Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Religion

Is the National Cathedral a national treasure?

National Cathedral
The perennial and sometimes tiresome debate over the relationship between church and state has taken a new twist. The National Cathedral (real name: The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul) was damaged in this summer's earthquake, and the mayor of Washington is seeking $15 million from the federal government to pay for repairs.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State doesn't like the idea, but the fact is that the cathedral, in the words of one of its administrators, is "a whole lot more than just a church." It's a tourist attraction, museum and the location of presidential prayer services.

Some members of other denominations might feel it's presumptuous for an Episcopal church, however grand, to refer to itself as the National Cathedral. But the cathedral bills itself  as a "ministry for people of all faiths and perspectives." That ecumenical outreach makes it harder to argue that public funds for repairing the cathedral are benefiting a  single religious tradition.

But that leaves the question of whether the funding would violate the Constitution because it supports religion in general.I don't think so. If it's a legitimate government function to restore private buildings -- or even tourist attractions -- after an earthquake, why shouldn't churches be included?


God and Lancaster

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's misguided day of prayer

Science and religion: God didn't make man; man made gods

--Michael McGough

Photo: A member of the Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates "Difficult Access Team" climbs on the west front facade of The Washington National Cathedral in Washington, Oct. 18. The team of trained architects and engineers are checking for damage from the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that struck the East Coast on August 23. Credit: Shawn Thew / EPA

Perry doesn't know whether Obama's birth certificate is real

Rick Perry

First John Boehner, now Rick Perry.

In February the speaker of the House said he was willing to accept that President Obama was a U.S. citizen but added that "the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can't -- it's not my job to tell them." He also said he would take Obama "at his word" that he was a Christian -- implying that Obama was the only authority for that proposition. Overall, Boehner's comments managed to encourage "birthers" even even as they seemed to accept that Obama was a native-born Christian.

Flash forward to the 2012 presidential campaign. In an interview with Parade magazine. Gov. Rick Perry engaged in Boehner-like equivocation about whether Obama's birth certificate is real. "I don't know, " Perry said. "I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night .... He doesn't think it's real .... I don't have any idea. It doesn't matter. [Obama is] the president of the United States. He's elected. It's a distractive issue."

Like Boehner, Perry was accepting Obama's citizenship while raising doubts about it. If he really thought it was a "distractive" issue, he would have said: "I believe the president is an American citizen. End of story." That he provided a quibbling answer instead suggests that he may think there's still a "birther" constituency out there -- a depressing thought.


Goodbye 'birthers,' hello 'deathers'

Perry revived 'birther' issue to 'poke' at Obama

Obama closes one 'birther' chapter. Will another open?

-- Michael McGough

Photo: Texas Gov. Rick Perry at a GOP candidates debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Sept. 7. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Coptic Christians in Egypt may be nostalgic for Hosni Mubarak

Egyptian Coptic Christians rally in Cairo on Monday to protest the death of other Copts in clashes with the military the day before. Credit: Mohamed Omar / European Pressphoto Agency

Seventeen years ago, on a visit to an Egyptian church, I was surprised to see a portrait of President Hosni Mubarak in the vestibule. I was told that Christians regarded the strongman as a protector. Shortly before our visit there had been attacks on Christian churches in southern Egypt and we heard tales of officially sanctioned discrimination from Copts, but the thinking was that things would be much worse for Christians without Mubarak.

I was reminded of that visit by the recent violence against Copts and the denunciation by Christians of the supposedly transitional military government. It seems the "Arab Spring" may not be good for Christians. Iraqi Christians, many of whom have fled the country, may feel the same way about the post-liberation political environment. I have always wondered if Pope John Paul II's misgivings about the U.S. invasion of Iraq reflected not just an abhorrence of violence but also a fear that Chaldean Catholics and other Christians would be harmed in the aftermath of by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The plight of Christians in the Middle East is, writ small, the problem with democratic revolts in that region: Democracy does not guarantee tolerance, political pluralism or freedom of religion.


