Is it racist to use of credit scores to price auto insurance?

The Federal Trade Commission has recently completed a study of the practice of using credit ratings to price auto insurance, a practice several states forbid because blacks and Hispanics as a group tend to have poorer credit records.

Marginal Revolution points out

(1) the FTC finds credit records are very good at predicting accident risk implying that good black and Hispanic drivers pay higher rates in states that prohibit the use of credit risk;

(2) when the price of insurance increases for good drivers in these states, good drivers may quit buying insurance, pushing up the price of insurance for bad drivers to the price they would have paid without the prohibition.

Good intentions do not necessarily make for good public policy.

A downside to diversity?

There is both good news and bad news to report if you care about the value of diversity. First, the bad news: a study conducted by Harvard Professor Robert Putnum finds that diverse commjunities can lead to an increase in social distrust. As Daniel Henniger of the Wall Street Journal explains:

Robert Putnam, the Harvard don who in the controversial bestseller "Bowling Alone" announced the decline of communal-mindedness amid the rise of home-alone couch potatoes, has completed a mammoth study of the effects of ethnic diversity on communities. His researchers did 30,000 interviews in 41 U.S. communities. Short version: People in ethnically diverse settings don't want to have much of anything to do with each other. "Social capital" erodes. Diversity has a downside.

Prof. Putnam isn't exactly hiding these volatile conclusions, though he did introduce them in a journal called Scandinavian Political Studies. A great believer in the efficacy of what social scientists call "reciprocity," he wasn't happy with what he found but didn't mince words describing the results:

"Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television." The diversity nightmare gets worse: They have little confidence in the "local news media." This after all we've done for them.

Colleagues and diversity advocates, disturbed at what was emerging from the study, suggested alternative explanations. Prof. Putnam and his team re-ran the data every which way from Sunday and the result was always the same: Diverse communities may be yeasty and even creative, but trust, altruism and community cooperation fall. He calls it "hunkering down."

Read it all here.

So what is the good news? There is a study that has strong evidence that diversity leads to better decision making. As the Scientifc American reports:

In the study, Sommers asked 30 different mock juries, each composed of six adults, to watch a video summary, edited from Court TV coverage, of the trial proceedings of an actual sexual assault case in which a black male defendant allegedly assaulted, separately, two white females. Sommers went to extraordinary lengths to make these mock trials as much like a real trial as possible. The study was conducted in a courthouse. Participants were jury-eligible adults who were at the court for real jury duty. Their age ranged from 18 to 78. Only racial composition was varied systematically: half of the juries were white, and the other half were made up of four white and two black jurors.

. . .

In the end, the majority (55 percent) of the mock juries voted unanimously to acquit, just as the real jury had. But both verdicts and deliberation quality and content varied significantly depending on the juries' racial make-up.

Mixed and all-white juries were equally likely to raise the subject of race when discussing the case -- but differed sharply in how they reacted to the subject once it was raised. Every time racism was mentioned in an all-white jury, at least one juror objected that racism was not relevant (J5: "What about the fact that he was a Black man?" J6: "What does that have to do with it?"). That's a 100 percent rate of objection to the idea that race was relevant. In the diverse juries, by contrast, only 22 percent of mentions of possible racism met with objections. Meanwhile, the diverse juries deliberated longer, cited more case-relevant facts during deliberation, made fewer factual mistakes, and were more likely to correct inaccurate statements than the all-white juries were.

So who among the jurors is creating the difference in dynamics between the homogenous and heterogeneous juries? One possibility is that the black jurors alone improved jury performance. Black jurors may have different life experiences that lead them to contribute unique information and perspectives to the deliberations. By this hypothesis, it is the sole burden of the black jurors to provide the benefits of diversity.

But Sommers' data tell a very different story: He found that white jurors were actually responsible for a large proportion of the group differences, as they behaved differently in a racially mixed jury than in one all-white. White jurors in diverse groups mentioned more facts, made fewer factual errors, corrected more mistakes and raised the possibility of racism more often than did white jurors in homogeneous groups. Even before the deliberations began, white participants who expected to deliberate with black jurors privately espoused less harsh views of the (black) defendant than did white participants who expected to deliberate in an all-white group. Both the anticipation and the experience of serving on a diverse jury seemed to sharpen the white jurors' sensitivity not just to race but to accuracy and due process.

. . .

In all, Sommers' data show that diverse juries reason better, not just as groups but as individuals; everyone on the jury benefits, and justice, it appears, is better served. As Sommers concludes, these results make the benefits of diverse juries not just more concrete but readily attained. Minority jurors need feel no burden or need to "educate" white jurors or convey a unique minority perspective; diversity seems to do its own work. The results suggest that representative juries do not merely honor a civil right or a constitutional ideal but provide an effective tool for achieving more thorough and competent jury deliberations.

Read it all here. Read Sommers paper here.

So what conclusions can we draw from these two studies? First, the obvious fact that living and working in a diverse community can be a real challenge, and that we should not sugar-coat the difficulties. But, second, we must remember as well, that the struggle is worthwhile--if nothing else, we seem to make better decisions if we embrace diversity.

What do you think?

Nigeria and HIV testing

The Anglican Church of Nigeria now requires couples seeking marriage to have blood tests for HIV. Christianity Today reports:

The Anglican Church in Nigeria has made it manditory for couples wishing to be married by the Church to first take a HIV test.

HIV tests are required to help couples make more “informed choices” when choosing marriage partners, said the Rev Akintunde Popoola, spokesman for the Anglican Church in Nigeria.

“The aim is to help intending couples to make informed decisions because we don’t want anyone to be kept in the dark about their partner,” he said, according to the BBC News website Friday.

“The whole point is for the couples to know their HIV status before getting married.”

Yet the church is careful to point out that it is up to the couple whether to marry in cases where one of the partners has the HIV virus. Popoola said the church will offer the couple care and support if they decide to tie the knot despite the discovery of infection in either or both partners.

Nigeria has one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates – trailing behind India and South Africa only.
Other non-Anglican churches in Nigeria have imposed similar tests on parishioners who want to marry, reported the BBC. [Update: But see this comment by Akintunde.]

Western Christian leaders have also urged people to take HIV tests and for the Church as a whole to become more involved in the battle against HIV and Aids.
At the annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church hosted by Saddleback Church, Warren along with presidential candidates Republican Senator Sam Brownback and Democratic Senator Barack Obama all took the Aids test to encourage the practice.

In Nigeria, not everyone supports the Anglican Church’s new mandatory HIV testing for marrying couples, however.

“We cannot accept what the church is proposing. Every Nigerian must be allowed to decide on their own whether they want to be tested or not,” said Professor Tunde Oshotimehin, who heads Nigeria’s state HIV control agency, according to BBC.

“HIV testing and counselling must be voluntary. What the church is trying to do will encourage denial.”

The Catholic Church in Nigeria is one Church that has decided against imposing such a policy, explaining that it wants HIV testing to be voluntary and personal.

The BBC reports the Nigerian government is investigating whether Covenant University, owned by the Pentecostal Living Faith Church of Nigeria, requires graduates to take an HIV test:
Nigeria's AIDS control agency says the new policy is illegal.

But the Covenant University says its policy had been misunderstood by the media.

"We are not testing our students for HIV," Covenant University spokesman Emmanuel Igban told the BBC News website.

"What we do is a general medical test at the point of entry or admission and at graduation."

The university says it wants to produce "total graduates" which means in addition to passing all examinations, Covenant University graduates must be "morally upright" too.

The National Agency for the Control of Aids (Naca) calls the university's action "a breach of the fundamental human rights of the students".
Nigeria is a deeply religious country with her 140 million people almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.

It is a deeply religious country, at least in some sense.

The BBC yesterday carried the story of public reaction to the release of men on bail who were accused of crossdressing in the Muslim province of Bauchi:

Although they were initially accused of sodomy, the charges have now been changed to "indecent dressing" or cross-dressing and "vagrancy".

"Any (male) person who dresses .. in the fashion of a woman in a public place... will be liable to a term of one year or 30 lashes" a spokesman for the local sharia police, Muhamad Muhamad Bununu, told AFP news agency.

The Sharia punishment for sodomy is death by stoning, but he said that was much harder to prove as four witnesses were needed. More than a dozen Nigerian Muslims have been sentenced to death by stoning for sexual offences ranging such as adultery and homosexuality.

But none of these death sentences have actually been carried out - either being thrown out on appeal or commuted to prison terms as a result of pressure from human rights groups. Many others have been sentenced to flogging by horsewhip for drinking. There have been two amputations in north-western Zamfara State - which pioneered the introduction of the Islamic legal system in the country.

Nigeria, like many African countries, is a conservative society where homosexuality is considered a taboo.

No news on whether Nigerian Muslims are required to submit to HIV tests before marriage, or what the consequences of a positive test would be.

MDG progress on child mortality

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has released figures that show progress on the Millennium Development Goal of cutting the infant mortality rate. For the first time since records started being kept in 1960, the world child mortality rate has dropped below 10 percent. And, more funding has been provided toward this goal since the data was gathered, so officials are optimistic this trend will continue.

The estimated drop, to 9.7 million deaths of children under 5, “is a historic moment,” said Ann M. Veneman, Unicef’s executive director, noting that it shows progress toward the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of cutting the rate of infant mortality in 1990 by two-thirds by 2015. “But there is no room for complacency. Most of these deaths are preventable, and the solutions are tried and tested.”

Interestingly, Unicef officials said, the new estimate comes from household surveys done in 2005 or earlier, so they barely reflect the huge influx of money that has poured into third world health in the last few years from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the Gates Foundation; and the Bush administration’s twin programs to fight AIDS and malaria. For that reason, the next five-year survey should show even greater improvement, they said.

“We feel we’re at a tipping point now,” said Dr. Peter Salama, Unicef’s chief medical officer. “In a few years’ time, it will all translate into a very exciting drop.”

Read more at The New York Times.

"Kids are not expendable" says Rowan Williams

The Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) has published the text of an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Kids Company Conference taking place in Britain:

"[Rowan Williams] called on the government to invest in the vulnerable children in our society:

'It's been said sometimes that you can gauge the termperature, the kind of moral climate of a society by looking at the way it treats its most vulnerable people…. What do we do on behalf of those who don't have voices, who don't have leverage, how do we bring their voices into public discussion? Are we a society where people are prepared to advocate for those who don't have voices of their own? Above all, are we prepared to put the necessary resource, skill and commitment, into the nurturing of human beings?''

Read the rest of the Archbishop's remarks to the 'No bullsh*t – What matters to every child' conference here.

Homeless Veterans

We will remember Veterans Day this weekend on Sunday. There will most likely be prayers offered in thanksgiving for their service to their country in churches all over the US. But there are other issues at stake here as well. It has been recently reported that almost a quarter of the homeless on America's streets are former veterans who served to defend her.

