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Florida Catholic Conference donates large chunks of money for anti-gay ballot measure

It hasn’t received much attention, but a last minute petition campaign for a “Marriage Protection Amendment” managed to secure a spot on Florida’s November ballot, sneaking in by the skin of its teeth on Friday. Given that Florida has already enacted a state-wide “Defense of Marriage Act,” one has to wonder why another push is being made by anti-gay organization s and institutions to keep this issue in the minds of voters.

Oh, wait. I know. It’s because conservative religious voters need a reason to go to the polls this November, seeing as how they are pretty unhappy with their choice of potential GOP nominees. So, sure enough, Florida4marr iage.org has secured a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage yet again.

Does anyone else feel like they’re reading the back of a shampoo bottle? Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Over and over again, every election cycle.

The specific language of the ballot measure says, “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”   Sixty percent of Floridians need to vote yes on the amendment in order for it to become law.

Not surprisingly  , the Republican Party of Florida was the largest bank roll for the campaign to get this measure on the ballot. They spent a whopping $300,000 collecting more than 600,000 signatures. But the number two donor? No, not Domino’s Pizza. No, not the Christian Coalition. But the Florida Catholic Conference, which gave nearly $50,000 for the effort. Yes, the same Florida Catholic Conference whose vision statement says they are guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Church.

Of course, I’m sure if Jesus had $50,000 to burn, he wouldn’t have spent it going after gays and lesbians. You know, not when 15% of children under 18 live under the poverty level in the state. Darn that pesky Jesus and his message of economic populism.

Whether this amendment will bring out conservative voters in the Fall remains to be seen, but the gauntlet has once again been thrown. Ironically, Florida’s GOP Governor, Charlie Crist, has asked the Republican Party to stop spending money on this campaign, saying there are more important issues that warrant the money. Maybe somebody should convey that message to the Florida Catholic Conference, since the teachings of Jesus don’t seem to be doing the trick.

Thankfully, the ballot measure has already drawn organized opposition, in the form of the bipartisan “Florida Red and Blue Committee.” They call this ballot measure “dangerous and disingenuous  ,” and are organizing a drive to educate voters on why the amendment is not only unnecessary, but another example of the government bursting into the doors of citizens’ private lives. Check the Florida Red and Blue Committee out. Friend them on Facebook. Do whatever you can, so that come November 2008, organization s like the Florida Catholic Conference can be sent a message that they should feed the poor, clothe the naked, bless the peacemakers, and be good stewards of the Earth, rather than try to control who loves who. Darn that pesky Bible.


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Jewish leaders condemn email rumors about Obama’s faith

If you’ve got a Republican family member, or several like I do, chances are you’ve seen one of those anti-Barack Obama emails, suggesting that he’s a terrorist in sheep’s clothing, and that he’s posing as a Christian to be elected President but then will come out as a Muslim and handover the United States to Al-Qaeda. It almost sounds like a future episode of 24, right?

So far, ninety percent of this country has been able to tell that this email, and other emails like it, are completely ludicrous, hateful, manipulative and beyond Swiftboating . Unfortunatel y, there’s that 10 percent that keeps flexing their right to be idiots.

As the NY Times reports this morning, nine Jewish leaders have released an open letter condemning these anti-Obama emails, calling them hateful and saying that “attempts of this sort to mislead and inflame voters should not be part of our political discourse and should be rebuffed by all who believe in our democracy.”

Kol Hakavod!

(It means well done in Hebrew. I think.)

Though these nine leaders have not endorsed any candidate, they are responding to reports that these anti-Obama Muslim rumors are being spread deliberately among Jewish constituenci es. And while the emails have been derided by many political pundits and politicians  (including Hillary…thou gh people affiliated with her Iowa campaign were caught forwarding the emails), the viral email has been so persistent that it came up in last night’s Democratic debate in Nevada, and is repeatedly referred to on countless numbers of blogs, including in the comments section of this one.

For the record, Barack Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ. So the lesson for today? Don’t believe everything you read in your email, especially if it comes from that dopey uncle or that pompous brother-in-l aw.