Egypt's petty palm embargo

Anwar Sadat's vision for Egypt

McManus: Technology that protects protesters

— Michael McGough

Photo: Egyptian Coptic Christians rally in Cairo on Monday to protest the death of other Copts in clashes with the military the day before. Credit: Mohamed Omar / European Pressphoto Agency

God made America, according to Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

It isn't surprising that Mitt Romney played the "American exceptionalism" card in his first major foreign-policy address. What was startling, given Romney's even temper and moderate leanings, was that he credited God for that exceptionalism.

"This century must be an American century," Romney said. "In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. God did not create this country to be a nation of followers."

This takes the invocation of the Deity a step further than George W. Bush's much-criticized 2003 State of the Union address, in which he said, "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity." Bush's line is actually anti-chauvinistic, whereas Romney is claiming a divine blessing for his assertion that "We're No. 1."

But that makes sense. God is an American, isn't he?


Ron Paul's chump change

Taking nominations for a new GOP crush

Herman Cain: The GOP's flavor of the month sours early

-- Michael McGough

Photo: Former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gives a foreign policy address to cadets at the Citadel on Oct. 7. Credit: Richard Ellis/Getty Images

Is anti-Islam sentiment subsiding?

This is a corrected version of the original post; see the note below.

It may be too much to hope for, but the quiet opening of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan -- the so-called ground zero mosque -- may indicate a lull in Islam-bashing in political discourse.

Last year, Islamophobia seemed to be acquiring the status in right-wing circles that fear of communism achieved in the 1950s. Several states considered laws prohibiting the use of Sharia in their legal systems (a remote possibility, to put it mildly).There was talk of the danger of the United States being absorbed in a Caliphate stretching from the Middle East through Europe. Now the anti-Islamic rhetoric seems to be subsiding.

Still, we should never underestimate the political appeal of xenophobia, especially when it is rooted in religion. And even when Islam is not the obvious issue -- as in Republican criticisms of President Obama for supposedly tilting toward the Palestinians -- it remains a subtext. With Christian conservatives in the ascendancy in the Republican Party, Islam-bashing may still have a future.


God and 9/11

Thinking outside the 'Muslim bubble'

The conversation: Being Muslim in America after 9/11

-- Michael McGough

[Updated 6:15 p.m. Oct. 13: This post previously displayed a photo that showed members of the Sikh community attending the grand opening of the Park51 community centerWe didn’t intend to suggest they were Muslim; we simply selected a photo from the event.  However, we are sensitive to reader concerns and recognize that the placement of the photo was misleading. For further explanation, see the Readers' Representative Journal.]

Sexually transmitted disease: How to fight frighteningly high rates of infection

chlamydiagonorrheasexually transmitted diseaseSTD


Chlamydia rates among young African American women in L.A. County have reached alarming levels:  8.7% of all black teenagers ages 15 to 19 have the sexually transmitted disease. Gonorrhea rates are lower but still troublingly high among African American girls and women. Rates among Latino girls and women also are above average.

And the disease rates are especially bad in the 2nd Supervisorial District, which encompasses many low-income areas of the county -- generally at least twice as high.

Chlamydia is easily curable with antibiotics, but if it is allowed to spread undetected, it can cause a host of potentially dangerous health problems, especially to the fetus of a pregnant woman. Yet how to catch it early? Some 70% of infected women have no symptoms.

The county's well-regarded "I Know" campaign is one smart approach. It provides free home testing kits to women, who can mail in their tests and receive the results by Internet. But not everyone has Internet access. So on Monday, the county and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas are kicking it up a notch by placing dedicated kiosks throughout his district that will allow women to order the kits online and get the results as well.

What's especially heartening about this is that, according to Ridley-Thomas' office, pastors and other religious leaders in the district aren't getting moralistic about the problem, realizing that the most important moral issue here is to provide low-income women and girls with information and medical care. They've gotten behind the effort, an important public relations tool in neighborhoods where a good part of community life revolves around the church.


ACLU's 'Don't Filter Me' campaign makes sense

What's different about scary warning labels for smokers?

Flash! Facebook causes teen drinking! (Until you read the fine print)

--Karin Klein

Graphic provided by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' office.