A report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness states:

"Far too many veterans are homeless in America. Homeless veterans can be found in every state across the country and live in rural, suburban, and urban communities. Many have lived on the streets for years, while others live on the edge of homelessness, struggling to pay their rent. We analyzed data from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau to examine homelessness and severe housing cost burden among veterans. This report includes the following findings:
  • In 2006, approximately 195,827 veterans were homeless on a given night—an increase of 0.8 percent from 194,254 in 2005. More veterans experience homeless over the course of the year. We estimate that 495,400 were homeless in 2006.
  • Veterans make up a disproportionate share of homeless people. They represent roughly 26 percent of homeless people, but only 11 percent of the civilian population 18 years and older. This is true despite the fact that veterans are better educated, more likely to be employed, and have a lower poverty rate than the general population.
  • A number of states, including Louisiana, California, and Missouri, had high rates of homeless veterans. In addition, the District of Columbia had a high rate of homelessness among veterans with approximately 7.5 percent of veterans experiencing homelessness.
  • We estimate that in 2005 approximately 44,000 to 64,000 veterans were chronically homeless (i.e., homeless for long periods or repeatedly and with a disability)."

The report concludes with a call for congress and state legislatures to being to act to find solutions to this issue.

Read the rest here.

Does fair trade work?

The Fair Trade movement is becoming quite active, but its premise--that consumers will pay a bit more for better pay to workers--is often based on stories and assumptions rather than data. At least some economists, however, have begun to study the so-called "Ben & Jerry's Effect", and they are finding that at least some consumers purchasing some products, fair trade works:

These days, everyone from big oil to Wal-Mart claims to be jumping on Ben & Jerry's bandwagon. Corporate America is busy announcing charitable-giving programs, releasing sustainability reports, and otherwise going all-out to demonstrate a commitment to corporate social responsibility. And so it's worth asking, does it pay for corporations to be nice?

This is the question animating a recent study (yet to be published) by Harvard researchers Michael Hiscox and Nick Smyth. They set out to discover whether customers prefer to buy from do-gooder companies. In their research at Manhattan's ABC Carpet and Home, they found that shoppers care a lot. When an item was labeled as being produced under "fair labor" practices, sales jumped. And when Hiscox and Smyth raised the prices of "fair labor" products, people bought even more than before. So, at least for ABC Carpet, being nice is good business.

We already know from surveys that consumers claim to prefer to eat their ice cream and wear their T-shirts free from the guilt that someone may have suffered for their consumerist pleasures. Or, if they don't care about ethics for their own sake, many people believe that conscientious companies are more likely to make high-quality, reliable products. (The people running these companies would presumably feel guilty about doing otherwise.)

But economists have a general distrust of surveys, since they're about words rather than actions. That's why Hiscox and Smyth set up their shopping experiment at ABC Carpet and Home, an upscale department store in lower Manhattan. They picked two brands of towels and two brands of candles that had all been produced under fair labor conditions. First, the researchers recorded the weekly sales of the towels and candles without labeling any of them as fair-labor certified, measuring purchasing decisions based solely on taste. After a few weeks, Hiscox and Smyth spent the night at ABC sticking fair-labor labels on one brand of towels and one brand of candles. When the store reopened, sales of the now-labeled fair-labor towels jumped by 11 percent relative to sales of the unlabeled brand. For candles, the effect was even greater—an increase of 26 percent.

A few weeks later, Hiscox and Smyth were back in the stockroom, marking up the prices on the labeled towels and candles by 10 percent. Quite remarkably, this increase made people buy even more towels and candles (a 20 percent increase for towels and 30 percent for candles). The authors suggest this may be because the higher prices made the products' fair-labor claims more credible.

By looking at both towels and candles, the researchers deliberately contrasted a mundane, anonymous household item (towels) with a luxury good that was much more likely to be purchased as a gift (candles). And they think that helps explain why the fair-labor sticker boosted candle sales more. Virtuous towel purchasers are anonymous in their good deeds. When you give a fair-labor-certified candle, others also bask in the warm glow of your goodness.

While encouraging, the researchers offer an important caveat:

As anyone who has ever paid a visit to ABC Carpet knows, its customers are not normal people. (I realized this when I first went there a couple of years ago and saw ethically sourced tree stumps selling for thousands of dollars apiece.) As Hiscox and Smyth acknowledge, ABC customers are wealthy, liberal New Yorkers who can afford to pay $15 for a candle or $40 for a single towel. So, what we've really learned is that socially minded rich folk can afford to let conscience dictate their purchasing decisions, whatever the markup. ABC shoppers, however, represent only the tiniest sliver of American consumers, and their buying preferences alone aren't enough to make American businesses kinder, gentler, and cleaner.

Will home builders at large pay more for fair-labor plywood at Home Depot? Could Wal-Mart raise prices by 5 percent to cover health-care costs for its workers, pass the cost along to its customers while telling them the reason for the higher price, and take no hit in the market? This new research doesn't really tell us. But if Home Depot were willing to let them try, I'm sure Hiscox and Smyth would be happy to spend a few more nights in the stockroom with their label gun to find out.

Read it all here. Read the study itself here.

Gulf Coast Housing Act set for Senate attention

The Episcopal Public Policy Network notes that during its recent meeting in New Orleans the House of Bishops called upon Congress to fulfill its moral obligation "to create a new vision for recovery of the Gulf Coast." H.R. 1227, which addressed this call, passed the House of Representatives with "strong bipartisan support," according to EPPN, and now the Network has turned its attention on generating grassroots support for the Senate version, S.1668.

Sadly many needs in the Gulf Coast remain unmet. Even more tragic, those who were poor and vulnerable before the storms have continued to be neglected in the recovery process. "What more can we do? How can we continue to help?

Contact your Senators today and urge them to support S. 1668, the Gulf Coast Housing
Recovery Act of 2007:

This legislation, which passed the House as H. 1227 with strong bipartisan support, is an opportunity for concerned Episcopalians across the nation to give the Gulf Coast a tremendous boost with our voices. The Senate could soon consider S. 1668, which will help ensure that all residents—homeowners, renters, first-time homebuyers and public housing residents alike—have a way to come home. Episcopalians and people of faith are doing our part; we must encourage our Government to fulfill its commitment to Gulf Coast Rebuilding.

Read the full appeal here.

Give thanks for free enterprise

It has become a tradition every year for Caroline Baum to run this Thanksgiving column about the Pilgrim's first Thanksgiving. Some excerpts:

In the spring of 1623, Governor Bradford and the others ``begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery,'' according to Bradford's history.

One of the traditions the Pilgrims had brought with them from England was a practice known as ``farming in common.'' Everything they produced was put into a common pool; the harvest was rationed according to need.

They had thought ``that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing,'' Bradford recounts.

They were wrong. ``For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte,'' Bradford writes.
After the Pilgrims had endured near-starvation for three winters, Bradford decided to experiment when it came time to plant in the spring of 1623. He set aside a plot of land for each family, that ``they should set corne every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to themselves.''
Bradford writes: ``This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted than other waise would have bene by any means the Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave far better content.''

And, for your further entertainment, check out the Milton Friedman Choir performing The Corporation is Amoral.

Homeless people's stories

A new book published in Canada presents the experience of the homeless in that country in their own words. The collection was the brainchild of Cathy Crowe:

"Crowe is a street nurse and homeless activist who has worked with Toronto’s homeless population for the past 18 years. She also co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) in 1998, which promptly declared homelessness in Canada a national disaster. Most recently she has received the Atkinson Charitable Foundation Economic Justice Award, and works from a base at Sherbourne Health Centre in downtown Toronto.

Crowe had an epiphany while watching the reports on television of the ‘Ice Storm Disaster’ of January of 1998. She describes quite poignantly how she decided to take a leave from her job as a street nurse to go and help out with the disaster. And then the light dawned: ‘I realized that the images on television that had moved me were the daily, hellish circumstances of homeless people’s lives. . . . Homelessness is a man-made disaster.’ What Crowe also realized was that people did not respond to the homelessness disaster in the same way they do to a natural disaster.

Dying for a Home is an anthology of the stories of 10 (11 including Crowe) homeless activists many of whom resided in Tent City – a squat on a piece of land near the Toronto waterfront from 1998 to 2002. Tent City existed for almost five years and at its peak there were almost 100 people living there.

The contributors to this anthology talk about their lives and the trajectory that brought them to Toronto and then homelessness. They also share their hopes and dreams of having a home and the frustration they feel with governments who remain blind to their plight."

Read the rest here.

For the beauty of the Earth

The Episcopal Public Policy Network posted its Lenten Resource series online. The resources are arranged by week and available in a number of different formats and from a wide variety of theological, cultural and scientific sources.

According to the description of the program:

"During Lent we will explore our responsibility to the environment and what steps we can take as a community and as individuals to maintain God’s amazing creation. The climate is changing and that affects all aspects of life around the world. This Lenten Series will look at opportunities for advocacy and personal conservation as well as share stories about what Episcopalians across the country do to honor creation.

Additional resources will be added throughout Lent so visit these pages often. If you have ideas, resources, tips, sermons, or stories, share them with us so that we can post them so that others can share in your success."

Read the rest here.

The New Sanctuary movement

Writing in The Nation, Sasha Abramsky reports on The New Sanctuary Movement:

While many admire the sense of moral purpose demonstrated by New Sanctuary Movement leaders, some progressive immigration reformers are skeptical of their modus operandi.

"It's a highly laudable cause in many ways, and you can appreciate why they're doing what they're doing," says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University's School of Law. "But it touches such an incredibly minuscule part of the population. It's more symbolic than meaningful in the lives of immigrants."

Chishti believes, moreover, that it's problematic that New Sanctuary advocates fail to distinguish between civil and criminal immigration cases, embracing individuals who have willfully ignored final deportation orders and who have ended up with criminal cases against them. "There are people who have final notices, know they have final notices, and then they're taking refuge. It gets you in the harboring problem."

It also gets into what is in many ways an even thornier issue: progressives don't like faith-based infringements on the secular political and legal system when conducted by conservatives. How, therefore, does it make sense to claim sacred privilege from the left? "Our legal system," Chishti notes, "does not recognize a church-based sanctuary. We have a separation of church and state."

Yet for all the flaws in New Sanctuary philosophy, its practitioners are highlighting something important: America is a country of immigrants, but in recent years more and more of those immigrants have entered illegally. They have done so not out of a desire to live on the margins and at perpetual risk of deportation but because the current immigration process makes it extremely hard for large numbers of people to migrate legally from countries like Mexico and Guatemala--or, for that matter, from countries such as the one the San Diego sisters came from--while at the same time economic and political factors, such as the way NAFTA has played out, make it extremely hard not to embark on a migration journey.

Read it all. Hat Tip: The Revealer

And check out this essay on immigration reform at Episcopal Life Online.

Reconciliation in Louisiana

Charles Jenkins, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, has been searching for a different way of trying to reconcile the people of New Orleans who's racial and economic divisions have been increasing since the Hurricane.

Jenkins is particularly interested in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission model.

