Religion

Weird Friends of the Court

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) If you’ve felt encouraged by recent trends in favor of gay rights—including the new Washington Post poll showing 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality—swing over to SCOTUSblog and read some of the nearly 60 “friend of the Court” briefs opposing gay marriage. On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases—the first on California’s Prop 8, the second on the Defense of Marriage Act—that could determine whether the federal government can define marriage as between a man and a woman, and whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The parties are represented by some of the lions of the Supreme Court bar, including two former Solicitor Generals—Paul Clement and Ted Olson—on either side of the issue (though arguing on separate days and on separate cases). Their briefs are strong. But the Court allows others to file briefs as amici curiae, or “friends of the Court.” These amicus briefs are usually...

Why Now, Mr. President?

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi S ome free advice for anyone who lives in Jerusalem and hasn't been invited to meet with Barack Obama: stay out of the city center from Wednesday to Friday. One major artery, King David Street, will be shut throughout the president's visit this week, and parking will be banned on a host of others, City Hall has announced. Experience teaches that traffic will tie up in knots and buses trying to get from Point A to Point B will travel via Point Z. Beyond gridlock—in the original sense of the word, vehicles sitting in mid-intersection going nowhere—the potential impact of the president's pilgrimage remains a mystery. The trip's timing suggests that Obama feels it absolutely urgent to renew the comatose Israeli-Palestinian peace process, now, before the weekend, before it expires. The pre-trip spin from Obama himself, from sundry off-record officials and from the punditocracy of two countries suggests that the president is coming, to quote Thomas Friedman , as "a...

Francis I, a Jesuit Pope

AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia W e are living in a golden age of information. Any newshound or junkie will tell you so. More and more, the layers of position and personage that constitute establishment influence are being peeled back to their tendons, revealing the innermost workings of power. The wry cynicism of Twitter has become the lingua franca of information brokers. Public statements are easily picked apart and the official stagecraft of a flag-pinned lapel, a rolled-up shirtsleeve, an of-the-people photo op are all viewed as perfunctory gestures, rote and largely meaningless. The election of a new pontiff, quite literally a news event gleaned from smoke signals, lands on our doorstep and we are confounded—what sort of man is this Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I? What will his platform be? What meanings should we divine about this man we’ve only just met, waving at us from a balcony? When symbolism is all you have, as it is with the successor to St. Peter, it becomes a...

Healing a Broken Catholic Church

Flickr/Doug88888
Because of its sins, the Roman Catholic Church is broken. The capital C in church is important; it signifies the institution, not the faithful. A wise Jesuit, the late Cardinal Avery Dulles, once wrote that the church can be viewed in different ways: as a herald, as a mystical communion, as an institution. It is the institution I am talking about. The Catholic Church is my church, and what it has done saddens me. The institution has protected pedophile priests. It has lifted the excommunication of bishops in an ultra-conservative society that seeks to undo the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. One of the bishops is a Holocaust denier. Members of the Roman Curia, the governing body of the institution, have engaged in corruption, intrigue, and struggles for personal power that would shame Machiavelli. At the same time, the Vatican Bank has failed to meet Council of Europe standards on fighting financial crimes, including money laundering and tax evasion. If that weren’t enough, the...

Netanyahu's Ticking Time Bomb

While Israel fails to form a government, the West Bank could explode.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
T he clock is running out for Benjamin Netanyahu. Five weeks after his pyrrhic election victory, he is still trying to piece together a new Israeli government. The one force he has working for him is that the leaders of every other party in parliament also know how few hours are left before the buzzer sounds. Time may also be running out to prevent a third Intifada in the West Bank. But no one can say what form a new Palestinian uprising will take, or whether it will break out next year or tomorrow. The lack of a known deadline is the most charitable explanation available for the way Israeli coalition talks have been conducted, with the major parties sparring about the secondary issue of military conscription, as if neither economics nor foreign policy existed. At times like this, Israelis can envy the elegant simplicity of Italian politics. Formally, the coalition countdown began a week-and-a-half after the election, when President Shimon Peres assigned Netanyahu to form the next...

