Monday, January 30, 2012

Jessica Ahlquist, Atheist, Receives Threats Over Prayer Banner Ruling; School Board May Appeal

This article describes the actions of Jessica Ahlquist that took a stand against school officials about a banner that was being displayed at her public high school. The reason that this banner has caused considerable problems to arise is because of the fact that the banner features a prayer, which was offensive to the Ahlquist who is an atheist. “On Jan. 11, federal judge Ronald R. Lagueux ruled it was unconstitutional for the banner to hang at the public school,” which is clear that the federal government saw that this banner was going against the Establishment clause of the first amendment.  
It is clear that the issue that are present in this article is the fact that this banner seem to some people as an entanglement of the public school with religion. Although a student wrote the prayer in 1963, the school was the one that made the decision to hang the banner for public view. The Establishment Clause has clear implications that the government was not to favor anyone one religion over another. The banner was seen to be in favor of the Christian belief with the prayer starting with “Our Heavenly Father” in which Ahlquist saw that the public school was favoring one religion over all the others by displaying the banner in the auditorium and refusing to take it down. The Establishment Clause has been challenged before about prayer in public school in the Engel v. Vitale case in which the mandatory prayer that was recited everyday that was written by the Board of Regents was ruled unconstitutional and struck down by the courts. It was seen that the government had no business in establishing or promoting a certain religion with the requirement of a certain prayer in schools. This can be seen in the case of the banner, even though it was not required to be recited, the clear acceptance and refusal to take it down by the School Board showed a clear preference and promotion of one religion.
The school tried to make it appear that he banner was hung and not taken down because it was part of the “historic and cultural” aspect of the school and that it has nothing to do with the promotion of a single religion. It cannot be seen as purely secular matter since the primary effect of the banner is to promote a particular religions prayer, and so it its in direct violation of the Establishment Clause. There is no clear secular point of the banner since it does not display any historical value, other than being produced by the student in 1963. One can also argue that the banner was in no way a form of mandatory prayer in public schools and that the banner was just hung there and that Ahlquist did not have to look at it if it offended her, in which they would not be seeing this as a religious cause but that of a free speech case. There seems to be a problem with that in which the court have ruled before that individuals have the right of free exercise of any religion of their choosing and to speak freely about it, but the first amendment does prohibit the government from interfering and accommodating one religion over another and causing entanglement of Church and State. 

Obama requires Health Plans to Cover Contraception

The Obama administration reaffirmed that most health insurance plans must cover contraceptives for women, effective August 1, 2012, including health care plans provided by religious organizations to their employees.  Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church opposed this recent decision and appealed to President Obama, personally, asking him to grant a broad exemption for religious employers.   Leaders of the Catholic Church issued a statement that they would fight the “edict” from the government.   Other opponents of this ruling stated they might also challenge it in court as well.  Religious leaders who also expressed their concern over this ruling include evangelical, Greek Orthodox and Orthodox Jewish leaders.  
This forced President Obama to consider claims made by the Catholic leaders as well as advocates for women’s rights, family planning advocates, scientific experts and members of Congress.  Despite protests and debates within the administration, the administration reaffirmed its original position, comprising slightly to include an exemption for certain “religious employers” if it employs or serves large numbers of people of a different faith.  Additionally, the administration is giving religious employers who qualify for the exemption and extra year to adapt to the new rule.   The contentious issue in this dispute stems from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which reads using contraception is a morally unacceptable means for regulating births, a criterion of morality for the Catholic Church.
Senator Richard Blumenthal , Democrat of Connecticut, described the final rule a victory for women’s health, stating this will  “ensure that women have access to full health care services, regardless of their employer, so they can make the best health choices for themselves and their families.”    However,  Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, responded to the final ruling, stating “ . . we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences. . we’re unable to live with this.”    It is not the responsibility of the government to uphold the conscience of the church.  The government’s interest lies in protecting health services for a segment of society, essentially half the population, while maintaining a respectful, yet delicate, relationship with the church.  
The Obama administration deserves credit and should be applauded for acting responsibly.  The role of the government is to manage social order and protect the interest of every citizen.   In an attempt to manage burdensome and soaring health care costs, President Obama has chosen to correct the broken health care system and include “preventative health services” for every woman.  This decision should not be understood as an attack on religion or the Catholic Church.   Rather, the Obama administration relied on rational and scientific arguments to defend this ruling, stressing that “scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women.”  For decades, contraceptive methods (preventative health services) has had severely limited availability for women.   This places a burden on women privately and within the health care system.   Health care plans with limited access to birth control places women’s health care secondary to other segments of society.
Obama considered arguments on both sides of the issue out of respect for religious liberty and understanding limitations of government interference with the church.  The final rule takes a balanced position, respecting religious freedom asserted by the Catholic Church, evidenced by the resulting exemption for certain religious groups.   By including the exemption, this rule protects religious liberty while also limiting privilege of religious organizations.  Church groups, however, call the exemption narrow and meaningless.   This ruling could be only a temporary victory for women’s health with the uncertainty of 2013 elections.  It is possible that the church could bring suit to broaden the exemption, which would essentially limit women’s access to fundamental health care. 