According to the an article by Bruce Nolan carried by the Religious News Service:

"Jenkins said he has been quietly discussing the idea among colleagues since last fall. And although he said he thinks New Orleans badly needs to repair its social fabric, he is not yet committed to a particular plan of action.   'An issue for me is that I don't want to do something that's going to do more harm than good, and I acknowledge that's a possibility,' Jenkins said before the meeting.   He described the reception his idea has received in private conversations as less than lukewarm. 'Cool' was more accurate, he said.   Still, he said, 'We have worked on race relations in the city for years, and there's not a whole lot of change. I don't think we can continue doing the same things and expect different results.'   Jenkins said he has been quietly talking for months with clergy friends and activists about the idea. He brought the Seokas from South Africa to his diocese's annual convention, where Seoka preached about reconciliation before several hundred Episcopalian clergy and lay people"

Read the rest here.

Prof. Tony Blair?

Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, will serve a one year fellowship appointment at Yale University where he will be helping lead a course of study on faith and globalization.

According to the Ecumenical News Service,

"Blair will serve as the Howland Distinguished Fellow during the 2008-09 academic year, the university announced on 7 March. Blair will work with the faculties of the Yale Divinity School and the Yale School of Management.

Yale President Richard C. Levin said: 'As the world continues to become increasingly inter-dependent, it is essential that we explore how religious values can be channelled toward reconciliation rather than polarisation. Mr Blair has demonstrated outstanding leadership in these areas.'

Concurrent with his Yale position, Blair - who was an Anglican but in 2007 converted to Roman Catholicism - is expected to launch later in 2008, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. This 'will promote understanding between the major faiths and increase understanding of the role of faith in the modern world', the university, based at New Haven, Connecticut, said in its announcement.

The appointment was not lauded by all however. Ian Gibson, a former MP who served in the Commons during Blair's time as prime minster said of the news:

'It is a pity that Mr Blair did not think more deeply about issues of religious strife before he went and bombed Baghdad,' Gibson told the London-based Guardian newspaper in 2007. 'Now he wants to be vicar to the world? It is ridiculous.'"

Read the rest here.

Clergy protest by refusing to bless marriages

An article in the Baltimore Sun this morning reports on clergy in a number of denominations and religions who are beginning to refuse to solemnize weddings between men and women as a form of protest against what the clergy perceive as discrimination by the state in not allowing legal forms of same-gender blessings to be recognized.

From the article:

"Some rabbis and ministers in states including Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan and Connecticut have told their congregants that when it comes to weddings they are in the business of religious ceremonies - only - and they have redirected couples to the local courthouse for the paperwork.

'There's sort of a steady drip, drip, drip of people starting to do this,' said the Rev. Donald Stroud, minister of outreach and reconciliation at That All May Freely Serve Baltimore, an organization that advocates for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Presbyterian Church.

'I think it does raise people's consciousness - that's one element. But I think a lot of ministers who do this do this first because their conscience compels them,' said Stroud. The Presbyterian Church does not sanction same-sex marriage, but it also does not compel pastors to sign licenses, he said. And like some of his colleagues, he would decline to do so if the issue arose because of what he sees as the state's discriminatory laws.."

The article continues with quotes from a number of clergy around the country who discuss the reasons for their actions and the various ways their congregations and communities have responded.

Read the rest here.

What to do about food?

News about the effects of sky-rocketing food prices is starting to break through to the foreground of public policy discussions. While to this point most of the conversation has focused on the cause or causes of the increase, there are people starting to suggest ways that society needs to respond.

An article by Mark Trumbull published today in the Christian Science Monitor has some specific suggestions:

"Although poor nations are most at risk, much can be done by rich nations to avert a crisis and to set the stage for long-run solutions.

Some of the steps – such as boosting food aid – are obvious. Others are more difficult or politically controversial, but could reap meaningful benefits. Some examples:

  • Ramp up cash-handout programs for people who spend half or more of their income on food.

  • Curb or phase out government mandates or subsidies for using crops as fuel.

  • Expand agricultural research and spread existing technologies throughout Africa, where farmers lag furthest behind.

  • Prepare International Monetary Fund assistance to help food-poor nations cover rising trade deficits.

  • Resist the temptation to tamper with the free-market price signals that will ultimately encourage greater food production. This means resisting price controls or farm subsidies within nations, and keeping trade open among nations."

Additionally the director of the USAID (US Agency for International Development) points out that the national security implications of the developing crisis. He makes additional recommendations about aid delivery mechanisms that are being supported by the US administration, and which may soon be implemented.

The article concludes by pointing out that this does not appear to be a short-term issue. It is expected that the present pressures will intensify squeezing those in extreme poverty more and more in coming years.

Read the full article here.

The sin of our bio-fuels programs

Peter Timmer is Visiting Professor in the Program on Food Security and Environment at Stanford University and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Global Development. In a Q&A he says,

Unless some way can be found to stop the explosive rise in food prices generally, and rice prices in particular, we will see sharply higher mortality. Most of these deaths will be in Asia because of the huge numbers of poor, hungry people there who are dependent on rice for their daily subsistence.

This will not be mass starvation, with people dying in the streets, but it will be sharply higher infant and child mortality and weakened adults succumbing prematurely to infectious diseases. If current rice prices in world markets are actually transmitted into most Asian countries--and this is not yet a reality, but it becomes more likely every day the world price stays this high--then even conservative calculations suggest that upwards of 10 million people will die prematurely.
The trigger for the explosion in rice prices was the decision of the Indian government to impose an export ban in November 2007, taking the world's second largest exporter out of the market. That set off fears in the newly elected, populist government in Thailand that rice prices would get out of control there, so export controls were openly discussed-- Thailand is the world's largest rice exporter. Vietnam followed with export restrictions in January 2008.

On the import side, the Philippines has been throwing fuel on the fire by insisting on huge tenders for rice from a world market that cannot provide it, thus driving up the price in this thin market.
There are two obvious things the rich countries can do: first, boost supply by funding food aid channels, including the World Food Program and others, with cash and commodities. Rice is now quite scarce physically in a number of distressed countries--a reversal of situations caused mostly by local crop failures or disasters. Second, end bio-fuel subsidies and mandates immediately. There is substantial disagreement over the role corn-based ethanol (in the U.S.) and vegetable oil-based bio-diesel (in Europe and some parts of Asia) in the recent price spikes--the "respectable" range is from 10 to 60 percent. But there is no way the rich countries can play a leadership role in bringing this crisis under control as long as they insist there is plenty of food for people, livestock, AND automobiles. There just isn't--and we've known that from the start of the U.S. bio-fuels program.

Read it all here.

At econbrowser James Hamilton provides a graphic showing the growth of ethanol corn use in the US. Hamilton asks,

How should a well-fed American react when some of the world's poorest citizens in Haiti and Bangladesh riot over the rising price of food? To be sure, there are many factors influencing food prices. But to me it's natural to begin with the element that represents a deliberate policy choice on the part of the United States. I refer to America's decision to divert a significant part of our agricultural production for purposes of creating a fuel additive for motor vehicles.

On one level, the question of whether it is morally acceptable for us to divert the food that might have fed the hungry for purposes of driving our SUVs is no different from similar questions about any of a number of other details of how the well-off dispose of their wealth. But I'm thinking that the profound inefficiencies associated with this particular disposition of resources may also be relevant. As a result of ethanol subsidies and mandates, the dollar value of what we ourselves throw away in order to produce fuel in this fashion could be 50% greater than the value of the fuel itself. In other words, we could have more food for the Haitians, more fuel for us, and still have something left over for your other favorite cause, if we were simply to use our existing resources more wisely.

We have adopted this policy not because we want to drive our cars, but because our elected officials perceive a greater reward from generating a windfall for American farmers.

Free exchange, the economics blog at The Economist, has this to say:

[Bio-fuel production] has come in for particular scrutiny in America, where government incentives have led to a boom in ethanol production and have helped to tie movements in energy costs to those in food markets.

But the connection between energy and food prices doesn't stop there. Petroleum is an input to farm machinery, and dear petrol adds to the cost of food shipments. And, as Felix Salmon noted yesterday, fertiliser is overwhelmingly produced from natural gas. Mr Salmon quotes Paul Scheckel, who writes:

Fertilizer production is second only to petroleum refining when it comes to industrial use of natural gas in the United States: 97 percent of the fertilizer applied to crops is manufactured from natural gas. With spiking energy costs, fertilizer manufacturers are opting to close their doors and instead sell their natural gas supplies.

Interestingly, this creates another link between biofuel production and food costs. It seems that fields planted repeatedly in corn require an especially large dose of nitrogen fertiliser.

Commemorating Thurgood Marshall

In 2006, the Diocese of Washington asked the General Convention to include Thurgood Marshall in the book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The request was referred to a church commission, and will be reconsidered at the 2009 Convention

But those who support Marshall's cause can hold a Eucharist in his honor next month, perhaps on May 17, the date that the diocese proposes establishing as his feast. (and the anniversary of his victory in the landmark school desergregation case, Brown. v. Board of Education.

For background on the diocese's effort read these two stories from the Washington Window.

The resolution recommending Marshall's inclusion that was passed by the Convention of the Diocese of Washington, and a biography put together by St. Augustine's, Marshall home parish in Washington, D. C. are also available.

To find the propers of the day, and suggestions for hymns, click on read more.

Read more »

World Malaria Day

While HIV/AIDS is thought of as the world's greatest public health challenge, there are other significant diseases that are are taking a similar toll. Today is World Malaria Day and a number of organizations around the world have taken advantage of the attention being paid to their work to call for new initiatives in the prevention of Malaria.

The AFM (Africa Fighting Malaria) organization has issued a call for a renewed push for "indoor spraying" of homes with DDT. DDT, banned in much of the world because of its dangers to the environment, is one of the most effective spot treatments in preventing domestic Malaria infection vectors.

From their release:

"Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) is a highly effective method of malaria control recommended by the World Health Organization. Unfortunately it remains underutilized in sub-Saharan Africa, where, each year, malaria kills over a million people and drains the continent of US$12 billion. World Malaria Day 2008 focuses on malaria across borders – some of the best cross-border malaria control programs rely heavily on IRS. Yet most donor agencies are loath to strengthen IRS programs in Africa, train medical entomologists to run them, and invest in new insecticides.

This World Malaria Day, AFM is issuing a Call to Action to support IRS. AFM created an interactive map to indicate which countries are conducting IRS (orange) along with the main financiers - the US President's Malaria Initiative, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the private sector and/or strong domestic government support.  "

Read the rest here.

Episcopal Relief and Development has released a statement today as well.

Episcopal Relief and Development is actively fighting the spread of malaria, which infects 500 million people a year and kills over 1 million, mostly children and pregnant women living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Inspiration Fund is dedicated to achieving MDG 6-Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases- and is in the process of raising $3 million dollars towards this effort.

