FaithWorld

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

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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.

Writing for the Huffington Post last month, Chicago University law professor Geoffrey Stone brought a bracing realism to the question of religious identity and the Court.  He pointed out that of the 112 Supreme Court justices who have served since it was founded, 83% percent have been Protestant, 11% percent Catholic, and 6% percent Jewish. However, he continues: “the U.S. population today is roughly 78% Christian, 51% Protestant, 24% Catholic, 16% non-religious, 2% Mormon, 2% Jewish, and 2% Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu combined.”

To achieve a truly representative Court, according to these standards, “the next 69 justices should consist of 32 Catholics, 29 non-religious individuals, four Mormons, a total of four Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, and no Protestants or Jews,” wrote Stone.  Considered in that light, it would be almost impossible for any president to make the “right” choice.

Q+A – Does Dalai Lama meeting help or hurt Obama?

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Dalai Lama in a 11 Nov 2009 file photo in India/Adnan Abidi

U.S. President Barack Obama will meet the Dalai Lama on Thursday after avoiding a get-together before his China trip last year. The White House visit by the Tibetan Buddhist leader comes at a time of increased tension between the United States and China, which has warned that the session will hurt Sino-U.S. ties.

Since 1990 every U.S. president has met the Dalai Lama at the White House. President George H.W. Bush started the tradition after the Chinese authorities crushed student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and an uprising in Tibet.

Is this a meeting Obama could do without? Will it help him burnish his human rights credentials? Examine these and other questions about the visit in this question-and-answer piece from our Washington bureau.

“Common Word” aims for “common deed” for peace

20091007commonword3 (Photo: Common Word conference with (from left) former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Georgetown University Professor John Esposito, Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, 7 Oct 2009/Georgetown University – Phil Humnicky)

Will a common word lead to a common deed? That’s the challenge that the “Common Word” group of Islamic scholars has posed at its fourth major Muslim-Christian dialogue conference now underway at Georgetown University in Washington. The group, which next week marks the second anniversary of its launch, has broken the ice with Christian leaders and fostered a lively and fruitful interchange with them. But it always said its goal was not simply to have more harmonious conferences among theologians. They want to make a real impact lessening tensions between Christians and Muslims out in the real world.

blairFormer British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, clearly endorsed this aim at the opening session on Wednesday. “The single most important thing is the translation of words into deed,” he told about 600 people attending the conference. “We’ve got to show — not by a dialogue among the elites, although it is very important that the key people come together — but actually building bridges among people.” (Photo: Tony Blair, 14 May 2009/Jason Reed)

Blair reminded his audience that many people think religion is not a solution but rather the problem in conflicts around the world. To counter this, he said, people of faith must not only foster understanding among believers but also refute the critics of faith.  “If we show by our actions that we are engaged in understanding and respect and justice, that is how we will succeed,” he said. “And that is what will overcome not just the extremism within religion but the cynicism outside of it.”

Muslim Americans encouraged, hopeful with Obama at the helm

alqaisiIraqi Americans Wasan Alqaisi and Sumer Majid made a Fourth of July family picnic of kebab — served on hamburger buns with slices of American cheese.

Celebrating Independence Day in Washington D.C., the two Muslim women were doing what generations of Americans have done before them: blending their faith and lifestyle with a U.S. national identity.

Eight years after Middle East militants carried out the September 11 attacks, Muslim Americans are raising their profile, encouraged by the election of Barack Obama, a U.S. president proud of his Kenyan father’s Muslim heritage.

GUESTVIEW: Amazing Grace — a rabbi’s view of the inaugural prayer service

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.