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Domino’s Pizza endorses Mitt Romney

Get the door. It’s Domino’s. Or, make that Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s, who has just thrown his endorsement to former Massachusett s Gov. Mitt Romney in the race for the 2008 Presidential election. Why Mitt Romney? In the words of Mr. Monaghan:

“As someone who values the importance of faith in one’s life, I recognize in Mitt his deep religious convictions which will serve him well in facing the critical moral issues facing our society,” said Monaghan. “I believe he will stand firm on the pro-life issues and for the traditional family values that our country was founded on and which are so critical to the future of our nation.”

When not endorsing Presidential candidates, Monaghan is busy creating his own conservative Catholic oasis in Southwestern Florida. He’s constructing a town called Ave Maria, near Naples, which has come under fire from rights groups like the ACLU. Among the reasons why it has come under fire? Monaghan has suggested that no contraceptiv es or pornography will be sold in Ave Maria, there will be no access to abortion, and rumors abound that Monaghan wound ban realtors from selling property or condos to gays and lesbians. (Monaghan, as well as a construction company he’s partnered with, have exclusive control over commercial real estate in the town.)

It’s curious that Romney would be so proud of an endorsement from a man, like Monaghan, who wishes to limit free speech and commerce, while threatening to skirt around the Florida State Constitution in order to pursue his religious agenda. It’s also curious that Monaghan would choose a candidate, like Romney, who has a wishy-washy history with most of the social issues that fuel Monaghan’s philanthropy  (and some might say, vision for world domination).  

Perhaps the fact that Monaghan sold his share in Domino’s to Bain Capital in 1998 – the venture capital firm founded by Romney – had something to do with the endorsement.  

Yes, it is nice to see billionaires sticking together.


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The Great Perplexity for Catholic Voters

New Hampshire polls close in just a few hours, but in the build-up to today’s primary, Manchester’s Catholic Bishop John B. McCormack gave an insightful quote that hints at the proverbial wall that many Catholics all over the country will be beating their heads against in the struggle to determine how to cast their vote. “Some candidates advance proposals that fail to mirror the commitment of the church to the protection of all human life. In many cases, these same candidates advance other policies and proposals that can be supported in light of church teaching. This frequent mixture of laudable and unacceptable positions causes great perplexity,” said Bishop McCormack.

What’s a Catholic to do when (1) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote, (2) it’s a moral responsibili ty to vote for the candidate who best espouses the Church’s moral teachings, particularly on respecting life, and (3) no candidate on either side of the political aisle fits into the “perfect” mold of the Church’s moral teachings?

Now that’s a dilemma. Thank God I belong to the United Church of Christ now.

The battle for the Catholic vote will likely rev up in the coming weeks and months, as we get out of primary election mode and into general election hysteria. Who knows what lurks in the hearts (or empty vessels they pretend are hearts!) of political operatives and pollsters this year in terms of nabbing the Catholic vote. One thing is almost for certain: the right is going to argue that Democrats are unsuitable because of issues like abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage. The left is going to argue that Republicans are unsuitable because of issues like poverty, immigration, health care, education, and most importantly, war. Who’s right?

Well, if you look at what the institutiona l Church (i.e. The Catholic Bishops Conference) has said, here’s their take on the number one issue that should inform a Catholic voter’s conscience in 2008 (quoted directly from Faithful Citizenship, released every Presidential Election season by the Bishops):


The right to life and the dignity of the human person.
Human life is sacred. Direct attacks on innocent human beings are never morally acceptable. Within our own society, life is under direct attack from abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research. These intrinsic evils must always be opposed. This teaching also compels us as Catholics to oppose genocide, torture, unjust war, and the unnecessary use of the death penalty, as well as to pursue peace and help overcome poverty, racism, and other conditions that demean human life.

Talk about triangulatio n! Did Mark Penn write this for the bishops?

Whether it’s McCain, Romney, Giuliani or Huckabee who ends up the eventual GOP nominee, clearly they don’t fit the bill given their records on issues like war, the death penalty, and torture (particularl y Romney, who wouldn’t rule out using waterboardin g as an interrogatio n technique). And that’s not a liberal Massachusett s blogger saying this…that’s the institutiona l Catholic Church.