Episcopal Relief and Development’s NetsforLife® program is a partnership to prevent malaria in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The partnership is comprised of individual, foundation and corporate sponsors including Standard Chartered Bank, ExxonMobil Foundation, The Starr International Foundation, The White Flowers Foundation and The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation. NetsforLife® works in partnership with the Anglican Church and other ecumenical partners in affected communities to distribute long-lasting insecticide-treated nets to the most vulnerable, build awareness about malaria, and train community leaders to teach prevention and treatment methods.

“We know what we have to do,” says StephenDzisi, Technical Director of NetsforLife® .“Our ability to reach vulnerable families living ‘at the end of the road’ is the work of our Church and enables us to contribute to the global effort to eliminate malaria.”

Food prices expected to increase, how is the Church to respond?

The Catholic News Service reports on calls by Roman Catholic bishops that the Church must respond to expected continued rise in the price of basic food commodities.

According to the article:

"Already this year, demonstrations linked to spiraling food prices have struck more than a dozen countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Protests forced Haitian Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis out of office April 12, and demonstrators have been killed in Cameroon, Peru and Mozambique.

The price increases are fueled by a variety of factors that 'are all coming together at once,' said Lisa Kuennen, director of the public resource group at Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency.

[...]Price increases hit poor countries -- and their poorest citizens -- hardest. "

In response:

After violent protests in Haiti in early April, the country's Catholic bishops urged the government to implement both emergency and long-term policies to tackle hunger. In a statement issued April 12, the Haitian bishops' conference condemned the violence that began with protests in the southern city of Les Cayes and left at least five people dead.

Although "the right to demonstrate is sacred," the statement said, "this does not authorize anyone to take lives or attack property belonging to others."

In their statement, the bishops warned that peaceful demonstrations should not be infiltrated by "agitators and interested manipulators." Many Haitian analysts had suggested that the demonstrations over high food prices had been hijacked by politicians trying to turn the unrest to their political advantage.

The article ends with a call for the development of long-term policies in areas such as land reform, export controls and monetary policy changes that together are hoped to be able to "keep large numbers of people from slipping back into hunger and poverty".

Read the full article here.

Christian Environmental coalition broadens

A new coalition of voices within the American Christian community is beginning to lobby in concert for a change in US environmental policy.

The newest voices that are joining to the call for this change are coming from the traditionally politically conservative evangelical wing.

From an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"The once-tiny Christian environmental movement began accelerating quickly in 2006, when 85 prominent evangelical leaders signed on to the Evangelical Climate Initiative calling for action on global warming. The number has climbed to more than 100.

'It's a bit out of the ordinary for evangelicals to be involved with this issue,' said Jim Jewell, chief operating officer of the Evangelical Environmental Network, a group that educates and mobilizes Christians on environmental issues. 'The evangelical involvement with climate has kind of shaken the political landscape a bit.'

In March, dozens of prominent Southern Baptist leaders called on followers to acknowledge human contributions to global warming, and demanded bold action to address climate change.

They said the church's cautious approach was 'too timid' in promoting stewardship of God's creation.

'To abandon these issues to the secular world is to shirk from our responsibility...' they declared. 'The time for timidity regarding God's creation is no more.'

Jonathan Merritt, the 25-year-old seminary student from Atlanta who organized the Baptist environmental declaration, said younger Baptists in particular were relieved to see church leaders take a bold public stance."

Read the full article here.

According the article this new coalition is expected to have a significant effect on next month's debate over legislation moving through the Senate that is designed to confront global warming.

G-8 promises questioned

As the G-8 meets in Japan, the promises of its member countries are being questioned.

Read more »

Demographic shifts a' coming

According to projections released yesterday by the US Census bureau, the racial makeup and age distribution of America's population is about to undergo some important changes.

The study reports that by the year 2042 minority groups in the US will outnumber the population of white Americans, and will represent more than 50% of the population by 2050 (when the US population is expected be nearly 440 million.)

From an article in the Washington Post:

The shift will happen sooner among children, 44 percent of whom are minority. By 2023, more than half are expected to be minority, and by 2050, the proportion will be 62 percent.

The largest share of children, 39 percent, is projected to be Hispanic, followed by non-Hispanic whites (38 percent), African Americans (11 percent) and Asians (6 percent).

Hispanics, including immigrants and their descendants as well as U.S.-born residents whose American roots stretch back generations, are expected to account for the most growth among minorities. That population is expected to nearly triple by 2050, growing from about one in six residents to one in three.

In addition to the change in racial distribution, the study predicts that the population will be older on average. The percentage of Americans 85 years and older in the population will double from it's present value of 2% to 4% by 2050.

The article in the post goes on to discuss the challenges to the US economy and infrastructure that these changes will bring. But there's little discussion of the effect they'll have on denominational life.

Hunger in Ethiopia

Remember the images from the 1980's of the starving people of Ethiopia, and how those images mobilized a global response? The failed harvests and inadequate food distribution channels still exist in that country. The good news is that we do not expect a repeat of the wide-spread crisis of the 80's. The bad news is that a state of near starvation has become the new "normal" for Ethiopians.

USA Today has an article reporting on the situation:

Unlike 1985, when images of a famine that killed 1 million Ethiopians shocked the West — "We are the world!" pop stars sang at the globally televised Live Aid concert that raised more than $250 million — this year aid workers say there probably will be no mass starvation. An expensive, elaborate social welfare apparatus, erected largely by the world's rich nations to avert another 1985, will not permit it.

Those good intentions, however, have helped produce another problem: A nation that has long seen itself as the most independent in Africa faces an ever-growing dependence on food aid from countries who now must deal with increasing food problems of their own.

At least 14 million Ethiopians — 18% of the nation — need food aid (much of it from the USA) or cash assistance, according to government figures and aid agency estimates.

Since 1985 the population has doubled to almost 80 million, and per-capita farm production has declined. Meanwhile, the global cost of raising and moving food keeps rising.

It all makes Ethiopia's hunger "a ticking time bomb," says Peter Walker, a Tufts University famine specialist.

Read the full article here.

The upshot is that while the existing programs can function to stave off any further starvation, should any additional pressures on the food supply occur, the mechanisms in place may inadvertently make the resulting calamity much more intense and longer lasting than it would otherwise be.

Does probity translate into policy?

Randall Balmer, professor of religious history at Barnard College, the editor-at-large for Christianity Today, and, since 2006, an Episcopal priest, was interviewed today on Fresh Air about his book God in the White House. It's well worth clicking through the link above where you'll find two podcasts. Did you know that as late as 1976 the Southern Baptist Convention supported the legalization of abortion? What mobilized evangelicals politically, Balmer says, was the IRS ruling that Bob Jones University was not a charitable organization because it did not admit blacks. It was not until 1991 that the university admitted blacks and not until 1995 that it admitted unmarried blacks. Hmmm.

An excerpt from the book:

Does probity translate into policy? The record of the past four decades is mixed. Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon was an expression of his religious convictions. Jimmy Carter's sense of morality led him to renegotiate the Panama Canal treaties and to draw attention to human-rights abuses around the world. Ronald Reagan's moral compass prompted him to reverse his earlier support for abortion rights and to advocate a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution.

On the other side of the equation, Lyndon Johnson's personal life would never suggest that he was a paragon of virtue, but he worked passionately for civil rights and sought to improve the lot of those less fortunate. Richard Nixon, hardly a moral exemplar, nevertheless sought to protect the environment and signed several bills that restored lands and a measure of self-rule to Native Americans.

These examples suggest that the quest for moral rectitude in presidential candidates may be chimerical. The candidates' declarations of faith over the past several decades provide a fairly poor indicator of how they govern.

Don't wait: Skill begets skill; skill cross-fosters motivation

James Heckman, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, writes on the growing polarization in American society and concludes:

The family plays a powerful role in shaping adult outcomes that is not fully recognised by current American policies. As programs are currently configured, interventions early in the lives of disadvantaged children have substantially higher economic returns than later interventions such as reduced pupil-teacher ratios, public job training programs, convict rehabilitation programs, adult literacy programs, tuition subsidies, or expenditure on police. This is because life-cycle skill formation is dynamic in nature. Skill begets skill; motivation begets motivation. Motivation cross-fosters skill, and skill cross-fosters motivation. If a child is not motivated to learn and engage early on in life, the more likely it is that when the child becomes an adult, he or she will fail in social and economic life. The longer society waits to intervene in the life cycle of a disadvantaged child, the more costly it is to remediate disadvantage.
Read more at VOX. Thanks for the pointer to Richard Baldwin at freeexchange| who frames the U.S. presidential race in the context of Heckman's results:
Progressives want the Presidential campaign to be about American inequality; conservatives the American family. Professor James Heckman, an economist with a Nobel Medal on his desk, has just accomplished the unlikely task of writing a Vox column that both camps will cite in the debate over what’s wrong with America and how to fix it.

New study on abortion reduction

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good released a study that examined the drop in the abortion rate that occurred in the 1990's and concludes that government social programs and economic conditions are the real drivers in reducing abortions. Mary Nelson has a good summary of the results:

Joseph Wright (Penn State University) and Michael Bailey's (Georgetown University) examined the dramatic drop in abortions in the 1990s. The results are significant. States that spend more generously on nutritional supplement programs, for example, could see up to 37 percent lower abortion rates. Other factors such as cutting welfare more slowly and higher male employment rates had a 20 to 29 percent reduction rate.

The negative approaches don't seem to work. Welfare caps on children born while on welfare and laws requiring parental consent for minors have only negligible impact. The study concludes that "pro-family policies reduce abortions."

Both Republicans and Democrats should take note. The authors estimate that increased welfare payments and less Medicaid funding for abortions could lower the current abortion rate by 37 percent.

Read it all here. The full study can be read here (PDF file).

Economists: Education should be nation's top priority

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, took it upon himself to do what no one else seemed willing to do: poll economists and ask them their views on the economy and the candidates. He hired a polling firm "at considerable personal expense" and has shared the results.

He summarizes the results in a CNN op-ed (the complete report here). An extract:

we asked the economists which candidate they thought would do the best job on the most important issues. For me, the surprise is how many economists say there would be no difference.

The economists in our survey favor Obama on 11 of the top 13 issues. But keep in mind that 48 percent are Democrats and only 17 percent are Republicans.

Among independents, things are less clear, with 54 percent thinking that in the long run there would either be no difference between the candidates or McCain would do better.

The top priority amongst economists? Education.

The Harvard economist Ed Glaeser makes the case for more public spending on education:

The case for governmental investment in education reflects the fact all of us become more productive when our neighbors know more. The success of cities like Boston reflects the magic that occurs when knowledgeable people work and live around each other. As the share of adults in a metropolitan area with college degrees increases by 10 percent, the wages of a worker with a fixed education level increases by 8 percent. Area level education also seems to increase the production of innovations and speed economic growth.

American education is not just another arrow in a quiver of policy proposals, but it is the primary weapon, the great claymore, to fight a host of public ills. One can make a plausible case that improving American education would do as much to improve health outcomes as either candidate's health plans. People with more years of schooling are less obese, smoke less, and live longer. Better-educated people are also more likely to vote and to build social capital by investing in civic organizations.