“Ground Zero Mosque”: 3 Years Later

If you do not remember the “Ground Zero mosque” that was a media sensation, in early 2009, let me refresh your memory. A community center was proposed to be built near the site of the Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center used to stand. When this story was brought to the forefront people were defending and opposing the building of the community center-given its close proximity to such an emotionally tumultuous area. Ironically, the community center was near the site, but not within the 16-block radius labeled Ground Zero.

According to Time Magazine, “nearly 70% of Americans in a CNN–Opinion Research Corporation poll say they oppose a Ground Zero mosque.” I find it hard to believe, that almost three-fourths of the population did not approve the notion to build the center, having been presented with all the facts. I think this is due to the huge amount of general islamophobia in our culture as well as the one-sided news coverage often presented.

Mike Bloomberg, New York City Mayor, says, "We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else." On the flip side, Inayat Bunglawala, a supporter of Muslim rights, states,

Ultimately, we need to try to get to the point where our press apply the same standards to Muslims as to any other faith group or any other minority group community. Currently, no other faith group is treated with this barrage of inaccurate and often downright malicious misrepresentation in the national press. It is, of course, understandable that in view of the al-Qaeda terror threat we have seen in recent years that newspapers will often touch on the issue of Muslims and Islam in their reporting. That is, however, absolutely no excuse for their lies and incitement.”

I would agree with Inayat Bunglawala. Muslims, arguably more than any other group, is heavily persecuted not only by the members of our society, but by the leaders of our country in government and most often in news media. To avoid further potential conflict, I think legislation should review and limit the representation of minority religious groups in the country. This country is deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian favoritism and this is no longer an accurate representation of the people of the United States.

To reiterate, essentially, I think the infamous ‘Ground Zero mosque’, was an example of islamophobia in the twenty-first century. I would also like to point out the parallel of religious persecution of colonial religious groups, like Quakers and Protestants, and modern day religious groups like Muslims and Mormons. It is another perfect example of how scare tactics are used in the United States as a form of control. There was no legitimate “threat” in the building of the community center, but because Islam is a heavily debated issue in the context of time and place, it is easily misconstrued and shown in a negative light.

Although this case study does not directly coincide with new legislation, it does greatly involve the larger issue of religious freedom in this country.

Read more:,8599,2011400,00.html#ixzz1kwinDI4f

Preston L.


