FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

What’s the 2014 election really about? Religious vs. women’s rights

Demonstrators gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for the "Not My Boss's Business" rally for women's health and rights in Washington

Religious rights versus women's rights. That's about as fundamental a clash as you can get in U.S. politics. It's now at the core of the 2014 election campaign, with both parties girding for battle.

What generated the showdown was last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The decision instantly became a rallying cry for activists on both the right and left. Congressional Democrats are already proposing a law to nullify the decision. “It's shameful that a woman's access to contraception is even up for debate in 2014,” Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said.   Conservative blogger Erick Erickson crowed, “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer-subsidized, consequence-free sex.”

How did the issue become so big so fast? Because it touches some extremely sensitive nerves in the body politic.

Members of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood attend a service in Ketchum, IdahoThe question that best predicts a person's politics today is not about income or education. It's religion: How often do you go to church? Regular churchgoers -- including fundamentalist Protestants, observant Catholics, even many Orthodox Jews -- vote Republican. Voters who rarely or never go to church vote Democratic.

President Ronald Reagan brought the religious right into the Republican coalition. The Reagan coalition is the Old America -- and religious rights are a touchstone issue.

from The Great Debate:

Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision puts faith in compromise

Anti-abortion demonstrators high five as the ruling for Hobby Lobby was announced outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington

On Monday the Supreme Court decided its most anticipated case of the year. According to a sharply divided 5-4 court, the government cannot compel a closely-held corporation to provide contraceptive coverage as part of its Affordable Care Act-mandated employee insurance plans.

This was the expected result: four conservatives in favor, four liberals against, and Justice Kennedy concurring in the middle. Yet while many are calling the ruling a victory for conservatives and a loss for women’s (and by extension, LGBT) rights, Justice Alito’s majority opinion is actually far more limited than many had expected. Here’s why.

First, the opinion is limited to closely-held corporations. This distinction makes sense. An individual’s beliefs may be attributed to a family-owned business much more reasonably than to a large corporation. Hobby Lobby, the named plaintiff in the case, is indeed large: it has over 500 stores, and over 13,000 employees. But it is family-owned, and the owners’ devout Christian faith is evident throughout the company -- including its advertising, product choices and employment policies.

from The Great Debate:

Why corporations don’t deserve religious freedom

On March 25 the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, whose outcomes will decide whether corporations can exempt themselves from provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), based on religious beliefs. The cases challenge a provision of the ACA that requires employer-provided insurance plans to include contraception coverage.

The rulings’ importance extends beyond the ACA, however. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, its companion case, are also about Citizens United -- which established that corporate personhood includes freedom of speech, exercised, in part, by giving money to political causes. Now the court will decide whether corporations have freedom of religion as well, and whether on the basis of those rights, corporations can deprive services to others.

The court should reject this dangerous assertion. Corporations exist as separate legal entities precisely to distinguish their activities from those of their owners. It is that separation that Hobby Lobby threatens to erase.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Gay marriage and the triumph of ’60s

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, it seems same sex marriage is here to stay. As the cover of Time put it, “Gay Marriage Already Won. The Supreme Court Hasn’t Made Up Its Mind – But America Has.”

Even some social conservative rabble-rousers have conceded defeat. Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, who in the past has compared gay unions to marrying a goat or a dolphin, has flipped, saying his views have “evolved.” “The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals,” O’Reilly said last week. “The other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.” Rush Limbaugh, too, is reluctantly resigned to the change. “I don’t care what the Supreme Court does, this is now inevitable,” he said.

Few social liberals thought marriage equality would be as easy as this, but public support has been so swift that politicians of both stripes have rushed to endorse the legitimacy of same sex marriage. Even President Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton were left playing catch-up.

U.S. appeals court hears key California gay marriage case

marriage 1Three federal appellate judges considering whether to allow gay marriage in California hear arguments on Monday in a case many expect to land in the U.S. Supreme Court and set national policy. California voters, with a reputation for social liberalism, shocked the United States in 2008 when they narrowly approved the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage only months after the top state court opened the door to same-sex weddings. (Photo: Same-sex marriage proponents at City Hall in San Francisco, August 12, 2010/Robert Galbraith)

More than 40 U.S. states have outlawed such unions, but the California challenge could shape the nation if the Supreme Court decides to review the appeals court decision. A lower court struck down the ban earlier this year, ruling that marriage is a fundamental constitutional right and that the defenders of the ban showed no justifiable reason for limiting the institution to opposite-sex couples.

marriage 2The ruling is on hold, though, while under appeal. (Photo: A man opposed to same sex marriage at City Hall in San Francisco, August 12, 2010/Robert Galbraith)

The Prop 8 ban proponents say the lower court ignored common wisdom and history that limits marriage to a man and a woman in order to spur procreation. Gay marriage proponents successfully argued in the lower court that the definition of marriage has changed over time, for instance including polygamy in some societies. Same-sex marriages would not harm the institution, they contended.