MDG mania

Suddenly the world's media, which has been studiously ignoring the Millennium Development Goals to this point, has caught MDG fever, just in time for today's activities in New York City, in which the Episcopal Church will play a major role.

While Bono's blog for the Financial Times, (which is actually quite informative) and articles about Bono's blog for the Financial Times are generating some of the coverage, mainstream media outlets from around the world are weighing in on the political and economic nuts and bolts of the campaign to halve extreme poverty by 2015.

To wit:

Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times explains why world leaders feel the U. S. financial meltdown may cripple the whole effort:

Wall Street and the Bush administration's record of financial oversight came under attack at the United Nations, with one world leader after another saying that market turmoil in the United States threatened the global economy.

"We must not allow the burden of the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all," President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil said in an opening speech Tuesday that reflected the tone of the gathering.

The Guardian has an excellent special section All Out on Poverty and an astute column by Leo Hickman which begins:

"We must do more – and we must do it now." This urgent call for action is being aired loudly in both New York and Washington DC this week. On Capitol Hill, Congress is being urged to accept Henry Paulson's $700bn bail-out for Wall Street's beleaguered banks, whereas just over 200 miles up Interstate 95 at the UN headquarters in Turtle Bay big wigs from around the world are pondering how the millennium development goals – this week marks the halfway point towards their 2015 target – are ever going to be met given the woeful progress to date.

It's at times like this where you really get to see the naked truth about where our worldly priorities lie. And it's pretty hard not to think about what $700bn would buy you if you were pushing the trolley around the Truly Worthy Causes supermarket.

Causes don't come much more worthy than the eight millennium development goals, which together form a panoply of unquestionably important aims: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. But as today's special Guardian supplement All Out On Poverty illustrates, we have a long, long way to go if we're ever to meet most of these goals, let alone by 2015 which seems as absurdly optimistic a deadline now as it did back in 2000 when it was first announced. In fact, with some goals we have arguably slipped into reverse gear rather than advance towards them.

For a brief overview of what the UN will be discussing this week, this AFP story isn't bad. The Age of Australia has a good overview of the entire MDG effort. Meanwhile, Washington Post has a helpful story about the contributions of Bill Gates and Howard and Warren Buffett in response to the world food crisis.

There are additional stories from Bangladesh, Nigeria, an editorial from Business Daily Africa (Kenya), a pessimistic appraisal of where the campaign stands from World Vision, India, and a personal vantage point provided by Queen Rania of Jordan on Slate.

So, I'm in NY this week wearing a couple of hats, shining a spotlight on the Millennium Development Goals and talking about the need for more sustainable development that will not only safeguard the environment, but also provide opportunity for the disenfranchised in society. It's something we're very interested in, in the Arab world.

I was invited to speak at Condé Nast's World Savers Awards conference amid the awesome and inspiring architecture of Gotham Hall. It was about the power of tourism to nurture our planet's precious resources while providing lasting economic opportunities for local communities.

I was there talking up the Middle East—not a region in conflict and turmoil, as many think, but a mosaic of cultures, stories, traditions, and warm, welcoming people.

Is the fact that Condé Nast has gotten into the act a good thing or a bad one?

CT Supreme Court rules ban on gay marriage unconstitutional

Following a similar line of reasoning of the decision earlier this year by the California Supreme Court, the Connecticut Supreme Court has issued a 4-3 ruling that appears to overturn a "separate but equal" argument for civil unions and orders that same gender couple have the right to marry.

From the ruling:

" We conclude that, in light of the history of pernicious discrimination faced by gay men and lesbians, and because the institution of marriage carries with it a status and significance that the newly created classification of civil unions does not embody, the segregation of heterosexual and homosexual couples into separate institutions constitutes a cognizable harm. We also conclude that (1) our state scheme discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, (2) for the same reasons that classifications predicated on gender are considered quasi-suspect for purposes of the equal protection provisions of the United States constitution, sexual orientation constitutes a quasi-sus- pect classification for purposes of the equal protection provisions of the state constitution, and, therefore, our statutes discriminating against gay persons are subject to heightened or intermediate judicial scrutiny, and (3) the state has failed to provide sufficient justification for excluding same sex couples from the institution of marriage. In light of our determination that the state’s disparate treatment of same sex couples is constitution- ally deficient under an intermediate level of scrutiny, we do not reach the plaintiffs’ claims implicating a stricter standard of review, namely, that sexual orienta- tion is a suspect classification, and that the state’s bar against same sex marriage infringes on a fundamental right in violation of due process and discriminates on the basis of sex in violation of equal protection. In accordance with our conclusion that the statutory scheme impermissibly discriminates against gay per- sons on account of their sexual orientation, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand the case with direction to grant the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment."

Read the full ruling here. There are three dissents: 1, 2, 3.

The New York Times story is here.

A story by the AP on the case in question which gives some background.

The Blade also has a piece up on the legalization that would seem to be implied by this decision.

Read GLAD's reaction and plans.

Integrity has released a statement, which we received via email:

"Integrity applauds today’s Connecticut Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. “Today’s decision is a decision in favor of marriage and against bigotry,” said Integrity President Susan Russell.

“It is another step forward toward making this a nation of liberty and justice for all -- not just some – and it is a cause for celebration for all Americans. It is also a source of great encouragement for those of us working to preserve marriage for all in California.”

“Integrity is committed to continue to work toward full inclusion for the LGBT faithful in the Episcopal Church and to advocate for equal protection for LGBT Americans -- and we give thanks for those who made today’s Connecticut Supreme Court decision possible.”

History says foreign aid will fall

In the presidential and VP debates, the candidates have been asked which of their promises would have to go in light of the financial crisis? The answers have been mostly elliptical. Joe Biden did say, "Well, the one thing we might have to slow down is a commitment we made to double foreign assistance. We'll probably have to slow that down."

David Roodman says history tells us foreign aid will fall:

Though today's financial crisis began in the world's richest nation, there is good reason to worry about how it will affect the world's poor. A recent series of posts explores the implications. The contagions of freeze-up and slowdown will spread through many channels: trade, investment, migration, and more.

In particular, as governments pour trillions of dollars and euros of aid into their banks, it will be unsurprising if their spending on aid for poor countries--currently about $80 billion/year--falls. (See Saturday's story in the Washington Post.) After each previous financial crisis in a donor country since 1970, the country's aid has declined. "Every" in this case refers to four instances: Japan after its real estate and stock bubble burst in 1990; and Finland, Norway, and Sweden after their shared crisis in 1991.

Read it all here.

Prop 8 challenges

The ACLU and other groups will challenge Proposition 8:

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a writ petition before the California Supreme Court today urging the court to invalidate Proposition 8 if it passes. The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution's core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group – lesbian and gay Californians. Proposition 8 also improperly attempts to prevent the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of protecting the equal protection rights of minorities. According to the California Constitution, such radical changes to the organizing principles of state government cannot be made by simple majority vote through the initiative process, but instead must, at a minimum, go through the state legislature first.

Read more »

How much business sense a charity have?

Are expectations that a charity should act prudently and in accordance with business best practices hindering its ability to do perform its mission? Nicholas Kristoff's Christmas Day column thinks that question through.

Kristoff focuses on a book by Dan Pallotta that according to Kristoff "seethes with indignation at public expectations that charities be prudent, nonprofit and saintly".

I confess to ambivalence. I deeply admire the other kind of aid workers, those whose passion for their work is evident by the fact that they’ve gone broke doing it. I’m filled with awe when I go to a place like Darfur and see unpaid or underpaid aid workers in groups like Doctors Without Borders, risking their lives to patch up the victims of genocide.

I also worry that if aid groups paid executives as lavishly as Citigroup, they would be managed as badly as Citigroup.

Yet there’s a broad recognition in much of the aid community that a major rethink is necessary, that groups would be more effective if they borrowed more tools from the business world, and that there is too much “gotcha” scrutiny on overhead rather than on what they actually accomplish. It’s notable that leaders of Oxfam and Save the Children have publicly endorsed the book, and it’s certainly becoming more socially acceptable to note that businesses can also play a powerful role in fighting poverty.

“Howard Schultz has done more for coffee-growing regions of Africa than anybody I can think of,” Michael Fairbanks, a development expert, said of the chief executive of Starbucks. By helping countries improve their coffee-growing practices and brand their coffees, Starbucks has probably helped impoverished African coffee farmers more than any aid group has.

Presiding Bishop among the "$10 in 2010" signatories

US faith leaders say lift economy by raising minimum wage (Ekklesia):

The leaders of 15 denominations and national faith organizations are among the inaugural signers of an open letter calling for a $10 federal minimum wage by 2010.

Four hundred faith leaders from all 50 states have so far given their endorsement and more are signing every day, say campaigners.

Rev Dr Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), signed the letter in support of the ‘$10 in 2010’ campaign saying: "National wage policies are moral documents that express the values of our country. A minimum wage closer to a living wage better reflects our values." [Watkins has been selected by Obama to deliver the sermon at the national prayer service at the National Cathedral the day after the inauguration.]
Most of the ten occupations projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to have the largest employment growth during 2006-2016, such as retail salespersons, fast food workers, home health aides and janitors, have disproportionate numbers of minimum wage workers.

"A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Holly Sklar. "The minimum wage sets the wage floor, and we cannot build a strong economy on downwardly mobile wages and rising poverty, inequality and insecurity. As President Roosevelt understood, we have to raise the floor to lift the economy."

Read more »

Banning torture

A broad coalition of religious groups here in America are pressuring President-elect Obama to move quickly to recreate a ban on torture for prisoners in American custody.

The coalition, which was formed in 2006, includes Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christian groups, as well as organizations representing Muslims, Jews, Bahais, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. They asked their congregations to recite a prayer to end torture in the 10 days before Mr. Obama takes office.

In a news conference on Wednesday, the Rev. Dr. John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ, said, “All over the world, people are looking this week for a clear and strong word that change has come, that religious values are not simply to be pandered to for votes, but are principles that underlie policy.”

From here.

Gag rule to be rescinded?

UPDATE: ABC News reports that President Obama signed an executive order today reversing the ban that prohibits funding to international family planning groups that provide abortions.

Read more here.

The BBC News writes "...aid agencies welcomed the move, saying it would promote women's health, especially in developing countries."

The new President has moved quickly to implement a number of policies that he spoke about on the campaign trail. One of the promises he made was to rescind the gag rule on offering any form of abortion counseling as part of family planning that was enacted during President Bush's administration.

Steve Waldman is one of the looking for details and news on just how the new President is going to fulfill his promise.

While Steve is waiting for this news, he does point us to an article by a democratic party member who works in Chaplaincy ministry. She discusses some theological issues that are not commonly discussed when talking about abortion:

Have you had an experience where you felt that life was asking you to make a choice? In your heart you sensed the ‘right' way to go, but you had to engage in a deep, personal, profoundly spiritual struggle to come to that decision? Perhaps it meant great sacrifice on your part, or going against the expectations of those you love and respect, or maybe you just really didn't know what to do.