Although it has been nearly fifty years since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decisions removing state-sponsored prayers in public schools, it still remains hot topic today. A lawsuit was filed in Texas on June 1st 2011 by an agnostic family against Medina Valley HighSchool.  The Schultz family urged the courts to ban prayers at their son’s graduation ceremony claiming that “the inclusion of prayers at Medina Valley High School graduation ceremonies violates the Established Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution”. They also claimed their son would “suffer irreparable harm if the prayers are not enjoined”. The U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery ruled in favor of the Schultz family ordering the school district to remove the words “invocation” and “benediction” and replacing them with “opening remarks” and “closing remarks” on the program for the ceremonies. The students and speakers were also ordered to reframe from asking those in the audience to “stand”, “join in prayer” or “bow their heads”. The Attorney for the Schultz family argued that the prayers at the graduation ceremonies were not student-initiated, but government –sponsored, and that it put pressure on audience members to participate against their beliefs. Following Judge Beery’s ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an emergency appeal at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of allowing prayers at the graduation ceremonies. A Dallas-based Liberty Institute also filed a lawsuit on behalf of Angela Hildenbrand,(the valedictorian that was set to pray as part of the speech she had prepared )  in Castroville, Texas, asking the 5th Circuit Court to overturn Judge Biery’s ruling before the school’s commencement ceremony that Saturday. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ended up dissolving Judge Biery’s injunction, ruling that the Schultz family had not persuaded panal of judges “that the individual prayers or other remarks to be given by students at graduation are, in fact, school-sponsored”.
Religion and government in the United States are governed by the first Amendment to the constitution. The main constitutional issues that come into play in this situation involves: The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause (together known as the “religious clause”) of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Here is the language of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion (“establishment clause”), or prohibiting the free exercise (“free exercise clause”) thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Although the First Amendment forbids religious activity sponsored by the government in cases such as this, I believe it’s important to make a distinction between government speech that endorses religion, which the Established Clause forbids, and a private speech which endorses religion, which the Free Speech and Exercise Clause protect. The prayer was not planned to be lead by a public school teacher or official, but by a student.  Students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Tinker v. Des Monines indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506(1969). Previously in a similar case the Supreme Court has made clear that “private religious speech” is fully protected under the Free Speech Clause as secular private expression. “Capitol Square Review & Advisory Bd. V. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753, 760 (1995). In this case I believe the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals made the right ruling by overturning the initial ban by Judge Fred Biery. Valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand’s  speech and prayer, is a “privately initiated religious expression” and as such is protected by her First Amendment rights.
The main/landmark cases from the US Supreme Court seem to be
1. Engel v. Vitale (1962)
2. Wallace v. Jaffree(1985)
3. Lee v. Weisman (1992)
4. Santa Fe Independent School v. Doe (2000)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Should Public Schools rent to religious groups?

Earlier this month, 44 people were arrested while protesting a ban which would bar religious groups from conducting worship services in New York’s public schools. 68 congregations will be effected by the ban, but a majority, if not all, of these congregations are Christian. Led by their pastors the protestors chanted “Freedom of Worship!” They discussed their congregations’ community service record to clarify their charitable nature. New York’s Department of Education responded they were “concerned about having any school in this diverse City identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”

Did these public schools, and by extension the government, expose students to the religious ideas or activities which occurred there after hours? Some pastors claim to have no interaction with students and others admit they interact with students only after hours in the form of tutoring or other charity for students of all beliefs. While not explicitly stated in the article, it seems during the school week there are no signs of the religious organization within the school. As any exposure to these congregations in voluntary, I do not understand how the school would become identified with one religious belief.

Considering the constitutionality of this ban seems fair as protestors were chanting for “Freedom of Worship!” This ban doesn’t circumscribe these congregations’ religious freedom as they are still free to believe what they wish, practice their religion and to rent another building to worship in. The First Amendment guards against laws “respecting an establishment of religion” which includes “connoted sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity.” Allowing these congregations to meet does not violate the first amendment. However, these congregant’s religious freedoms aren’t being infringed either.

Secondly, they argue that when they are barred from meeting in public schools they can no longer help the community, which can be argued is a tenet of their religion. I have read multiple descriptions of this ban which is described as either a ban against religious groups meeting on public property or specifically banning religious worship in public school buildings after hours. If the latter is true, these groups will still be able to rent public schools, and the ban will not affect their ability to use the school as a base for their charity work. If it is the former, their capacity to quickly and efficiently reach those in need, especially students, may be hampered although their charity would not necessarily have to end.