Rick Perry's bad timing for a visit to Falwell's university

Rick Perry

It isn't surprising that Rick Perry found a welcoming reception at Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell. But the timing -- a few days after the 10th anniversary of 9/11 -- might have given Perry pause.

Falwell famously explained that catastrophe this way: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.' " 


--Michael McGough

Photo: Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, gestures during a speech before a Virginia Republican fundraising event in Richmond on Wednesday. Credit: Steve Helber / Associated Press

Being Muslim in America after 9/11 [The conversation]

911 vigil - U.S. Muslims

Ten years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the media has reflected on what's been called "the decade of fear" -- a neurotic era devoted to safety, or at least reclaiming the illusion that we're safe. In Sunday's Opinion pages, the editorial board questions the money spent on security, considering that "the number of people killed annually by Muslim terrorists outside war zones is roughly equal to the number who die in bathtub accidents," and explores how we've changed psychologically:

The clearest and most lasting legacy of the attacks for Americans is fear. Before 9/11, this was a country lulled into a sense of invincibility as the world's greatest military power, a country that had not seen a large-scale foreign attack on American shores since the bombing of the naval base at Pearl Harbor, or any massive, violent incursion on civilian neighborhoods since the Civil War. With the end of the 50-year-old Cold War, political scientist Francis Fukuyama triumphantly proclaimed "the end of history," and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer trumpeted "the unipolar moment." After 9/11, however, police patrolled airports and skyscrapers, opening car trunks and demanding identification of any who entered. Fear insinuated itself into our lives in serious and silly ways. A mound of spilled sugar on a desk could bring an entire office building to a standstill while a hazmat team was called in to determine whether it was anthrax.

One could also call this post-9/11 era "the decade of intolerance." Here's a sampling of essays from across the Web reflecting on the unfair anti-Muslim sentiment that's permeated our country.

A burden of prejudice

Threading through the history of the United States is a long line of reviled newcomers. In the 1850s, Irish and German Catholics were vilified by the Know Nothing movement. In the 1890s, Italians were subjected to frequent lynchings. Jews of the 1930s were excoriated by Father Charles Coughlin, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Ku Klux Klan.

In the years following September 11, America’s 2.6 million Muslims have often found themselves facing similar kinds of hostility. And, while it’s certainly true that concerns about extremism among a tiny minority are justified -- some of the foiled terrorist plots since 9/11 did involve Muslim citizens who intended grave harm to the United States -- it is equally true that the wider community of American Muslims has, for the past decade, borne a deeply unfair burden of prejudice and misunderstanding.

--Lorraine Adams, The New Republic

Harassed and humiliated

The 9/11 attackers were labeled “Muslim terrorists” and evil personified was given a Muslim face. We were told that these Muslim terrorists were aided and abetted by Muslim countries. Clearly, this logic went, Muslims were not to be trusted. The West developed special security procedures and sophisticated software to identify and track Muslims. Adherents of the Muslim faith were harassed and humiliated across the world. It was the computer-age equivalent of the Nazis daubing yellow Stars of David on the doors of Jewish homes.

--Desmond Tutu, The Washington Post’s On Faith

Strained interfaith relations

Experts say the attacks of 9/11 have had a dramatic impact on interfaith relations in America. But that impact has been felt in complicated and sometimes contradictory ways. On one hand, there has been an unprecedented wave of new interfaith activities, with Muslims playing key roles. At the same time, however, there’s been a growing wave of religious division and public distrust of Muslims.

--Kim Lawton, PBS program “Religion & Ethics”

Crushed American dreams

That week, on Sept. 15, my family had plans to move to our first home, part of our American dream. We were moving to a "white neighbourhood" in League City on the outskirts of Houston. When we arrived at our new home and got out of our minivan, the neighbours quickly cleared the street and went indoors, yet another reminder of the arduous path ahead of us.

9/11 caught us all by surprise. American Muslims, ever so comfortable and free in our ways, were caught off-guard. We were grieving with our nation, but also required to share responsibility and answer for the actions of a few who claimed to share our faith.