As a chaplain I have had the privilege of being with people facing such choices, and as a human I have faced them myself. Ask yourself, or someone else who has faced such a choice: "Do you wish the choice had been taken out of your hands?" In the midst of the struggle many of us wish we weren't faced with such a difficult decision. But time after time I have witnessed the saving power that dwells in that struggle. On the other side of the struggle, after the choice is made and lived, people thank God for the choice. We realize that it was only through the challenge, the discernment and the desperation that we deepened our relationship with God, that we reached a little further into our own spiritual depths, that we discovered our strength.

I think our discussion on the legality of abortion needs to take into account the spiritual nature of choice. To those who say, "Some choices are so obvious God doesn't need us to make them on an individual basis, we know how God wants everyone to act." I say, "Then why do we have the story of Abraham and Isaac?" Why is Abraham, the one who was willing to terminate his child's life, the spiritual father of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths?


One thing I have never heard discussed in all the debates on abortion is: what would be taken away from those who choose to bring their pregnancies to term if abortion is made illegal. I vividly remember the complex array of emotions and questions and prayers that flooded me when I conceived. Each time, my commitment to bear my children (and my husband's commitment to parent them) was a process that unfolded. Knowing I had the choice to say ‘yes' or ‘no', I had to dig deep. What unfolded was a glorious "hineni". Here I am Lord! I absolutely believe that my response - born of struggle and doubt and discernment -- came from so deep that its truth infused my womb. Thus my children's first home was a place that said, "Yes to you!!" and taught them by example the wondrous fruits that come from saying, "Here I am Lord".

So can you see what could be lost if we legislate such discernment out of existence? Without the possibility of safely, legally terminating pregnancies we help to create womb-environments that say "Well you're here so I guess that's the way it's going to be, like it or not."

Bishop Robinson testifies in New Hampshire

There are a number of initiatives being considered in New Hampshire at the moment that all relate to the question of state sanctioned same-sex partnerships or marriages. Bishop Gene Robinson gave testimony along with many other citizen as the state legislature starts to work through the various bills and initiatives.

From his testimony:

"[H]as your marriage to your opposite sex partner been undermined, in any way, by my professed love for and commitment to my partner? [R]egardless, there are many who still seek to reign in, if not repeal what's been done."

Watch the full testimony here.

Fight against poverty unites some on Christian left and right

Christian Science Monitor:

On Tuesday, a new bipartisan group called the Poverty Forum released a series of specific proposals aimed at reducing domestic poverty and keeping Americans hit by the economic crisis from joining the ranks of the poor. The group of 18 leaders – headed by the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, and Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speechwriter and policy adviser – has worked since November to develop concrete antipoverty policies they hope will gain widespread support.

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UK civil partnerships highly stable

Roger Bamber, a partner and joint head of the national family law team at Mills & Reeve LLP, explains why it is a happy third anniversary for civil partnerships in the UK:

Since the first civil partnerships were registered on December 21, 2005, there have been 26,787 registered in the UK. What is remarkable is the relatively low number that have since been dissolved. ... [T]he number of dissolutions in 2007 (effectively the first year in which they could take place) amounts to just 42. When comparing those figures with the most recent analysis of divorces, there were considerably more new marriages breaking up after a year. In 2005 there were 273,069 marriages in England and Wales. Of those marriages, 3,190 have been dissolved within one year — 1.17 per cent of marriages have failed during this period compared with 0.15 per cent of civil partnerships.

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Obama budget cuts some tax breaks for non-profit giving

From Howard Friedman at "Religion Clause"

President Obama yesterday released his budget proposals in a 140-page document titled A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America's Promise. One provision is controversial among non-profit groups, including a number of religious organizations. For families with incomes over $250,000, itemized tax deductions (including charitable deductions) would be at only a 28% tax rate instead of 35%. The additional revenues generated would help expand health insurance coverage. Today's New York Times says that "wealthy donors and the nonprofit groups they support were in an uproar" over the proposal. However it goes on to report that surveys indicate few wealthy donors are likely to reduce their giving as a result of the change and many high-income donors are already capped at 28% because of the alternative minimum tax. A statement opposing Obama's plan issued by United Jewish Communities however argues that "any reduction in the tax benefits available for charitable giving will have a significant negative impact on giving."

Prop 8 to be argued in court tomorrow

Emma Ruby-Sachs gives a preview of what we can expect to hear in the oral arguments before the California Supreme Court concerning Proposition 8:

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Faith leaders push for FDA control of tobacco

Radio Iowa:

Some religious leaders in Des Moines Tuesday called on the Iowa Congressional delegation to support legislation that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products.

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Faith in the Balance: A Call to Action

From the Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs:

A groundbreaking report, Faith in the Balance: A Call to Action, which calls on The Episcopal Church to address the issues and concerns of the poor in this country, was released today.

The report, based on the outcomes of 2008 Presiding Bishop’s Summit on Domestic Poverty, presents a Model for Domestic Poverty Alleviation, with an initial endeavor in Native American communities. This innovative Model works in tandem with the Episcopal Church’s global poverty initiatives of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Click Read more to see the full release.

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Same sex benefits rulings put Obama on the spot

A pair of rulings by California judges is forcing President Obama to face the issue of insurance benefits for same sex partners of federal employees. The New York Times reports,

In separate, strongly worded orders, two judges of the federal appeals court in California said that employees of their court were entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners under the program that insures millions of federal workers.

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Self examination for a nation of jailers

Brown University economist Glenn Loury on race and incarceration rates in the U.S.:

It is a central reality of our time that a wide racial gap has opened up in cognitive skills, the extent of law-abidingness, stability of family relations, and attachment to the work force. This is the basis, many would hold, for the racial gap in imprisonment. Yet I maintain that this gap in human development is, as a historical matter, rooted in political, economic, social, and cultural factors peculiar to this society and reflective of its unlovely racial history. That is to say, it is a societal, not communal or personal, achievement. At the level of the individual case we must, of course, act as if this were not so. There could be no law, and so no civilization, absent the imputation to persons of responsibility for their wrongful acts. But the sum of a million cases, each one rightly judged fairly on its individual merits, may nevertheless constitute a great historic wrong. This is, in my view, now the case in regards to the race and social class disparities that characterize the very punitive policy that we have directed at lawbreakers. And yet, the state does not only deal with individual cases. It also makes policies in the aggregate, and the consequences of these policies are more or less knowable. It is in the making of such aggregate policy judgments that questions of social responsibility arise.

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Anglicans call for vigilance regarding equal rights in difficult times

The Anglican delegates to the United Nation's Commission on the Status of Woman have issued a call for the world's governments and the leadership of the Anglican Churches to be careful to guard against any erosion of women's status during the global economic crisis.

From the statement just released:

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What torture says about America

Andrew Sullivan has a pretty stark way of framing an issue. In the case of the policy of using torture against enemy combatants, he compares the United States' policy as investigated by the Red Cross to that of the Gestapo's. It's pretty sobering.

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Sources: US to sign UN gay rights declaration


The Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign, The Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration's French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter....

[One] official added that the United States was concerned about "violence and human rights abuses against gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual individuals" and was also "troubled by the criminalization of sexual orientation in many countries."

"In the words of the United States Supreme Court, the right to be free from criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation 'has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom'," the official said.

Debating the charitable deduction

It would be hard to find anyone more qualified than Martin Feldstein to predict the effects of President Obama's proposal to limit the tax deductibility of charitable contributions:

A high-income person paying taxes at a 35 percent marginal rate lowers his tax bill by 35 cents for every dollar that he contributes to a charitable organization. The net cost to the individual is 65 cents for every dollar received by the charity. A substantial body of economic research shows that, on average, each 10 percent reduction in the cost of giving raises the amount that a person gives by about 10 percent. So, the 35 percent reduction implied by current deductibility rules raises the amount of charitable giving by about 35 percent.

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Maine becomes 5th state where same-sex marriage is legal

New York Times:

With the enactment of the Maine bill, gay-rights activists have moved remarkably close to their goal of making same-sex marriage legal throughout New England just five years after Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to allow it.

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New Hampshire House balks on marriage equality bill

UPDATE: See first comment. Reuters says

The state's House of Representatives objected to language in the bill [added at the insistence of the governor] that would have allowed religious groups to decline to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies or to offer gay couples other services.

A handful of gay-rights proponents sided with Republicans in the Democratic-controlled House to vote down the bill....

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Learnings from New Hampshire

Recently the State of New Hampshire legislature and governor agreed to include certain protections for religious leaders before they would both agree to enact a law recognizing same-sex marriage. Robert Jones and Daniel Cox have taken a close look at that decision to see what sorts of lessons can be drawn.

They write in part:

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Obama administration defends DOMA

President Obama's administration filed a legal brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a court case seeking to overturn it. In effect the administration has come out defending the constitutionality of measures that give a privileged place in society to traditional opposite sex marriage.

John Aravosis has analyzed the brief that was filed late last week:

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Rich countries resisting changes to prevent climate change

Christian Aid, a british charity and NGO has roundly critized the response by Western nations at the latest UN conference on global climate change in Bonn. The countries risk totally derailing the talks by their lack of commitment to move on actions that are believed to slow the rate of climate change.

Ekklesia writes:

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Same-sex partners to get federal benefits


President Barack Obama, under growing criticism for not seeking to end the ban on openly gay men and women in the military, is extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. Obama plans to announce his decision on Wednesday in the Oval Office, a White House official said Tuesday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the president hadn't yet signed the presidential memorandum.

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Are the poor now criminals?

In a depressing yet timely op-ed piece Barbara Ehrenreich points out a growing trend in American urban centers, the criminalization of being homeless.

From her article in the New York Times which discusses a recent report from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty:

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140,000 participate in faith leaders' health care reform call with Obama

Statement from Faith in Public Life, PICO National Network, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Washington, DC - An estimated 140,000 people of faith gathered on a historic national conference call with President Barack Obama and the American faith community.

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Faith based clinics and health care reform

There's been a rise in parish-based nursing programs in recent years. And many church groups are even starting up regular health clinics for indigent and other under-served groups in their community. What effect will health care reform have on these efforts?

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Does it matter how an energy company kills a bird?

Wind farms are touted as green power and receive government subsidies. But even Senator Ted Kennedy opposed them in his backyard (Nantucket Sound).

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Obama preaches the moral "we" - Diana Butler Bass

The Constitution of the United States begins with "We the people," and the the Nicene Creed begins with "We believe." Seeing the world through eyes that recognize our interconnectedness is a deep one in political and religious life. Episcopalian Diana Butler Bass notes that President Obama urged the nation to see health care through the lens of the "moral we""

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Can 7,000 bloggers have an effect on climate change?

Beginning in 2007, "Blog Action Day" encouraged bloggers to blog on one day (October 15th) about one global issue, in 2007 it was the Environment, last year, "Blog Action Day-'08" was focused on the End of Poverty, and this year the focus is Climate Change. Check out the "Blog Action Day" website, and then check out 7,000+ bloggers all blogging for an end to Climate Change.