An article describing the same case in 2005, discusses a judgment in favor of the congregations. However in this earlier article, the discomfort of New York City’s citizens towards churches occupying schools even after hours is more obvious. Does the government attempt to steer clear of religious groups since their mere presence is enough to make some constituents uncomfortable? Unless there are extenuating circumstances, it seems fair that all groups should be able to rent public spaces. The situation in New York illustrates that the government views religious and secular groups as separate and different entities. If these congregations are paying rent, not influencing students who attend the school during normal hours, and enriching the community why should they not be allowed to meet at schools?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer

In a recent New York Times article Jessica Ahiquist, a Rhode Island atheist won a suite against her schools prayer poster. Jessica Ahiquist is a die hard, outspoken Atheist who battles a dominant Roman Catholic city in her wish to have her schools prayer removed from the walls of the auditorium. The prayer has been hanging in school for almost 50years and, Jessica's wish to have it removed has struck many people in the town in a negative way. A seventh grader wrote the prayer as moral support, and the 1963 graduating class presented it as a gift to the school. The landmark Supreme Court ruled against organized prayer in schools one year after the prayer was presented. The prayer begins with “Our Heavenly Father grant us each day the desire to do our best” and goes on before it ends to say Amen.

A federal judged ruled this month in the favor of Jessica Ahiquist, stating the school prayer was unconstitutional and violated the principle of government neutrality in religion. After the decision to have Cranston High School eight feet tall, 1963 prayer removed; Residence have flooded school board meeting demanding an appeal against the ruling. Jessica has received many online threats and has to be escorted by police to school. This emotional issue has gained the attention of many including State Representative Peter G. Palumbo who called Jessica “an evil little thing” on a radio talk show. Many florists refused to deliver Jessica flowers sent from a national Atheist group. The group later decided to file a complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights. Despite of the negative attention Jessica has received, many supporters of her wish have praised her for her bold efforts. A support group based in Wisconsin and has given Jessica $13,000 in scholarship funds.

When looking at an issue like this one you have be careful and put your feelings behind you because although I see nothing wrong the prayer, it is definitely unconstitutional. The fact that the majority of the school approves of the prayer and the battle is against one person does seem unfair. The prayer has been hanging in the school for nearly 50years and was there before organized prayer was banned from public schools for this reason I do believe an appeal should be granted in the wish to keep prayer in the school. I also think the main issue is control, the fact the one student has the power to change something that the majority of the community disagree with is upsetting. Often people may loose sight of what they are fighting for which leads to the questions: Are you fighting for Religious reason or Are you fighting because you want the power to control?

Sikhs against Jay Leno

            In a recent opening monologue, Jay Leno made a joke towards GOP candidate Mitt Romney.  He showed a clip of the Golden Temple of Amritsar (a holy shrine to the Sikh’s) and made it appear to be Romney’s summer home.  An Indian-American man, Randeep Dhillon, was angered by the joke and filed a lawsuit in California for libel.  He argued that the joke “‘hurt the sentiments of all Sikh people in addition to the plaintiff.’”  The lawsuit went on to argue that by making a joke towards the Sikh’s holy temple, Leno exposed all Sikh’s to mockery and hatred and that the joke was “racist and derogatory.”  NBC, the channel that broadcasts The Tonight Show, has also been requested by other members of the Sikh community for action against the comments made by Leno.

            Primarily, this is a case about slander and freedom of speech.  One man was offended by the words of another said on national TV.  However, the plaintiff believed he had a case against Leno largely because his religion was mocked in his opinion.  This suit, if it goes further in the justice process, will raise the questions of 1) if a religion is mocked, do the followers of that religion have the right to sue and 2) does that trump freedom of speech in the United States?  If “‘the sentiments of all Sikh people’” are hurt, does that have more precedence that the constitutional right of free speech?
            As mentioned above and in the article, America has the constitutional right to free speech.  Anyone who watches The Tonight Show is aware that Leno’s opening monologue is filled with jokes.  While there may be some truth to what he says during the monologue (before showing the temple as Romney’s home, two other actual homes of GOP candidates were shown), there is always a punch line at the end.  The joke Leno made was not directed at the Sikh religion, but towards Romney.  The intent of the joke was to make fun of how Romney is rich.  While I was aware of the Sikh religion, I did not recognize the gold temple as a holy site to the Sikh’s, which I believe is the same for many Americans watching Leno’s opening monologue.  Leno could have shown a clip of Buckingham Palace instead of the temple and send the same message about Romney, and the British monarch would likely not have filed suit against Leno.   Hypothetically, if this case where to not be thrown out and Dhillon won, the implications of the case would mean that shows like South Park, an equal opportunity offender, and Family Guy could be sued on a regular basis.  If the feelings of a religious group were superior to freedom of speech, the government would be favoring religion.  While that is not establishing religion or preventing the free exercise of religion, it would be ignoring another very important constitutional freedom Americans have.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fliers for Religious Clubs Banned in Arizona and Oklahoma