--Ahmad Sheikh, Al Jazeera English

Victims of misunderstanding

Last weekend, my son Luke just turned 13 years old, and my son Jack is now 8 years old. They both understand what Christianity and Islam are and are not. In their classrooms, they have friends who are Muslim. The other day, my son Jack, who missed the events of 9/11, heard a disparaging remark on television about Islam and quickly retorted, "That's not true, there is a Muslim boy in my class, and he is not like that at all." Luke and I recently watched the National Geographic special that described the events of the day, which we remember this week. It helped him to put the pieces in place from his memories of 9/11 as a 3-year-old. I was struck with how he looks at the world with more sympathy than fear, and how strongly he feels about war's inability to solve any of the problems and conflicts between people.

--Jim Wallis, Huffington Post

A struggle of the their lives

After the tragic events of 9/11, there were some genuine attempts to improve understanding and awareness between peoples. But that good will has given way in recent years to increased anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and around the world, prejudices that were reflected in a recent Gallup poll. [...] Many of them are now engaged in the struggle of their lives to achieve the kind of freedom that Muslims living in the U.S. appreciate. It is too soon to predict the outcome, but we should have no doubt that women will be at the forefront of positive change. We should support their efforts, not for political expediency, but because it is the right thing to do.      

--Laila Al-Marayati, Los Angeles Times

Embarrassment and redemption

The next years would be the most challenging of my life. As a 13-year-old, I wanted nothing more than to fit in with my surroundings. Being a devout Muslim certainly wouldn't help. I instructed my mom to pick me up 15 minutes after practice was over so my teammates wouldn't know that she wore a head scarf. During Ramadan when I fasted, I went to the library instead of the lunchroom, hoping to go unnoticed by my classmates. I was ashamed of my Islamic identity and felt that others couldn't see me as an American because of it.

These experiences forced me to reflect on my faith. Being born into this faith would not be enough; I would have to believe in it. If I didn't, Islam would be tucked into a corner of my life, away from the sight of others. The more I read, challenged, and questioned, the more I was propelled to become the best citizen I could be. To care for those in need, to positively contribute to my community, and to sponsor equality and justice, Islam made me into a better American.

--Amin G. Aaser, The Huffington Post


God and 9/11

Essays revisited: Reflecting on 9/11

Thinking outside the 'Muslim bubble'

Patt Morrison Asks: Memorial man Peter Walker

Daum: Sept. 11 and the impulse to pay tribute

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Muslims in Pasadena on Sept. 13, 2001, sing "God Bless America" at an interfaith memorial service for victims of the 9/11 attacks. Credit: Lucy Nicholson / AFP

God and 9/11


Like Thomas Jefferson, I believe in a wall of separation between church and state. But I also recognize that the wall is a slightly porous one. Otherwise Rick Warren couldn't have given the invocation at President Obama's inauguration. The presence of clergy at public events is hard to square with the logic of the 1st Amendment, but traditionally it's been tolerated as a form of "ceremonial deism."

That's why I find myself uncomfortably in the company of the right-wing Family Research Council in believing that members of the clergy should have been invited to participate in New York City's 9/11 memorial observance.

My principal reason is that the controversy over their exclusion is unseemly. But I also think that a clergy member offering a generic prayer in a public setting falls short of an unconstitutional establishment of religion. 

Ironically, such prayers don't cross the line because they have assumed a secular quality, something that probably doesn't please some of the advocates of a clerical presence at the memorial.


Mayor Bloomberg: No prayers for you

9/11 and Al Qaeda: The price of victory

--Michael McGough

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Rick Perry and Galileo -- pardners in science

This is a corrected version of the original post; see the note below.

Rick Perry GOP Debate

Rick Perry, the Texas governor presidential wannabe 2.0, and Galileo Galilei, one of the great scientific thinkers in Western history -– BFFs?

It was a double-take moment in the Republican presidential sweepstakes debate at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley. Perry, a science scoffer on evolution and global climate change, invoked the ghost of the persecuted and brilliant Galileo to support his fingers-in-the-ears, don't-confuse-me-with-facts sentiments about global warming:

"The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans' economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet to me is just nonsense," Perry said. "Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said, 'Here is the fact.' Galileo got outvoted for a spell," he said.