Return of the Ratzinger

With Benedict around for the selection of his successor, a new Pope might not mean new hope for progressive Catholicism.

AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano
Conclave is coming, and by hook or by crosier, we’ll have a new Pope before Passover. Papal elections can spell change for the congregations of the world’s largest church , so we talked to a priest to get a handle on things. Joseph Palacios is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the founder of pro-gay-marriage group Catholics for Equality . He is on leave from his diocese in Los Angeles. You founded Catholics for Equality in 2010—did the timing have anything to do with the way Pop Benedict's tenure was going? It’s a ‘both and’ answer. Because the energy coming from the Vatican under Benedict’s rein was to quash any pro LGBT quality legislation around the world. And the bishops were given the charge to put their resources into stopping marriage bills, adoption bills. But also they have fought fair employment, housing, and other access/accommodation issues around the world. When he was running the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith , [Benedict crafted] the “...

It’s Time for Some Israel Real Talk.

I’ll start.

flickr/jason_harman
Last week, the storied New York LGBT Center refused award-winning queer writer and activist Sarah Schulman a chance to read from her new book, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International . In doing so, the organization cited the Center’s “moratorium” on using the center to "organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” in place since early 2011 purportedly to maintain the Center as a "safe space" for both Jews and Arabs. On Monday, they relaxed the moratorium, though it remains unclear whether Schulman will be allowed to read. Quasi-reversals notwithstanding, the existence of the moratorium in the first place is the height of hypocrisy—one would think that a queer organization of all places would understand, as the ACT UP slogan goes, that silence equals death. Is there any hotter third rail in U.S. politics than an unflattering opinion of Israel’s policy on Palestine? Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is still being haunted by one he let slip years ago, and last fall’s...

Not a Shot in Hell

Flickr/Catholic Church of England and Wales
Flickr/M.Mazu Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd as he arrives for an open-air mass in the Terreiro do Paso in Lisbon on May 11, 2010. D istilled to their essence, elections turn on the rigidity of numbers, concrete and comforting, imposed onto the chaos of human opinion. We stew when they do not go our way, but in these matters, majorities rule, minorities shout, and votes rarely occur without the employment of cajoling and cunning by candidates. The same will hold true when, following the February 28 resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, a papal conclave convenes and the College of Cardinals confines itself to the Sistine Chapel until the next pontiff is chosen. Cue images of white smoke issuing from chimneys as crimson-robed old men cast their ballots, all set to a dark, baroque soundtrack. As mesmerizing or as laughable as the ritual may seem—true to form, on issues involving the Church, opinion is divided—the outcome of this most special of elections inarguably affects not only the...

They're Just Not That into You

A White House Hanukkah celebration. You'll notice that Biden is seriously digging it.
I'd like to pre-predict something about the 2016 presidential race. During that race, there will be an article or two in Politico interviewing a few grumpy alter kockers in Palm Beach who say that this time, they've really had it with those Democrats. Republican politicians will assure reporters that the GOP's unswerving Likudnik loyalties are finally winning American Jews around. And then the Democratic nominee, whomever he or she may be, will get the overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent. How do I know this? Because that's what always happens. John Sides at the Monkey Cage alerts us to a new paper by political scientist Eric Uslander explaning how once again GOP hopes were dashed in 2012: The realignment of the Jewish vote didn't happen. To be sure, Obama lost some support among Jews compared to 2008, but he lost votes among most groups in an election that was closer than four years ago. The story of Jewish voting in 2012 is straightforward...

Dying for a Pro-Life Cause

(Rex Features via AP Images)
So now we know they really mean it: They’d rather see a woman die than have an abortion. You may have heard this story. Thirty-one-year-old Savita Halappanavar, who was visiting Ireland from India, was 17 weeks pregnant when she went to University Hospital Galway with back pain. They found out that she was miscarrying. According to the Irish Times , after spending a day in severe pain, Halappanavar started begging to have delivery induced, since there was no way the fetus could survive. She was refused, because the fetus still had a heartbeat. Here’s how the Irish Times reports on what happened next: Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination. This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they...

Is the Religious Right in Trouble?