On the Dem side, it gets trickier. Sure, you can argue (like the right will) that Obama and Clinton support abortion rights and support stem cell research, thus Catholics in good conscience shouldn’t vote for them. But when you peel back the layers of these complex issues, particularly abortion, and start to look at which party’s platform might actually lead to a reduction in abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates because of how it handles issues like economic justice, poverty, health care, and education, the waters get much muddier. That’s because Obama’s and Clinton’s principles seem to line up more with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching than, say, a war hawk, someone who wants to jail clergy for feeding illegal immigrants, those who would execute entire populations of prisoners, and those who would condone torture.

So the great perplexity for Catholic Voters, and Bishop McCormack put it, might just be turning away from the rants and raves of Bill Donohue, Phyllis Schlafly, Deal Hudson and others who would sabotage Catholic Social Teaching to fit their own political sympathies, and looking more deeply at the moral teachings of the Church.


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Beyond the Starbucks drinking elite

That’s a line from the latest article on Sen. Barack Obama, as he makes a much heralded media push to win over the hearts and minds of blue collar workers and red state voters. Ironically, I read the article tonight at a Starbucks, cashing in a gift card someone gave me.

That Obama (who’s secret service code name – Renegade – is decidedly one of the coolest secret service names out there) needs to move beyond the elite crowd is pretty much common knowledge. To do this, he’ll give a speech tomorrow in Iowa entitled “Reclaimin g the American Dream,” which as politico.com reports, will seek to expand Obama’s base beyond the “NPR-liste ning, Starbucks-dr inking, Prius-drivin g, Times-readin g” stereotype that has become a shorthand for his appeal to the party’s elite.

Obama’s “Reclaimin g the American Dream,” speech comes on the heels of an article in Time Magazine that talks about Obama’s red state appeal. Per Time:

Political organizing for Democrats in red states like Nebraska can often feel a bit like leading AA meetings. But that hasn’t deterred more than 300 Nebraskans from forming a dozen groups for Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and they aren’t the only ones. On Monday, the Obama campaign announced that over 300 Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans had decided to cross party lines to support Obama. At Obama events in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Virginia and Georgia, a good 20% of audiences routinely raise their hands when emcees ask for Republicans in the crowd. A “Republicans for Obama” website has 11 state chapters with 146 members. An August University of Iowa even found Obama running third in the state among Republican candidates, behind Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani but ahead of both Fred Thompson and John McCain. And a national Gallup poll this month also found that nearly as many Republicans like Obama — 39% — than the 43% that dislike him, compared with the 78% of Republicans who held an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton.

Then there’s the Obama machine in South Carolina, which is seeking to highlight the candidate’ s strong faith background, and his commitment to civil rights. Sure, Obama flubbed it when he brought on an anti-gay pastor to lead a major campaign concert in the Palmetto State (notice the backtracking and media floundering that ensued), but the results of his “40 Days of Faith and Family” tour across the state will certainly surpass any fallout from that rookie mistake. Need proof? Obama appeared in the town of Manning, SC last week for a campaign stop. A whopping 25% of the town showed up! (A poll released last week showed him ten points behind Hillary Clinton in the state. The next one won’t.)

What does all of this mean? Probably a number of different things, but my take is that instead of getting rough in response to Hillary Clinton’s campaign (like many activists and pundits are imploring him to do), Obama’s going to do something that’s probably much smarter – he’s going to aggressively make the case that he’s more electable than Clinton is, in places as varied as Iowa, South Carolina, and as Time magazine suggests, Nebraska. Might that argument have enough sway to pull him through Iowa and New Hampshire? It’s hard to say. But it’s a valiant effort at moving his campaign to the next level (something that, sadly, Bill Bradley couldn’t do in 2000).

Stay tuned. The Iowa caucuses are less than two months away (January 3). (Need even more proof that we’re getting nearer to the caucuses? It snowed nearly 3 inches in my hometown last night. Winter and Iowa are almost here!)


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The religious right’s threat of a third-party candidacy

Here’s a poll: How many of you think all the major GOP presidential candidates are sweating buckets right now that leaders of the religious right suggested they may back a third-party Presidential candidate in 2008, due to less than enthusiastic support for the current crop of candidates?

Giuliani’s camp fought back by pumping the media with stories about how the GOP has “to have a candidate that can run in all 50 states,” and arguing that he’s the only Republican contender who can do so.

