At The New York Review of Books, Gail Collins explains how textbooks produced to comply with The Texas State Board of Education’s mandates affect teaching and learning in public schools around the country. And according to Collins, not for better. “[I]f your children go to pubic school…[and] graduated with a reflexive suspicion of the concept of separation of church and state and an unexpected interest in the contributions of the National Rifle Association to American history, you know who to blame.”
Gallup released a new poll that finds that close to half the U.S. population (46 percent) believes that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” The findings of this poll, the 11th such survey Gallop has conducted since 1982, are very much in line with the historical average of 45 percent who choose the “creationist” explanation for human origins. Republicans are more likely to be creationists (58 percent) than are Democrats (41 percent).
The New Yorker’s Margaret Talbot finds the “decision of some forty-three Roman Catholic dioceses, schools, and social services to sue the Obama Administration” over the contraception coverage mandate “both baffling and dismaying.” Talbot proposes that the “larger question is who the plaintiffs are really speaking for.” Recently released survey data, which shows a vast majority of Catholic women have used or are currently using contraception, “suggests that many Catholic women simply do not believe that birth control is wrong,” writes Talbot.
Denise Lavoie reports for the Associated Press that a “federal appeals court Thursday declared that the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutionally denies federal benefits to married gay couples.” In a case that is “all but certain to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court,” Lavoie writes that the three-judge panel voted unanimously. In his decision, Judge Michael Boudin wrote, “Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”
“The women ad wars are just beginning,” writes Michael Shear for The New York Times. Shear reports that Planned Parenthood “is unveiling one of its biggest-ever political advertising campaigns aimed at using Mr. Romney’s own words to undermine his support among women.” According to Planned Parenthood’s pollster, Geoff Garin, in focus group screenings, the ad had “‘jaw-dropping’ effects on the women.” Shear writes that the ad, which will air in three swing states, “accuses Mr. Romney of wanting to deny women access to birth control, abortions and equal pay for the work they do.”
Tom Heneghan at Reuters reports on Pope Benedict’s failure to “gain control over the Curia,” which Heneghan describes as a “centuries-old bureaucracy dominated by Italian clerics.” In the wake of the “Vatileaks” scandal, Benedict’s “papacy look[s] weak and disorganized,” writes Heneghan. Before he took office, “Benedict was seen as the best man to reform it since he had been a Curia member since 1981 and reportedly knew it inside out.” Yet with the Vatican now in crisis mode, Heneghan predicts that “the task looks set to be handed on to his successor.”
Senior religion editor for the Huffington Post, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, writes, “the emotional battle over LGBT rights has focused on America’s moral giant Martin Luther King, Jr. and the question: ‘What Would Martin Do?’” Commenting on the influence Raushenbush’s own great-grandfather, the great Social Gospel theologian Walter Raushenbush had on King’s universalistic gospel, Paul Raushenbush concludes, “it seems clear [King] would have evolved to welcome ALL people into the beloved community–including the LGBT communities.”
At Inside Higher Ed, Thomas C. Terry asks, “Why … is it allowable [to] publicly express bias against Mormons?” Despite common caricaturing of LDS Church members, Terry asserts that Mormons have many admirable social characteristics: “Mormons as a group have the lowest rates of violence and depression among religious groups.” On the other hand, Terry concludes, those who find it “socially acceptable to denigrate and trivialize and insult a class of people as a class of people” are no better than those who supported Jim Crow.
Religion Dispatches interviews David Webster on the genesis of his new book, Dispirited: How Contemporary Spirituality Makes Us Stupid, Selfish and Unhappy. Webster says that he was prompted to write the book when he began “looking at particular new-age material,” especially the”‘everyone is right, all paths are valid’ approach.” Instead of finding a spirituality of fulfillment and inclusivity, he found that this attitude “was not only untenable and intellectually insulting, [but also] it all too often edged into smugness.”
First Things’ writer Rebecca Oas refutes Laura Stepp’s assertion that “conservatives who oppose the use of contraceptives for religious reasons have lost their faith in science and are abdicating the use of their intellect in order to maintain an untenable position.” Stepp, a journalist for CNN, cites a “study which analyzes survey data revealing that, since the mid-1970s, a falling percentage of college-educated conservatives claim to ‘trust science.’” Oas counters Stepp with scientific data of her own, which support many conservatives’ views on contraception. Oas concludes, “It’s troubling that an intelligent journalist like Stepp can so easily dismiss her opponents as foolish and deluded, despite the fact that that every piece of evidence [Stepp] raises can be easily rebutted by facts that any journalist could easily obtain.”