Pat Robertson, possibly fending off a hurricane. (Flickr/Daniel Oines)
If we're going to count the losers of the 2012 election, the religious right has to be high on the list. Its members said they would turn out in extraordinary numbers to fight that infidel in the White House, but Ralph Reed's turnout push fizzled. Gay marriage is now legal in three more states than it was on November 5, with more sure to come. In response, some on the religious right are wondering whether this politics thing just isn't working out for them. It isn't that they failed to get their message out, said influential religious-right quote machine Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, "it's that the entire moral landscape has changed. ... An increasingly secularized America understands our positions and has rejected them." We've heard this kind of thing before, and Ed Kilgore warns that the religious right's stranglehold on the Republican Party hasn't lessened at all: Lest we forget, every single Republican candidate for president in 2012 toed the...

Will Massachusetts Voters Legalize Assisted Suicide?

This is the ninth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year. Six years ago, Mesfin Nega was attacked outside a nightclub. He suffered a broken neck and a damaged spinal cord that transformed the previously healthy 32-year-old into a quadriplegic. As The Washington Post later reported , Nega had made a pact with his friend Shimelis Yegazu: If one were ever to suffer an injury that required him to be connected to life-sustaining equipment, the other would take it upon himself to disconnect the equipment. Nega and Yegazu made the news last week when Yegazu followed through with this pact, administering a lethal dose of phenobarbital to Nega, and then taking a fatal dose himself. Nega’s story raises a question that has been off the political radar for some time: Should a patient who wants to end his or her own life have the right to receive a physician’s assistance doing so? Debate here doesn't fall along usual partisan lines—there is no party orthodoxy for...

The Last Word on Richard Mourdock

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock was already an extremist, not to mention not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, before he offered up his opinion on abortion and rape the other day. But I'm sure that even as he scrambles to contain the damage from his remarks, he can't quite understand what all the fuss is about. He expressed an opinion that is, among many millions of religious Americans, totally mundane: that God loves every baby and blastocyst, and therefore even a pregnancy that results from rape is good in His eyes. This episode reveals a couple of important things that are worth reiterating before we move on to the next campaign controversy, about both abortion and religion. Folks like Mourdock whose position on abortion is that the only reason it should be allowed is if the pregnant woman is going to die any moment without it—and there are lots of them, including 15 Republican Senate candidates —at least have a position that is consistent with the principle they...

Refugee Reality Check

Israeli policy on asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan is denial

(AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
(AP Photo/Oded Balilty) African refugees share breakfast at a shelter in Tel Aviv, Israel Thursday, February, 16, 2012. Some 50,000 Africans have entered Israel in recent years, fleeing conflict and poverty in search of safety and opportunity in the relatively prosperous Jewish state. A growing number of African migrants say they were captured, held hostage and tortured by Egyptian smugglers hired to sneak them into Israel. L evinsky Park is where you meet a friend if you're an African refugee living in South Tel Aviv. One recent afternoon, I found around 50 Sudanese and Eritreans sitting on the small stretch of lawn in groups of two or four or five. Nearly all were men in their twenties or thirties. Most were remarkably thin. They wore faded jeans and T-shirts or polo shirts, and talked softly amid the traffic roar. The park is across Levinsky Street from Tel Aviv's central bus station, the hulking gateway through which those who had to abandon their country entered the strange city...

Netanyahu and the Magic Marker

The Israeli prime minister waxes hyperbolic on Iran, overshadowing discussions on the solutions that exist for the Middle East's political woes.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
(AP Photo/Richard Drew) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Thursday, September 27, 2012. H istory will show that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech Wednesday at the United Nations General Assembly, which was the usual farrago of pseudo-historical philosophy and conspiratorial Zionist-bashing (and, mercifully, was the last by the term-limited president), was overshadowed by something even more cartoon-like: A drawing of a bomb, complete with lit fuse, used by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show Iran’s progress toward a nuclear-weapons capability. Just to make sure his message was clear, Netanyahu used a magic marker to draw a red line showing where Iran’s uranium enrichment must be stopped. Twitter lit up with mocking references to Wile E. Coyote soon after. But it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh. “Poking fun at Netanyahu's cartoon bomb is all well...

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