McCain’s camp arranged for him to give an interview to Beliefnet, where he slandered Islam and suggested that he’d only be comfortable with a Christian president.

Thompson’s been trying to thwart attention from his religion to his tax proposal, in hopes of convincing the religious right to vote with their pocketbooks instead of their bibles.

Huckabee issued a statement saying that a third-party backed candidate would hand Hillary Clinton the election.

And this past weekend, the Boston Globe reported that Romney is doubling his efforts to lure the support of the religious right, by asking Rev. James Dobson of Focus on the Family (the media’s anointed leader of the religious right) to take a second look at his candidacy.

At that’s just the news from the past few days. My god, I don’t even know if the children of Elm Street were this afraid when they went to sleep!

The truth is that Huckabee is probably right. A third-party candidate would handicap the race for Democrats, splintering the coalition of the willing comprised of social conservative s and fiscal conservative s. All of the leading GOP candidates know this, and my guess is that all of them have the head of James Dobson on a dartboard in their war rooms. Imagine having to kiss Dobson’s ass just so he doesn’t pull behind a rogue candidacy?

It’s kind of like the last season of The West Wing playing out in real time. Remember how Alan Alda’s character had to placate the religious right?

Though Tuesday’s Republican debate in Dearborn, Michigan is meant to focus on economic issues, I’ll be curious how the candidates work in some religious right talking points to kabash the growing story line that the moral majority is magnificentl y dissatisfied with this bunch. Stay tuned.

(Note: For those who may be interested, I hold a soft spot in my heart for Dearborn, MI. It’s where I tried out for Jeopardy back in 2005. I didn’t make it, but I can hardly hold that against Dearborn. I blame it on Jeopardy’s penchant for asking too many damn opera questions.)


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And they call this a rebound?

What do you call 104 Christians hanging out in a Florida trailer?

Apparently the new face of the burgeoning Christian right movement.

Headed into the 2008 election season, Christian conservative s are weary. Their movement has lost iconic leaders and the Republican presidential field is uninspiring. But they may have found hope in a trailer on the campus of Bell Shoals Baptist Church.

Even this weekend’s summit had its disappointme nts. Organizers had hoped up to 350 people would attend, laying the groundwork for a new Florida activist network.

But only 104, nearly all from Florida, had registered by Friday. A workshop on the basics of grassroots activism drew a handful of people — and one was a spy, an activist for Americans United for Separation of Church and State researching the opposition.

“There will be peaks and valleys, but I don’t know if people understand the depth and breadth of our movement,” said Gary Cass, former executive director at Kennedy’s Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, which closed after the South Florida preacher fell ill.

“…I don’t know if people understand the depth and breadth of our movement.” Probably not the most sensible quote to give at a gathering that disappoints by over 200 people, and pretty much includes only people within the Tampa metro-area. That said, and as a senior fellow from the Pew Forum is quoted in the article, the Christian right movement has had its obituary written several times since its inception in the 1970s. And, as luck would have it, Florida conservative s are itching to get an anti-gay marriage amendment on the state’s 2008 ballot, which seems to be a tried and true tactic to drum up Republican votes since before I was legally old enough to cast a ballot. (For those interested, that was 1996. I voted for Clinton, and up until 2002, he was the only person I ever voted for that won. Gov. Ed Rendell broke the losing streak…)

At any rate, it bodes well for Democrats if one of the major talking points emerging (er, thriving?) going into the 2008 elections is that Christians are uninspired by their flock of Republican candidates. State ballot measures attacking gay marriage may bring out the hard-liners, but they’ll never make up for the lack of original ideas and momentum on the GOP side.


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Christian Jackbooted Thugs for Brownback

Remember the Scarlett Letter; those who were caught in Adultery would have this letter attached to them to identify what a naughty person they were.  Well, look no further than Sen. Brownback’s supporters to find a new twist on the Scarlet Letter.  These folks (fine upstanding christians no doubt) would love place the “letter” on all things Atheist so that their feeble christian minds would know to avoid anything that might challenge their ignorance and insanity.  And these folks also remember the immortal words of their lord and savior by casting stones at the sinful with their ultimate list of the hellbound.  Maybe these guys are a parody, maybe not.  But I’m betting that there are plenty of Brownback supporters who think in exactly this way…  Hat tip to Pharyngula…


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