          Late last week, attorneys from Alliance Defense Fund filed suit on behalf of the Good News Club, a Christian club in the Dysart Unified School District of Arizona, claiming that a ban on the distribution of the club’s fliers is unconstitutional. The fliers were banned on the basis that publishing and distributing fliers (or any literature) of a “religious nature” is against district policy. Jeremy Tedesco, legal counsel for the Good News Club, claims that this ban is a direct violation of the First Amendment, and attributes the district’s breach to a “…misperception of what the establishment clause requires.” He goes on to say that the First Amendment mandates equal treatment among all groups – religious or otherwise – and states that denying this group from distributing fliers when other groups are being permitted to advertise their activities in this manner is unconstitutional. Tedesco is asking the court for an injunction that would prevent the district from continuing to infringe upon the rights of the club.
          A similar story is unfolding in Oklahoma, where students of Northeast Elementary School are suing the Owasso Public School system for hindering their attempts at advertising their Bible study group in the same manner as other school groups. Again, the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit on behalf of the youth group, citing the district’s policy as a direct violation of both the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Both the Good News Club and the Kids for Christ  youth group are permitted to make use of school facilities for their meetings and activities, but the policies restricting the manner in which the clubs can promote their group is hindering their ability to attract new members.
          These two situations are essentially identical, and consequently, they raise the same issue: To what degree should the church be separate from the state? Personally, I think the ban is unconstitutional and unnecessary. First, if the school is going to allow other, non-religious groups to advertise through fliers and other literature, the Christian clubs should be permitted to promote their organization in a similar fashion. Also, because it is the students – not the school – that endorse the club, any argument that the state would be promoting Christianity is unfounded. What the state is doing is restricting these students’ rights on the basis of their religious beliefs, something which is clearly prohibited in the First Amendment.
          Not only is the ban unconstitutional, but it is also unnecessary. Those who do not wish to read the fliers are not required to do so. Throughout the school year students are bombarded with fliers and advertisements for things like intramural sports, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, chess club, science club, Mathletes, art club, cheer-leading, etc. The fact that the majority of these announcements will end up in trash cans or recycle bins clearly points to the student’s ability to determine which activities they may be interested in. The Christian club fliers are no different. Students are capable of making informed decisions about which clubs they wish to participate in based on their own values and beliefs. As long as the fliers follow reasonable guidelines that are applicable to all groups, the Good News Club and all other Christian clubs should be permitted to promote their gatherings in the same manner as other outside groups. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thoughts on the recent Hosanna-Tabor decision

In the recent Supreme Court decision, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the court unanimously ruled to further the separation between church and state. In this article, the author applauds the court's decision and says that "all of us who think that religious freedom is a fundamental human right should be grateful." In this case, a woman's employment was terminated after she took time off due to being diagnosed with narcolepsy. In Chief Justice John Roberts' written opinion he claims that granting the plaintiff re-occupation would violate the constitution's free exercise clause by interfering with Hosanna-Tabor's ability to hire personnel that share their faith, saying,

"Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving it of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs . . . By imposing an unwanted minister the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group's right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments."