By Burton L. Visotzky

On Wednesday, I went to church. It seemed right that on the morning after President Barack Obama’s historic inauguration as the 44th President of the United States I should pray for his and our success in the years ahead. We are a nation in crisis, depleted in so many ways by the last eight years. On the Tuesday of the inauguration, I stood with a million other Americans on the Mall in Washington, watching and cheering the transfer of power. The air was frigid, but filled with hope. We stood just behind the Capitol reflecting pool – far from the rostrum, but embedded in the great, diverse mass of people who make up America. Next to us were folks from Augusta, Georgia, who drawled their discomfort when George Bush was booed. On our other side were Washingtonians – African-Americans who proudly declared that on this day we were not black or white, but all of us were silver (the color of our tickets to the event). (Photo: National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington, 21 Jan 2009/Larry Downing)

Truth be told, the inaugural was better viewed in front of a television. But for the experience of being an American on this auspicious day, the Mall was the best place in the whole world. There is something extraordinary about standing among a million others, staring up at the jumbotron, striving to catch the words our new president was speaking. Sharing our food, our stories, ducking down so someone behind us could snap a photo, making sure that kids were in the sight-lines of their parents, breathing free; we huddled, massed against the cold, embodying the passions that Emma Lazarus’ poem emblazons on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Iraq religious parties may face election backlash

Missy Ryan in our Baghdad bureau sees a possible drop in support for religious parties in Iraq:

BAGHDAD – When Iraqis last voted in 2005, some in Washington feared the mainly Muslim nation would veer in the direction of Iran, an Islamic theocracy, instead of becoming the moderate democracy they envisioned for post-Saddam Iraq.

The question when Iraqis elect new provincial leaders on January 31 will be whether the religious parties that have dominated politics since then can hang on to power despite a bitterness felt by voters starved of services and security.

U.S. Muslim leader on schedule to pray at Obama event

Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), is on schedule to say the Muslim prayer at an inaugural prayer service at Washington’s National Cathedral on Wednesday. There has been no change of plan. The Obama inauguration team has not withdrawn its invitation. (Photo: Ingrid Mattson, 16 Oct 2008/Sohail Nakhooda)

That might come as a surprise to readers who read several news items and blogs in recent days with headlines like “Obama prayer leader from group US linked to Hamas.” orQuestionable Connections for Speaker at High-Profile Inaugural Event?” The report started on a blog called American Thinker on Saturday and has been picked up repeatedly since then.

Charges of supporting Hamas, which the U.S. government has listed as a terrorist organisation, would seem like just the thing to get anyone disinvited from the prayer service pronto. But they would have to be proven. These articles only mentioned alleged “links” that seem flimsier the more they’re examined.

Italy’s atheists to launch their own “no God” bus ads

The members of Italy’s atheist association probably would not fill one of the side chapels of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But that’s not stopping the group from launching an unprecedented ad campaign on buses in Italian cities, much like the one recently started in Britain. (Photo: Planned Italian bus ads/UAAR)

The Italian Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics (UAAR) will run the ads on four buses in the northern city of Genoa next month. The ads, which will cover the entire bus painted a soothing sky blue, read: “The bad news is that God doesn’t exist. The good news is that you don’t need him.”

The Padua-based group is launching the campaign in Genoa because advertising is much more expensive in other large cities such as Milan and Rome. But Genoa is also home to Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the president of  the Italian Bishops Conference. According to some Italian reports, one of the buses will pass near his residence.

Obama wants to address the Muslim world — but from where?

Now here’s an interesting question. The New York Times reports that President-elect Barack Obama wants to make “a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.” But from which one? As NYT staffer Helene Cooper explains, it’s a question that’s fraught with diplomatic, religious and personal complications. After a day of calling around Washington, she found a consensus:

It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

That’s a diplomatic answer, the kind you’d expect to get inside the Washington Beltway. Let’s look at this more from the point of view of religion. If the American president gives a major speech in a Muslim country, it will be seen as an indirect comment on the type of mosque-state relations found in that country. It’s not for him as a non-Muslim to endorse a certain type of Islam over another, say Sunni over Shi’ite. But as a politician from a country where church-state relations are a lively issue, one could expect him to ask what message his choice will send concerning the political relationship with religion in the state he chooses.