construction. He called Lazio's proposed investigation into the center's finances "un-American," according to AP.
Politicians elsewhere in the country have also joined the debate. Politico reported that former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin tweeted, "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing." Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, also a Republican, expressed opposition to the center on his website, as reported by AP. The Hill reported that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said developers should "put the brakes" on the planned mosque. But according to The Boston Globe, Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has "lent his support" to the Islamic center.
At an iftar dinner for Ramadan held at the White House on Aug. 13, President Barack Obama supported the right of Muslims throughout the U.S. – including in lower Manhattan – to build new mosques and community centers, saying, "as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country." After his remarks were widely interpreted as an endorsement of the New York City Islamic center, he clarified the next day that his comments were meant to address the issue of religious freedom rather than "the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque" near the ground zero site, as reported by USA Today.
National interest groups have also weighed in. Reuters reported that the National Republican Trust PAC unsuccessfully sought to air a television spot – featuring images of Islamist militants and video clips of the 9/11 attacks – protesting the Islamic center. The Anti-Defamation League said in a press release that "New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found." The pro-Israel lobby J Street, however, has backed construction of the center, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Aug. 2, 2010 | permalink
God and guns seem to be popular themes in 2010 campaign ads, sometimes popping up in close proximity.
Before losing in the Republican runoff in Alabama's 2nd congressional district, candidate Rick Barber garnered national attention for this campaign video featuring a portrayal of George Washington rapping his fingers next to a Bible and what appears to be a revolutionary-era pistol. With the concluding line of "gather your armies," Barber put himself in the crosshairs of pundits on both the left and right who described the ad as a "call to treason" (MSNBC's Keith Olbermann) and "misguided" (Glenn Beck, on his radio show). In another ad, Barber uses the same Bible-and-gun motif, adding the Gadsden ("don't tread on me") flag.
Pamela Gorman, a Republican candidate in Arizona's 3rd congressional district, came out shooting in her first campaign ad. After a clip of her firing off what Politico identified as a Thompson submachine gun (the iconic weapon of gangster films), the narrator says, "Meet Pamela Gorman...conservative Christian and a pretty fair shot." She goes on to fire, in succession, two handguns and an assault rifle, a gun similar to that used by military and law enforcement personnel.
Republicans aren't the only ones to campaign on the themes of faith and arms. Tommy Sowers, a Democratic candidate in Missouri's 8th congressional district, refers to his military service in a campaign ad, saying, "When I served in Iraq, I wasn't alone. I had my fellow soldiers and this combat Bible." He then holds up a steel-encased Bible. His military experiences are also highlighted in several places on his campaign website, including in a video entitled, Tommy Sowers: Soldier.
Another much-viewed campaign ad of a candidate wielding a firearm – albeit, without any mention of his faith – was made by Dale Peterson, former candidate for Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries. In the ad, he hefts what The Washington Post identified as a Winchester rifle over a fence and declares, "I'm Dale Peterson. I'll name names and take no prisoners." After losing the Republican primary, Peterson released another ad endorsing his former opponent, John McMillan, in which the Winchester, referred to as the "quintessential cowboy rifle" in a separate article in the Post, never leaves Peterson's hand.
Conservative commentator Beck and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called for a return to "God, guns and the polls" at a National Rifle Association rally in May 2010, as reported by The Charlotte Observer. While majorities of Americans in the late 1990s through much of the 2000s said it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect the rights of Americans to own guns, recent surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press have found increasing support for gun rights. According to a March 2010 survey, the public is evenly split on gun ownership: 46% of Americans said it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect the rights of Americans to own guns, while 46% said it was more important to protect gun rights. Between 2008 and 2009, support for the right to own guns increased substantially among men – particularly white men – high school graduates, independents and people living in the Midwest and South.
July 14, 2010 | permalink
Two Republican candidates in key U.S. Senate races have stirred controversy by questioning whether there ought to be separation between church and state in America.
Nevada Republican candidate Sharron Angle declared in 1995, according to minutes from a meeting of the Nevada Assembly Committee on Education, that "the separation of church and state is an unconstitutional doctrine." As reported in The Washington Post, she reaffirmed this view in a June 29 television interview on a Las Vegas political program. Her opponent, Democratic incumbent Harry Reid, quickly seized upon her remarks in a press release, according to the Post.
Ken Buck, a Republican candidate in Colorado, appears to share Angle's view. Politico recently cited a November 2009 article in The Colorado Statesman that described Ken Buck's "opposition to the principle of separating church and state."
The religion clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause – have long been a source of national debate. According to a 2009 Pew Forum legal report, the U.S. Supreme Court first interpreted the Establishment Clause as erecting "a wall of separation between church and state" in its ruling in the 1947 case Everson v. Board of Education. More recently, however, some of the high court's decisions have moved away from strict separationism and toward an approach that considers government funding of religion constitutional as long as the funding does not favor religion over non-religion or favor one particular faith, the report says.
July 13, 2010 | permalink
The proposed construction of a mosque in the middle of Tennessee has produced a sharp exchange of words between candidates for an open congressional seat.
In May, the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission approved the construction of a 52,000-square-foot facility to house a mosque and Islamic center in Murfreesboro. More than 600 residents turned out at a county commission meeting in mid-June to protest the construction plans, ABC's World News reported.
Candidates looking to represent Tennessee's 6th congressional district, which includes Murfreesboro, were quick to take sides. According to The Tennessean, self-described "tea party Democrat" George Erdel declared that "Islam is a system of government. Islam is a system of justice.... I'm afraid we'll have a training facility in Rutherford County."
Republican candidate Lou Ann Zelenik took a similar stand in a press release, saying, "This 'Islamic Center' is not part of a religious movement; it is a political movement designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee." A local television news station reported that Zelenik soon afterward received death threats. Most recently, Zelenik claimed the center has a "radical agenda" and called for an investigation. A board member of the Islamic center has been suspended as a result of Zelenik's accusations.
Ben Leming, a Marine and Iraq combat veteran who is also running as a Democrat for the 6th district seat, countered Zelenik's views in statements covered by the local Daily News Journal and NashvillePost.com's "Post Politics" blog. "The Americans that want to build this mosque are already our neighbors. They live next to us and they are a part of our community. They are not the enemy," he said.
June 28, 2010 (updated July 14, 2010) | permalink
In the Alabama Republican gubernatorial primary, one candidate's religious beliefs – especially on creationism and whether the Bible is to be taken literally – took center stage. Questions about Bradley Byrne's beliefs arose after the Press-Register, a local paper, quoted him in November 2009 as saying, "I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be literally true and parts that are not." Campaign ads on both sides focused on Byrne's religion: An ad from a group called True Republican PAC attacked Byrne for supporting the teaching of evolution and for questioning the literal truth of the Bible, while two ads produced by the Byrne campaign touted his family, daily Bible reading and Christian faith. And GOP candidate Robert Bentley released an ad that declares, "All the Republican candidates for governor are pro-life.... Most of us believe that the Bible is God's word – I certainly do." Bentley went on to defeat Byrne in the July 13 Republican primary runoff.
The attention paid to this debate in Alabama is perhaps not surprising when looking at the results from the Pew Forum's 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which finds that Alabama is among the most religiously committed states. More than half of Alabamians (56%) disagree with the statement that "evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life." A similar percentage (54%) of the state's residents believe the Bible is the word of God and should be interpreted literally, word for word. These percentages are significantly higher than among the total U.S. population (45% of U.S. adults disagree that evolution is the best explanation for human life and 33% consider the Bible to be the literal word of God).