NCR Today

Republican Candidates Add Artificial Religious Sweeteners

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I'm against multi-tasking, but I justified the Republican debates as exceptions. Just watching them straight on, without distractions, was too unnerving for me. So I caught glimpses, glanced at a book, canvassed for emails and waited for raised voices.

During what seemed like the 90th scrum, a couple of verbal missles caught my attention. One was Mitt Romney's absolute certainty, as a rebuke to same sex marriage, that wedlock had been the sole province of one man and one woman for 3,000 years and offered as a sort of proof that it had been a "sacrament" for lo those many years.

Even for those in the most hierarchical, traditional churches that espouse marriage as a sacrament that's a stretch. Marriage in pre-Christian times wasn't understood in those terms (a least a thousand of Romney's declared span). And for the length of the Middle Ages most couples didn't have Cana conferences and church weddings. They partnered up and became one under a kind of common law.

Religion should not be end-all in GOP presidential candidates

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I continue to be fascinated by the apparent desire of some voters to link religion with their candidate preferences.

Now that the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary for the Republican Party are over, with Romney the victor in both, the New York Times today is focused on South Carolina. There -- reportedly -- Romney's Mormonism will be a greater issue than before, and there is a great scramble by several candidates for the "Christian evangelical" vote. Perry and Santorum especially are going all-out for this vote, using overtly Christian symbols and messages in their campaigns.

The Constitution says, of course, that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" (Article VI, #3). That is a matter of law, but even constitutional clauses cannot control culture or public opinion. Still, it's an ideal.

Especially troubling are any signs that some would vote against Romney because he is Mormon. There are lots of reasons someone might oppose Romney, but his religion should not be one of them.

Court: Oklahoma ban on Islamic law unconstitutional

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In a decision that should be hailed by the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, a federal appeals court upheld a U.S. district court's decision allowing the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma to sue to prevent a xenophobic state law from implementation.

Time will tell if the U.S. bishops are serious about religious liberty by the way in which they come to the defense of Muslims, whose religious liberty appears most threatened in the United States.

From The Associated Press:

An amendment that would ban Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law discriminates against religions and a Muslim community leader has the right to challenge its constitutionality, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The court in Denver upheld U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange's order blocking implementation of the amendment shortly after it was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in November 2010.

Show compassion -- reduce prison sentences

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One of the reasons the United States has a much bigger prison population than the rest of the world is that our prison sentences are longer, and in the last 25 years, they have grown much longer.

In Missouri in 1987, for most men convicted of murder, 12 and a half years was about what they would serve in prison. Today, they would serve 30 years.

That's even a drive-by shooting, a bar fight or shaking a child to stop it from crying, not premeditated murder, shooting a police officer, multiple murders or murder in the process of another felony, like rape or robbery. Those are the crimes that get life with or without parole or the death penalty.

I think it is too much. It is too expensive for society, for one thing. For another, these men and women are rarely a threat to public safety. Murder is the rarest of repeated crimes.

Then there's compassion. Now that's a word I don't use lobbying in the halls of the Missouri legislature.

Morning Briefing

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Los Angeles archdiocese loses a precious resource

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A few days ago, the story broke that Bishop Gabino Zavala of the Los Angeles archdiocese had fathered two children who are now young teenagers and living with their mother in another state.

As a result of this revelation, Bishop Zavala has resigned as auxiliary bishop serving a predominantly Latino area of the larger Los Angeles metropolitan area. This is a real tragedy, especially because Zavala is a highly progressive liberationist who has promoted Catholic social doctrine and social justice issues, including the interests of Latino Catholics and the immigrant community.

He has served as president of Pax Christi USA, which advocates world peace. He has worked against capital punishment and has supported immigration reform that would allow undocumented immigrants to regularize their status. His resignation and forced departure from his position of influence leaves a major gap in church leadership, especially among the majority Latino Catholic population of the L.A. archdiocese.

Hidden in the Same Mystery

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Fifty years ago today – January 9, 1962 – the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton visited the Mother House of the Sisters of Loretto and spoke to a group of second-year novices. He reflected on the presence of Christ in their lives, about not waiting to “encounter Christ in the future,” but rather recognizing the encounter was taking place in the present moment – every moment of their lives.

Apologizing for Iraq

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The end of 2011 marked the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In mid-December, I listened, while I baked Christmas cookies, to the various reports on NPR about a war that wheezed to an end without the signing of a treaty.

Here in my warm kitchen, where heat and electricity are a given, the destruction of Iraq seemed a distant event, a bit of news that I could take in or turn off with the flick of a switch.

Reports about the war's conclusion brought on a flood of memories. I remembered the many demonstrations I attended during the winter of 2002/2003. Worcester. Washington, D.C. New York. It was a time of frenetic peace organizing and hope.

I remembered the first time I cried for what we were doing to Iraqis. It was while watching Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's scathing documentary about the lies that led up to the war. In one scene, the camera lingered on an Iraqi woman undone with grief because a U.S. bomb had killed her loved ones. The woman wailed, prayed and cursed all in the same sentence. Flailing her hands heavenward, she beseeched God to rain fire down on the Americans and show us no mercy.

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April 21-May 4, 2017

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