"Outvoted for a spell"? Like science is the New Hampshire primary?

Even in his lifetime, Galileo was not entirely an outlier on this; Copernicus had broken ground on the "heliocentric"’ solar system -– the sun at the center, and the Earth revolving around it; Johannes Kepler was pretty much on board too.

The people who "outvoted" Galileo on his theory -– and "theory" in science has a different sense from the political-fringey one -- were not the enlightened scientific community; they were not the 17th-century equivalent of the world's present-day climate-change scientists, marshaling reams of data over decades and laying it out in peer-reviewed journals.

The people who opposed Galileo were not standing against conventional wisdom. They were the conventional wisdom, without the wisdom part: biblical literalists, papal politicos, church authoritarians, and a few hack astronomers not bright enough to understand the science.

Galileo, the Inquisition concluded, was "vehemently suspect of heresy." Under duress, he abjured his work (although supposedly muttering under his breath in Italian, "Eppur si muove" -– essentially, "The Earth does SO move.") He was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life, and his work was banned, not only what he had already written, but whatever he might write. (The Catholic Church issued a formal "oops, never mind, Galileo was right" nearly 20 years ago.)

It might all be droll -– like what happened when JPL named its Saturn probe spacecraft "Cassini," and lawyers for "Oleg Cassini," the fashion line named for ther stylist and socialite, demanded to know why JPL hadn't sought its permission. Because JPL's Cassini is an 18th-century astronomer, that's why. Oh, the Oleg Cassini people said. 

It would be droll, if Perry weren't seriously running and seriously supported for the most powerful job in the nation, arguably in the world.

Last month, in New Hampshire, a woman prompted her son to ask Perry about science and evolution. Perry answered that evolution is a "theory that is out there, and it's got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."

Really? Just plop down a couple of opposing points of view in front of those kids and they'll figure it out? Well, then, why stop at evolution? String theory, the single-bullet theory -– just leave it up to those smart fifth-graders. Let them decide whether global climate change is real. Who needs teachers? (Maybe that's the grand scheme behind all of this: They don’t teach -– you decide.)

The boy also asked Perry how old he thinks the Earth is. "You know what, I don't have any idea," Perry answered. "I know it's pretty old, so it goes back a long, long ways. I'm not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how old the Earth is."

Nobody actually knows? Or does Perry know he doesn't want to get pinned down on this one?

"Young Earthers" and some biblical literalists believe the Earth's age can be counted in thousands of years; a 17th-century Irish bishop named James Ussher set the start of creation as the eve of October 23, 4004 BC, a Sunday (which I find confusing given that Sunday is also the deity's day of rest. And I don't know whether that is Greenwich Mean Time or local time, sorry.) Creationism museums sometimes show dinosaurs and humans coexisting.

Scientists using real science stuff –- instruments and measurements and all that – have put the earth’s age at about 4.5 billion years, so we’re not talking about a rounding-error difference here.

Columbus Day rolls around next month, and in case Perry is considering allying himself to the bold thinking of Christopher Columbus in defying the flat-Earthers, it should be pointed out that anyone who was literate in the late 15th century didn't believe the Earth was flat. They were pretty much just arguing over the size of the sphere. It wasn't until a handful of decades ago that the flat-Earth "theory" has enjoyed a vogue unknown since maybe the 3rd century.

Isn't it curious how some people who disparage science and its "experts" are paradoxically eager to trot out anyone they can find in a lab coat -– and now even, shamelessly, the dead and defenseless Galileo –- as human shields, to prove how wrong those smarty-pants scientists really are?

[For the Record, added 3:08 p.m. September 9: The original post put the Earth’s age at about 13 billion years. Although the universe is about 13 billion years old, the age of Earth is about 4.5 billion years. The original post also described "Eppur si muove" as a Latin phrase; it's Italian.]


The problem with Perry

Rick Perry: He's no Galileo

Politics and religion can mix

McManus: A two-man GOP presidential race?

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry during the Sept. 7 GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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