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Clergy taking leadership in immigration debate

An article in the Arizona Republic points out that more and more it is the voices of the clergy that are dominating the ethical discussions surrounding comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. And most of those voices are coming from mainline clergy.

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Obama signs Hate Crimes Law

President Obama keeps promise to sign an expanded Hate Crimes Law.

PROMISES, PROMISES: Obama Keeps Word on Hate Crime
From the Associated Press and the New York Times

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A better way to discern in community

Lately civic and religious discourse in America has taken on a certain road-rage quality according to Katherine Marshall. Recently she was able to observe an ethics consult at the Chicago Medical School. She came away believing that perhaps there is a more excellent way for us to engage one another:

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US Catholic Bishop conference behind amendment?

Over the weekend the US House of Representatives passed a landmark bill reforming health-care in the United States. But at the last minute, there was an amendment to ban a number of different financial supports that might be used to provide an abortion.

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Anglicans begin to respond to human trafficking

Forty or so people from all over the Anglican Communion recently met in Hong Kong to plan a coordinated response to the scandalous practice of human trafficking. The most common form involves forcing children and women into the sex trade, but its rising tide now includes forced labor and organ harvest.

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DC RCs see end to charity;
TEC bishop responds

UPDATED: additional commentary by Diana Butler Bass and Tobias Haller and others - see below:

The Washington Post reports,

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

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Faith-based groups question corporations: Does the Chamber of Commerce speak for you?

From a press release issued by the 275-member Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility:

“Does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce speak for [your corporation] when it opposes healthcare reform?

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Bishop Beckwith on Marriage Equality

Bishop Mark Beckwith of the Diocese of Newark has an op-ed piece in today's New Jersey Record in which he calls for the state legislature to vote for the Marriage Equality Initiative making its way through the New Jersey Senate. He emphasizes the need for legal protections for same gender couples and points out that our understanding of the legal construct of matrimony has been changing over the years.

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Westboro Baptist folks picket
in New Hampshire

The folks from Westboro Baptist traveled to New Hampshire over the weekend to protest against the state's new same-sex marriage law. They protested at a high school, the city hall in Concord and the offices of the Episcopal Diocese.

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Olson argues that same-sex marriage is a conservative value

Later today in California oral arguments begin in the case challenging that state's ability to deny same-sex marriage to its citizens. Ted Olson, a conservative republican, is the lead attorney in favor of restoring their right. Why? He explains his reasons in Newsweek.

A taste of his long article:

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Gay Marriage trial begins in CA

Today is the opening day of arguments before the California Supreme Court regarding the legality of denying same-sex couples the ability to have their relationships recognized as marriages according to state law.

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The Episcopal Agenda

Today, all day, we'd like to give our readers an opportunity to read and discuss the Episcopal Church's activities on Capitol Hill. This agenda, shaped by our General Convention, is an attempt to do what we pledge to do in our Baptismal Covenant: to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" and to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."

From the Office of Government Relations:

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Don't ask, don't tell

The Washington Post is reporting:

President Obama will call for a repeal of the law that forbids openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the military during Wednesday night's State of the Union address, according to a prepared text of the speech released by the White House.

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Death benefits denied to trooper's partner; cathedral steps in

Although he served the law of Missouri, his state's law never recognized his status as a gay man involved in a long partnership. And so when State Highway Patrol Trooper Cpl. Dennis Engelhard died in the line of duty on Christmas Day, no death benefits were assigned to his partner, Kelly Glossip.

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Episcopalian provides cover for Joint Chiefs of Staff

Colin Powell, Episcopalian, chooses his battles carefully. Today he issued this statement on Don't Ask Don't Tell:

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Addressing religion in foreign policy intelligently

A group of former government officials, religious leaders, heads of international organizations, and scholars called The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has released a report calling on American foreign policymakers to widen their perspective about the role of religion in foreign affairs.

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Breaking: Obama orders hospitals to grant same-sex couples visitation

Breaking News: President Obama orders hospitals to grant same-sex couples visitation rights

News Alert: Obama orders hospitals to grant same-sex couples visitation rights

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Proud papa defends wife's right to breastfeed in church

Here's one half of an interesting exchange concerning breastfeeding in church - not whether it is legal (laws pretty uniformly protect a woman's right to feed her child anywhere she is legally permitted to be), but whether it is morally acceptable to do so.

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Falls Church priest says repeal DADT

The Rev. Michael Pipkin, former military chaplain and current priest-in-charge at Falls Church Episcopal on Don't Ask Don't Tell. He takes to task "some military chaplains who say that a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" would somehow infringe upon their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion." -

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Prop 8 ruling today

Later today the Court in Perry v. Schwarzenegger will issue its written order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law following the court trial held in January and June of this year.

According to the court’s media liaison the order will be e-filed between 1 pm and 3 pm Pacific time (between 4 pm and 7 pm Eastern time). There will be no court proceeding associated with the publication of the order.

Gay marriage ban most akin to ban against slave marriages

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the evil of reserving marriage rights for certain classes of people:

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Prop 8 judge rules: Unconstitutional

Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples. FF 76, 79-80; Romer, 517 US at 634 (“[L]aws of the kind now before us raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected.”). Because Proposition 8 disadvantages gays and lesbians without any rational justification, Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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Looks: the next chapter in civil rights?

The Boston Globe explores discrimination in the workplace and school that occurs due to weight, height, appearance, and other body image issues:

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Republicans coming out for same-sex marriage

There's evidence that the American is beginning to experience a sea-change in its views of same-sex marriage. Last week there was a report that now a majority of the electorate supports "civil-unions" as a legal way to guarantee equal-rights for all couples, and a smaller majority is not opposed to opening up marriage to all couples. Today there's a piece pointing out that the GOP's unified opposition to such moves is beginning to fracture.

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Are there limits to protest speech?

Fred Phelps' disciples from Westboro Baptist have announced their intention to picket Elizabeth Edwards' funeral this weekend. (News story here). Edwards was certainly a public figure, and the courts have repeatedly ruled that public figures have little or no recourse to hateful speech since that sort of speech is protected under the First Amendment.

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What is an 'activist judge' anyway?

Boston Review's Pamela S. Karlan fairly explodes the myth of the "activist judge":

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Give back your tax cut

Are you unhappy with the tax cut deal that Obama struck with Republicans? Two Yale economists have made it easy to put your feelings into action.

In the recent tax deal, modest support for middle class Americans was combined with massive tax cuts for the rich. This is unfair: the rich don’t need the help. It is also inefficient: the rich will save rather than spend their tax cuts, so that cutting their taxes yields little stimulus per dollar of deficit. Can citizens adjust their conduct to counteract such wrong policy?

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How would Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last Sunday sermon play today?

Martin Luther King gave his last Sunday sermon at Washington National Cathedral on March 31, 1968. Some of that sermon is reproduced below, but we urge you to read it all. Read it all and ask yourself how a man who says the kinds of things that Dr. King said would fare in the era of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

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Bending towards justice

There were several advances yesterday on the same sex marriage front. Most reported of course was the change in the Obama administration's posture towards the Defense of Marriage Act. See Andrew Sullivan's analysis.

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How did Japan decide where to put its nuclear reactors?

Why are the nuclear reactors where they are in Japan? It's hard to ask this question right now, but the question, and its answer exposes another layer of moral decisions that have contributed to the present crisis in the Sendai region of Japan.

Daniel Aldrich did a study back in 2008 of the factors that were behind the decisions to place the reactors:

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In Uganda, alternatives to anti-gay bill suggested

Box Turtle Bulletin has gathered together information on the status of the draconian anti-gay bill. A subcommittee of the president's cabinet has asked the sponsor to withdraw the bill if he doesn't mind. The subcommittee suggests a softer alternative.

Documents provided by Wikileaks reveal President Mosavani is committed to blocking the bill in its present form.

Read it all.

Forgiving more than we can expect

Story Corp, from National Public Radio, had a story this week about a woman who has demonstrated the principles of restorative justice in a way that few of us could even begin to imagine.

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Fed flag fans fight

The Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond Virginia is flying a rainbow flag in observance of LGBT Pride Month as a symbol of their commitment to "the values of acceptance and inclusion". A Virginia legislator is calling for its removal arguing, in part, that it supports an act which he says is still a felony in Virginia.

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Why do Evangelicals reject climate change?

Why is it so hard to find allies among the largest protestant religious bodies in the US to take action on global climate change? Almost every world-wide religious body agrees that something needs to be done, and soon. But American Evangelicals don't agree and their lack of political support means that American continues to spin its wheels on this issue.

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The rich should care for the poor

There's an editorial in the New York Times today that decries what the editorial board sees as a growing consensus that solution to this nation's economic woes involves cutting programs that are intended to help lift the poor into the middle class:

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Stand up for families

From EPPN, the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

Stand up for Families

Family unity has been a central piece of our immigration system for more than 40 years.

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"Dream Sabbath" campaign launched

"Dream Sabbath" campaign launched by ecumenical leaders, including Diocese of Virginia's suffragan bishop, the Rt. Rev. David C Jones:

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Congrats, Phyllis and Connie: gay marriage lands in New York

Gay couples have begun getting married in New York.

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Restore assistance for the crisis in the Horn of Africa

Via email from Episcopal Public Policy Network

EPPN Alert: Tell Congress to Protect Famine and Drought Assistance to Africa

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Religious leaders arrested in DC debt ceiling protest

An ecumenical group of faith leaders staged a protest in the Capital rotunda on Thursday as the House was working to craft a bill that would raise the nation's debt ceiling. The eleven people included a former member of congress. They said they were there to draw attention to the effect the proposed cuts included in the bill would have on the nation's poor.

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The moral arguments to raise taxes

The budget deadlock in Washington this weekend has as a part of its root cause a pledge by many Republicans in Congress to never vote in favor of legislation that would raise taxes. Part of their reasoning is the claim that lowering taxes will stimulate the economy and provide greater revenues. Part of their reasoning is that people have the right to their money and any attempt to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor is un-American.

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POTUS moves to improve response to atrocities

From the White House:

Today, President Obama is directing a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities.

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Trinity Wall Street on "Occupy Wall Street"

Trinity Wall Street Rector, The Rev. Dr. James Cooper, issued a statement on the "Occupy Wall Street" protest.

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No one's religious liberty is being threatened

During last week there were a number of news stories about Roman Catholic organizations, with strong support by right-wing evangelicals, filing lawsuits against the new federal guidelines requiring contraception for women in everyone's basic health care.

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Philly's Church of the Savior seeks to raze historic buildings 'to save the cathedral'

The Philadelphia Historical Commission will meet Friday to decide whether to allow the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia to destroy two historically recognized buildings it owns, and build a 25-story apartment, office, and retail complex in their place, in order to finance cathedral repairs and expand its ministry.

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Health care act upheld; insurance exec, moved by faith, joins the fight

Update: The U. S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 decision. We will be posting links to the responses of religious organizations as we receive them.