In a rare showing, the other eight justices on the court agreed with Roberts, almost ensuring that the precedent from this case will be followed closely. That precedent means that workers of religious institutions can't sue their employer as per the discrimination clause of the American With Disabilities Act (ADA). Unfortunately, as the article points out, this means that groups that are the usual suspects for discrimination (especially homosexuals and women) would have no recourse if they feel that their termination was based on discrimination. The author of the article provides the story of a priest in Philadelphia whose contract was terminated when it was discovered he was in a long-term homosexual relationship. Apparently this sparked a public outcry, as people talked and wrote about "how horrible it was for the school to essentially fire a good man based upon his sexual orientation." However as the author put it, "That's not discrimination. That's maintaining the integrity of the faith."
The things that the woman in the Hosanna-Tabor case and the gay Priest have in common is that their jobs consist of constant interactions with people of their faith and their relative positions of authority (as a teacher, and as a priest) suggest that they have conformed to the standards set by their religion. As the Hosanna-Tabor case made its way through the appellate court system, the women argued that since she taught mostly secular subjects, the ministerial exception should not apply to her. The 6th circuit court agreed with her, but the Supreme Court reversed that ruling, insisting that forcing Hosanna-Tabor to rehire her would be a government encroachment into the church's private sphere.
While I agree that religious institutions should have control over whom they hire to represent them and their faith, I think the precedent set by this case may be overreaching. Obviously when a person's orientation or performance conflicts with the ministry and the spreading of that religion's message, the church should have the right to make executive decisions regarding their employment. However, there are many people that work for religious institutions that do not have positions of power, and their job does not involve ministry. For instance, any large church has one or more janitors to keep the place clean. If a janitor is fired and he believes it was because of some form of discrimination, does he have no legal recourse? Do you think this is fair? Please leave some comments with your thoughts.

Religion Matters: Americans not ready for a Mormon President

By now, I think we’ve all noticed how diverse the Mormon community is.  Billboards, commercials, even bus signs have been showing the faces of every ethnicity you can think of in an effort to present a new image of the Mormon Church.  CNN’s Belief Blog covered the church’s campaign in their article "With 'I'm a Mormon' campaign, church counters lily white image."  The article points out that all the billboards and commercials are the result of a marketing strategy of the LDS Church to diversify their public image.  “Since January, the LDS Church has spent millions on an ‘I’m a Mormon’ advertising campaign that features television commercials, billboards and bus signs with Mormons from African-American, Asian, Latino and other ethnic backgrounds.  Just last month, the campaign entered 11 new major media markets in Texas, Indiana, Nebraska, Washington, Georgia, Arizona hitting cities like Atlanta, Denver and Phoenix.”  This campaign is an effort to get rid of the common perception of the Mormon community as one that is predominately white.  So what does all this have to do with politics or law for that matter?  It matters because the Mormons’ diversity campaign couldn’t have come at a better time for GOP primary candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, both of which are Mormon.  While the Mormon Church claims to be avoiding politics by not advertising in Iowa, South Carolina, or Florida, the campaign’s efforts may have had an unintended effect on the Presidential election.  In an election year where it seems that religion does matter as voters choose their candidate, the Mormon campaign could have open the eyes of Americans to the possibility of the first non-Protestant Christian President. 
In the past, Mormon’s have faced much criticism from within the Christian community, facing accusations that they are not legitimate members of the Christian faith.  Even within the larger context of American public opinion, Mormon’s are often seen as not a part of mainstream society and according to a poll cited in CNN's article "Survey:  Mormon's feel discrimination, hope," half of all Mormon’s said they have faced discrimination.  The same survey reported that 56% of Americans believe that the country is ready for a Mormon President.  However, 63% of American’s are beginning to see Mormons as part of mainstream society.  With 44% of the population still not open to the election of a Mormon President, it is clear that in this election and in politics in general, religion matters.  Although not all Americans are open to the possibility of a Mormon President, the Church’s efforts to diversify their image may have contributed to the increasingly open mind that Americans have towards the Mormon Church.   While it would seem that the religious affiliation of our Presidential hopefuls should be left out of their political platform, the reality is that whether or not their religious beliefs bleed into their political position, the American public takes religious affiliation seriously when considering their vote. 

Why do people care about Mitt Romney being a Mormon?

