When church & state meet in court

Came across an interesting new report from the Pew Forum on court cases involving the relationship of church & state.

As they explain it:

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These and related lawsuits raise complex constitutional questions that have been troubling American courts for more than a century: Do the First Amendment’s religion clauses – which guarantee religious liberty and prohibit all laws “respecting the establishment of religion” – bestow a unique legal status on religious organizations that puts some of their decisions and actions beyond the reach of civil laws? To put it another way, are legal disputes involving churches and other religious institutions constitutionally different from those involving their secular counterparts, and if so, how?

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I like the way the Pew people frame how religious cases are related and may be different in some ways from other cases.

They look at four different cases that illustrate issues/conflicts that often come up: property disputes; employment of clergy; the treatment or discipline of members; and how religious organizations deal with employee misconduct.

As Pew explains:

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Although the four types of cases raise different legal issues, court rulings on all these matters have been consistent regarding one important principle: The government must not regulate religious entities in any way that would require a judge or other government official to interpret religious doctrine or rule on theological matters. At times, this “hands-off” principle might require courts to treat religious organizations differently from their secular counterparts.

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Pew looks at one case where a Lutheran school dismissed a teacher who missed a lot of time because of treatment for narcolepsy. The school might have a problem because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it claims a “ministerial exception” for the way it handled an employee.

Interesting stuff.

Who is that Dalai Lama guy, anyway?

I’m not at all surprised that Americans don’t know much about religion in general.

But the findings of a new Pew Forum poll are still kind of shocking.

45% of Catholics don’t know that their faith teaches that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ during Holy Communion?

53% of Protestants cannot identity Martin Luther as the father of the Reformation?

47% of respondents know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist?

43% of Jews don’t know that Maimonides was Jewish? (This might not seem like a big deal to non-Jews, but M. was one of the most significant figures in Jewish history.)

What do people know?

The Pew Forum asked people 32 questions about faith. The highest average scores went to…atheists and agnostics. This isn’t terribly surprising, given that non-believers tend to be very educated, but it’s still pretty embarrassing for all those who call the U.S. a “Christian nation.”

Catholics, on average, got only 14.7 questions right — fewer than Jews, Mormons and Protestants, not to mention atheists and agnostics. On the one hand, this is surprising because Catholics are generally a very educated group.

On the other hand, it’s well know that the quality of Catholic education for those who do not attend Catholic schools has been quite low for decades. And it’s long seemed to me that Catholics, in general, know less about faiths other than their own than other religious groups. Many Catholics, in fact, know little about Protestants — what they believe and why.

What else? I’m kind of surprised that 62% of Americans know that most people in India are Hindus. I would have expected 30% based on the other results.

And 51% know that Joseph Smith was a Mormon? Could have been worse.

Here’s a Pew Forum summary:

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Atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons still have the highest levels of religious knowledge, followed by evangelical Protestants, then those whose religion is nothing in particular, mainline Protestants and Catholics. Atheists/agnostics and Jews stand out for high levels of knowledge about world religions other than Christianity, though they also score at or above the national average on questions about the Bible and Christianity. Holding demographic factors constant, evangelical Protestants outperform most groups (with the exceptions of Mormons and atheists/agnostics) on questions about the Bible and Christianity, but evangelicals fare less well compared with other groups on questions about world religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Mormons are the highest-scoring group on questions about the Bible.

Religion affects thinking on some issues more than others, poll finds

So our religious beliefs affect our thinking on some social issues more than others, according to a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Not a surprise, I suppose, but an interesting subject to consider.

The issue colored most by religion is same-sex marriage. 35% of respondents said religion was the most important factor in determining their position.

26% said their position on abortion was most influenced by religion. I would have expected the percentage to be much higher, at least 40%.

Religion is far from the chief influence on other hot-button subjects, such as government assistance to the poor (10%), immigration (7%) and the environment (6%).

The immigration result makes sense on at least one level. The Catholic Church is strongly in favor of immigration reform, including amnesty for illegal immigrants already here. Catholics make up a quarter or so of all Americans, but many have their own thinking on this most emotional issue of the day.

The Pew poll cover A LOT of ground. Check it out.

On the abortion question, the Pew people write: “On the issue of abortion, half of Americans (50%) say abortion should be legal in all (17%) or most (33%) cases while fewer, 44%, say it should be illegal in all (17%) or most (27%) cases. Support for legal abortion has edged upward since last 2009, when 47% said it should be legal in all or most cases.”

And on gay marriage: “On the issue of same-sex marriage, about four-in-ten Americans (41%) say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 48% are opposed. A slight majority of Democrats (52%) favor same-sex marriage, while independents are evenly split (44% favor, 45% oppose) and two-thirds (67%) of Republicans are opposed. Democrats are divided sharply along racial lines; 63% of white Democrats favor same-sex marriage, compared with just 27% of black Democrats and 46% of Hispanic Democrats.”

And on gays in the military:

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By a two-to-one margin, most Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military (60% favor vs. 30% oppose). The level of support has been consistent in recent years. Majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (64%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military, while Republicans are more divided (47% favor and 43% oppose).

Large majorities of white mainline Protestants (68%), white Catholics (71%), Hispanic Catholics (60%) and the religiously unaffiliated (66%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while support is lower among white evangelical Protestants (43%) and black Protestants (46%). Even among the least supportive religious groups, though, less than half oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military.

Why did he stab the cabbie?

The story of Michael Enright, the Putnam County guy who allegedly stabbed a Muslim cab driver yesterday, will draw national attention for some time.

At least until we have some idea why he did it.

The cabbie, Ahmed H. Sharif, has made clear that he believes he was stabbed because he is a Muslim.

Just got a press release announcing that a coalition of Muslim groups on Monday at the National Press Club in D.C. will release a “public service announcement” that responds to the Great Mosque Controversy and the cabbie stabbing.

It says: “The PSA will showcase American Muslims of diverse ages and backgrounds responding to the fears and concerns many Americans may have about Islam and Muslims.”

The producer of the PSA, a fellow by the name of David Hawa, says: “I think people need to hear from the average American Muslim about who we are and where we stand. This PSA will give me and other American Muslims the opportunity to talk directly to the American public –  free of any fear that politics or agendas are driving the discussion.”

Two other “Islam-related” notes:

1. In case you missed it, while I was on vacation, the Pew Forum released a poll showing that 18 percent of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. Only 34 percent of adults say he is a Christian.

Wow.

From the release:

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According to the survey, nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim — an increase from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, a sharp decrease from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama’s religion is. The survey was completed in early August, before Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center.

The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points). But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points). There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian (down nine points since 2009).

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2. Politico has a story about a group of American imams visiting the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.

The group stopped to pray at Dachau. An organizer said: “All of the tourists stopped in their tracks. I don’t think anyone has ever seen anything like it.”

Photo: (New York Taxi Worker Alliance)