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How to win the war on poverty? Redistribute

The official poverty rate in the U.S. has barely budged in 45 years. But that official measure doesn't look at consumption, it looks at income, and as a result it ignores the Robin Hood effect of government anti-poverty programs. This isn't a new criticism, but new research takes it aboard and finds that the programs begun during the Great Society have had a profound effect. Measured by consumption, we are winning the war on poverty.

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Your homicide risk depends on your social network

Sentences to ponder:

Results indicate that the risk of homicide is highly concentrated within the study community: 41 percent of all gun homicides in the study community occurred within a social network containing less than 4 percent of the neighborhood’s population.

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Does Catholic support for Obama weaken bishops' position?

Does the fact that Barack Obama won the Catholic vote nationwide (albeit narrowly) weaken the position of Catholic bishops that the contraception mandate within Obamacare represents a violation of their members' religious freedom? Mark Movsesian, director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University, writes:

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Seeing God in schools

Couple of blog posts on God in schools:

Cafe News Blogger Kurt Wiesner responds to calls to "Put God back in schools." Part of it was rebuttal of bad theology, and another part clarifying church and state laws: both why separation of Church and State is critical, and what the Constitution protects concerning prayer in school.

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Overweight but won't exercise. Who should pay?

A new study says that the overweight live longer. Economists say that may be true, but the overweight have higher health costs.

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ABC-elect Welby on banking reform

The Archbishop-elect of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has an op-ed at on banking reform. He stresses "it isn't regulations, but virtue and leadership embedded within corporate cultures" that is the foundation of reform:

I think a number of practical steps must be taken.

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A contraception compromise in good faith

The Washington Post Editorial Board praises the "good faith" compromise of the Obama administration on contraception and health-care, which was elaborated on this past Friday:

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Bishops begin to consider their response to gun violence

The Office of Public Affairs has released an account of yesterday's proceedings in the House of Bishops which focused on how the Episcopal Church should respond to gun violence. The bishops meet again today at the Kanuga Conference Center in western North Carolina. An excerpt:

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Bishop Budde, Dean Hall featured in gun law reform PSA

Mayors Against Illegal Guns released this PSA featuring diverse religious leaders calling for common-sense gun law reforms. It is being released ahead of the upcoming Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend on March 15-17.

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Preventing gun violence

The Very Rev. Gary Hall and Rabbi David Saperstein reflect on the gun violence epidemic in The Huffington Post:

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Franklin Graham, other evangelicals, favor universal background checks

President Obama is gaining support from evangelical leaders for his efforts to require universal background checks for gun purchases. Time's Zeke Miller reports:

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Rabbi Hirschfield: Gun Violent Sabbath a "remarkably inspiring idea

The Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath currently underway at Washington National Cathedral and other churches is a "remarkably inspiring idea," says Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, who is president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

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Hall: We are in this gun violence work for the long haul

The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, has been among the most visible and eloquent leaders in the Episcopal Church on the subject of gun violence. Yesterday, capping the Cathedral's participation in the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, he preached this sermon, an excerpt from which is below.

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Faith groups seizing moment to fight gun violence

Daniel Schultz has an excellent round-up of the faith-based efforts to reduce gun violence on the website of Christian Century. It includes both Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, whose leader, Vinny DeMarco, recently spoke to the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops and CROSSwalk, an initiative of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.

He writes:

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Poll finds "dramatic rise" in support for marriage equality

From ABC News:

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Episcopalians' efforts to reduce gun violence

Episcopalians Against Gun Violence press release on reducing gun violence was featured on RNS Press Release Services (excerpted):

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Galvanized by gun violence, the Episcopal Church responds

The Episcopal Church is making news for its efforts to reduce gun violence.

Last night more than 1,000 people in the Diocese of Chicago braved the cold to participate in CROSSwalk, a prayerful four-mile procession through the streets of the city from St. James Episcopal Cathedral to Stroger Hospital where so many of the victims of gun violence go to be saved or to die. CROSSwalk is both a lamentation and a call to action.

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The Way of the Cross, not the way of the gun: a video

A lovely video from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, capturing Monday's rainy Way of the Cross along Pennsylvania Avenue, where 20 bishops and nearly 400 lay people prayed for action to reduce gun violence.

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Two crucial days: supporting universal background checks

Vincent DeMarco, national coordinator of Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence spoke at the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops Meeting in March. He sent this email to member organizations this morning:

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Breaking: Rhode Island senate passes marriage equality bill

The advocacy group Freedom to Marry is among the first out of the gate with the good news:

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Marriage equality is coming to Delaware

From Zack Ford at Think Progress: Just now, the Delaware Senate voted 12-9, to approve marriage equality legislation (HB 75), guaranteeing that Delaware will become the 11th state that recognizes same-sex couples’ marriages. Civil unions, which Delaware previously legalized in 2011, will convert to marriages after one year. The House passed the marriage equality bill two weeks ago by a 23-18 vote and Gov. Jack Markell (D) has promised to sign it.

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Your recommendations sought: sexual assault in the military

Charles A. Blanchard, General Counsel, United States Air Force asks for your recommendations on reducing sexual assault in the military. Blanchard, writing at Air Force General Counsel Blog:

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Why cops don't believe rape victims

Rebecca Ruiz, in, looks at the brain science that explains why those working for the justice system often do not believe rape victims, and how to solve the dilemma.

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Grim milestone as Texas executes 500th inmate

NBC News Staff Writer Sophia Rosenbaum reports on MSNBC:

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'Moral Monday' demonstrations update

Two recent stories on the Moral Monday demonstrations in North Carolina involve Episcopal Clergy: writes on The Rev. Jane Holmes:

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Poynter's 2nd "Covering Guns" training underway

The Poynter Institute, in a partnership with The University of Maryland, is currently providing a training session for journalists called "Covering Guns":

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Churches work to fight 'mass incarceration,' the 'new Jim Crow'

Clergy and church groups are mobilizing to battle racial injustice in the U.S. penal system, inspired by Michelle Alexander’s book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness." Alfredo Garcia writes on the Religion & Politics blog (a project of the John C. Danforth Center of Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis):

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Turns out we needed that provision in the Voting Rights Act after all

In July the U. S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling in essence that the provision in question was no longer needed.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies, issued a statement calling on President Obama and Congress "to move quickly to pass legislation, consistent with the court's decision, that will ensure the protection of equal voting rights for all Americans."

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First Amendment cases coming before the Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog notes that several cases involving the the First Amendment will probably come before the Supreme Court this Fall:

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"Dreamers" and resident tuition

The Arizona Star reports on the state of Arizona's legal battle over community colleges that offer lower in-state tuition to students who qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals program.

Attorney General Tom Horne says he's just doing his job:

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Living off tips

ROC United (Restaurant Opportunities Centers), launched in 2009, is campaigning to Raise the Tipped Minimum Wage, using the hashtag #livingofftips and featuring this video including Gloria Steinem:

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Study shows shift in attitudes about end-of-life care

A new Pew study indicates that the number of Americans who believe medical professionals should take all steps possible to prolong life in all circumstances has more than doubled since 1990. From Pew Research:

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Catholic Hospitals in U.S. are turning women away for miscarrying

Amanda Marcotte writes on the growing policy for Catholic Hospitals to refuse care for women who are losing their pregnancies. From her article in Slate:

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Amsterdam program hires homeless alcoholics to work for beer

The New York Times has a story today about a controversial program in Amsterdam that enlists homeless individuals to clean the streets, and pays them in beer:

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Temporary stay delays health law's birth control mandate

USA Today offers clear explanation of the delay issued by Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

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Development policy taking into account sexuality

How does an acceptance and acknowledgment of sexuality change development policy and practice? The Guardian reports a panel discussion on suggestions from development professionals:

Turn around the negative framing of sexuality in development: When development work deals with sexuality issues, the approach is often negative. Sexuality is seen as a problem: you hear about rape, violence, abuse, rather than pleasure, willingness, or happiness. Development work often also portrays women as powerless victims. It would be beneficial to include a feminist approach to sexuality and women's empowerment.

Resource – how to factor sexuality into policy: One of the most effective tools we've been using at IDS recently is heteronormativity – the assumption that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation – as a framework to examine how policies that should allieviate poverty make presumptions about populations and family units. The outcome of not using this approach is that sexual minorities are excluded and invisible in development interventions.

NGOs and donors should facilitate, not lead: Community leaders are the best agents to lead change in this space. In Vietnam, changes are taking place thanks to the leadership of LGBT people. NGOs and donors should take a facilitating role only. It is important to give voice to communities as they know their concerns best.The question is, how to facilitate the leadership of LGBT groups? In our experience, thanks to the internet, many online communities have existed and developed to serve LGBT communities. It might start with dating, come-out experience sharing, or mutual support in health-care or coping with violence. As outsiders, NGOs and donors must be patient and respect the pace of LGBT leaders.

Read more here. How does this speak to the work of Episcopal Relief and Development? UTO? or other agencies of the church?

Pushback to Arizona law continues

The Super Bowl Host Committee, along with the Arizona Cardinals, are now among those urging Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer not to sign the anti-gay bill known as SB 1062.

From The Huffington Post:

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Moving away from solitary confinement?

Katie Rose Quandt in Mother Jones reports on a story where the use of solitary confinement in prisons is being challenged recently in New York, Colorado, Indiana, California, and in congressional hearings:

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The clergy as marital agents of the state

In celebrating the legalization of same-sex marriage in Oregon, Bishop Michael Hanley of the Diocese of Oregon, has opened a conversation with the clergy of the diocese about whether it is appropriate for clergy to function as an agent of the state with regards to marriage.

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On the shooting at Reynolds High School

President Obama spoke on the Oregon shooting last night, as covered by The New York Times' Mark Landler and Lee Van Der Voo:

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'The Great Fish Swap'

"91 percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from abroad, but one-third of the seafood Americans catch gets sold to other countries."

Paul Greenberg, author of the new book American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood talks with Fresh Air 's Terry Gross on seafood, not from the overfishing side, but the related issues:

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Root causes of the migration crisis

Following pastoral letters from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings, some churches in Episcopal dioceses along the border with Mexico have been working to meet local needs of migrant people. However, in the media, there are many conflicting reports and stories about reasons for the migrant crisis. At Vox, Dylan Matthews features an in-depth interview with Cynthia Arnson, the director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

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Polls and opinions on sheltering children on our border

A number of reports on the ongoing question of children at the US border:

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reports:

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Bp. Robert Wright: 'Jesus is not a member of the NRA'

Nothing in the Bible justifies deregulation of gun sales and ownership, according to a panel of religious activists who spoke this week at the Religion Newswriters Association's annual conference in Decatur, Ga. The panel included Rachel Laser from the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, Christian ethicist David Gushee of Mercer University, Bryan Miller of Heeding God's Call, Atlanta Episcopal Diocese Bishop Robert Wright and Jim Winkler, the president of the National Council of Churches. Reporter Kay Campbell writes at

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More on Ferguson protests

Kenya Vaughn of The St. Louis American recaps Monday night in Ferguson:

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