This article on Huffington Post talks about one of the biggest reasons why Newt Gingrich won South Carolina over Mitt Romney.  Gingrich benefited off of Romney’s mormon faith which led him to win south Carolina with flying colors. Exit Polls show that 43% of the people who said “Religious faith mattered” voted for Gingrich while 42% of people who said “Religion faith doesn’t matter” voted for Romney.  Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who came in second in 2008 South Carolina primary race advised that Romney should address his faith to the voters. That he needs to make his faith less important somehow and focus on turning the country around.

The biggest issue here is that people in US often care about religious identity of the President of United States. There is a clear distinction between the voters that voted for Gingrich and Romney. There could be one of two reasons associated with this. One, that due to the majority of population being Christian, voters want a Christian to lead the country (one of their type) and two, that American voters discriminate against any non-Christian presidential candidate because he is not one of their type.

Why do voters care about religious faith anyway? A presidential candidate is chosen to be the president for his experience, talents, and strategies, there is no room for religious identity. I feel that Mitt Romney is being a victim; he is being discriminated against because he is not a christian. Voters need not look for a true “Christian” in a presidential candidate, just because majority of the population of the United States is Christian. We shouldn’t care what church he goes to, or if he doesn’t. What matters is, if they can turn around the economy and get back American jobs. We might as well pass a law stating that if the presidential candidate isn’t Christian, he/she shall not be allowed to run for presidency. If the church and state can be separated, so can Romney’s personal beliefs and professional beliefs. All one needs is the country’s best interest at heart to be the president of United States. I feel that Romney needs to tell the voters straight up that he is a mormon, has different religious beliefs but also has great strategies to fix the economy because of his business background. Many of the other GOP candidates are attacking Romney for his mormon faith, which is putting audience or voters in doubt and overlooking his experience. We can never end religious discrimination but what we can do is like stated above, create a bill or law that states only Christians can run for president because its rather hard to change different beliefs and opinions of millions of Americans and easier to weed out the non-Christian Presidential candidates because there aren’t many of them. I feel that is the true solution for this problem in the long run. Its time we stepped up and either opt for religious discrimination or eliminate it.

Obama Requires Religious Institutions to Offer Contraception

In a recent article in the New York Times, President Obama’s decision regarding exemptions to his healthcare reform legislation has had a serious effect on religious institutions. Under President Obama’s new healthcare reform laws, all employers are to provide employees with preventive health coverage, including various forms of birth control, at no cost to the employee. Church-affiliated organizations are extremely opposed to this piece of legislation. Most feel as though they are forced to endorse a policy which is in direct violation of their moral opinions. Although, exemptions may apply to employers without variations of faith among employees, the exemption is not applicable to multi faith religious institutions such as hospitals and universities. Despite arguments from several religious institutions, President Obama has made his final decision not to broaden the exemption, but to extend the compliance deadline by an additional year for religious institutions.

Although the most apparent issue at hand is the far too familiar battle between Church and State, the ongoing opposition by the Church to science and women’s rights can also be detected by moderate observation. The state makes every attempt not to inhibit institutions of faith, while still providing services to its citizens. This, however, becomes complicated when services being offered by the state are not in compliance with the moral order of its citizens as decided by their faith and the Church. The policies of the state are often allied with modern principles of science and individual’s rights. In modernity lies infringement upon tradition and ancient practices and beliefs held so tightly by the Church.

If the exemption to religious institutions is broadened, those who are in moral agreement with the use of contraception may be deprived the opportunity to receive the same healthcare benefits as those not employed by a religious institution. A nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital may have fewer healthcare opportunities than a cashier at the local Wal-Mart, despite her moral regard towards contraception. With the exemption maintaining its current limitations and specificity, it allows people with differing religious perspectives from their employers to receive premium quality healthcare. This is a modern piece of legislation conducive to the modern society in which we operate. Our society is one in which individuals are given the opportunity to utilize readily available resources in order to maintain a higher standards of health. We have scientific evidence to prove the effectiveness of better healthcare decisions, and thus we alter our legislation and lifestyles accordingly. Although this inevitably will result in discrepancies between the separation of Church and State, this piece of legislation in no way inhibits faith based traditions, and ultimately places the responsibility of healthcare decisions on the individual.