Indian Muslims are angry with Ayodhya verdict, but the country remains calm

ayodhya 1 (Photo: A Hindu priest walks past a mosque during Friday prayers in Ayodhya, October 1, 2010/Mukesh Gupta)

Indian Muslim clerics and leaders rallied on Friday against a court ruling over the disputed Ayodhya site that largely favoured Hindus, raising fears of further alienation of the minority community. The decision has been met with calm throughout India, despite fears the ruling could spark religious riots.

A court in Uttar Pradesh said in a judgment on Thursday that the site of a demolished mosque should be split between Hindus and Muslims. The court ruled Hindus would get two-thirds of the land and be allowed to keep a makeshift temple that was built over the razed mosque’s central dome.

In Delhi’s Jama Mosque, one of India’s largest, the chief cleric rejected the verdict.  “If we do not get our rights we will never be able to walk in this country with our heads held high,” said Shahi Imam Bukhari to shouts of “Allahu Akhbar”, or “god is greatest” by thousands of Muslims after Friday prayers. “It is our responsibility to maintain the peace, but we will not be broken, we cannot be broken. If the Supreme Court endorses the High Court’s decision, I will urge all Muslims to consider the matter with all seriousness and concern.”

Indian Supreme Court orders Ayodhya mosque verdict postponed

ayodhya 2 (Photo: Rapid Action Forces personnel patrol in Ayodhya, September 22, 2010/Adnan Abidi)

The Indian Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Allahabad High Court to delay a potentially explosive verdict on whether Hindus or Muslims own land around the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday came after an appeal to the stay on the judgment, saying the matter could be settled out of court. The Supreme Court will meet on Sept. 28 to decide on the appeal and commentators said the date of the actual verdict by the high court — originally due on Friday — was now unclear.

The central government has been on alert for any fallout from the verdict, appealing for calm. It banned public meetings in the state and stopped all bulk mobile text messages since they could be used to spread rumours and plan riots.

GUESTVIEW: Our American heritage: the Protestant legacy on the Supreme Court

supreme court

The U.S. Supreme Court, 23 June 2003/Brendan McDermid

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is a U.S. freelance journalist living in Glenmoore, PA who writes about religion.

By Elizabeth E. Evans

It is hard to evaluate the significance of history while it is being written.  But in considering whether it matters that there possibly will be no Protestant on the Supreme Court when it convenes next fall, one thing is clear – it’s a fascinating time to be a student of Christian practice in America.

Does the lack of Protestants of any stripe on the Court truly matter to anyone save those who might feel upset that their denomination is left out?  Arguably not.  In a time of increasing ethnic and religious pluralism, and with tectonic changes going on within Protestantism and Catholicism in the United States, it is possible that the old categories simply don’t work anymore.

from India Insight:

Is it time to end the death penalty in India?

Special Prosecuter Ujjwal Nikam holds up a document, with a cover showing Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, at Arthur Road Jail where Kasab's trial was held, in Mumbai May 6, 2010. REUTERS/Arko Datta

Suddenly, everyone in India is talking about executions.

Grim hangings are a topic of animated conversation at water coolers, cocktail parties and chat shows. Everyone seems to favour them, the quicker the better.

Just weeks ago, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani gunman convicted in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was sentenced to death by hanging.

Everywhere in Mumbai, where 166 people were gunned down by Kasab and his accomplices, people cheered and fought to express their joy to newspapers and TV channels.

UK court accused of interfering in Jewish identity

britishsupremecourt

UK Supreme Court in London, 14 Sept 2009/Andrew Winning

Britain’s top court was accused of interfering in religious matters after it ruled on Wednesday that a Jewish school was guilty of discrimination by refusing entry to a boy whose mother was a Jew by conversion, not birth.

The Supreme Court said the policy employed by the popular JFS school in London broke race laws by using ethnicity to decide which pupils to admit.  “Essentially we must now apply a ‘non-Jewish definition of who is Jewish’,” said Simon Hochhauser, president of the United Synagogue.

The case was brought after the school refused to admit a boy, known as M, whose father was a practicing Jew and whose mother had converted to Judaism at a non-orthodox synagogue. The over-subscribed school gave precedence to children recognized as ethnically Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth.