Government Targeting of Muslim Charities Stifling Religious Expression

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” finds that U.S. anti-terrorism laws that target charitable giving are preventing Muslims from practicing their religion through charitable giving and are consequently impacting the perception of the United States in the Muslim world. The report argues that the U.S. government appears to many Muslims to be at war against Islam and that the lack of charitable contributions undermines humanitarian aid efforts in parts of the world where it could be key in helping to improve the United States’ image.

The report writes of the stifling impact of terrorism finance investigations:

The ACLU also found that there is a common perception among many members of the Muslim communities in Michigan and Texas that those active with Muslim community and religious organizations will be targeted for interviews with law enforcement or for criminal charges on account of their constitutionally protected association with legitimate Muslim community and religious organizations. Our research reveals that this perception of the price of association with Muslim community and religious organizations affects Muslims’ participation in Muslim community organizations.

As noted in the above excerpt, the ACLU interview several members of the Muslim community in Michigan:

In Michigan, 33 individuals were interviewed in Metro Detroit and Flint each expressing their concern over the government’s questioning of Muslim donors, the raids of large U.S. Muslim charities and the consequent chilling effect on their participation in religious activities such as congregational Friday prayer, Eid celebrations at the conclusion of Ramadan, and other communal religious activities.

The report further documents cases of Muslim charities being closed and raided in Michigan, along with questioning of donors and surveillance of Mosques.

A video released along with the report has more information on the issue:

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Report Looks at Michigan’s Gay Marriage Ban and the Lessons that Can Be Learned from It

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The Center for American Progress–a liberal/centrist think-tank–has released a new report that examines the 2004 ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in Michigan.

The report is titled “The Faithful Divide Over Wedding Vows: A Profile of Michigan’s 2004 Battle Over Marriage Equality” and it takes a comprehensive look at how opponents of gay marriage were able to wage a successful campaign to ban the practice in Michigan. The report looks at the organizing on both sides of the debate to draw lessons that progressives in Michigan and other states can use to inform future organizing.

The report looks at the 7 ballot committees that supported the measure, fundraising efforts on behalf of the ban, and the role that various religious groups played in building support for the amendment. It’s an exhaustive look at the issue that provides some critical analysis and understanding of why the amendment passed.

Given how long it has been since the proposal passed, the most important part of the report are its recommendations for future organizing. Based on its analysis, the Center for American Progress recommends that LGBT advocates build relationships with progressive faith leaders to challenge the anti-gay religious monopoly, that whole denominations not be entirely written off, and that the message of LGBT rights should be framed in a mainstream way. In addition, the report argues that the campaign against Proposal 2 was limited by an ineffective media and organizing campaign.

As always, there is good reason to be skeptical of portions of their analysis, but it’s worth considering, especially with talk about a possible effort aimed at reversing the ban.

Ex-Gay Conference in Grand Rapids to be met by Panel, Protest

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I received a disturbing email earlier today about an “ex-gay” conference at Sunshine Community Church here in Grand Rapids. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, “ex-gay” ministries are rightwing religious/political ministries that operate with a homophobic/anti-gay agenda that says that homosexuality is a mental illness that can be “cured” by prayer and/or “reparative therapy.”

This particular conference is sponsored by a group affiliated with Focus on the Family called Love Wins Out. It’s part of a multi-million dollar industry of rightwing ministries focused on repressing LGBT people. The conference features sessions outlining “the family dynamics that can lead to the development of same-sex desires,” how lesbians are a result of “emotional dependency,” how to raise children “toward a healthy heterosexual identity,” and how to pursue legislative efforts aimed at stopping LGBT equality.

If anything good came out of the news, it’s that there is already serious organizing going into the countering the hateful message of the program, with Grand Valley State University organizing a panel discussion on ex-gay ministries and a protest at Calder Plaza.

An email from GVSU’s LGBT Resource Center provides some background information and outlines the events:

Dear members and friends of the LGBT community,

Focus on the Family is bringing their anti-gay seminar “Love Won Out” to Sunshine Ministry Church on Saturday, June 13th. This program has a “pray away the gay” philosophy.

To present another side to that conversation, Grand Valley State University will host a panel discussion on religion and homophobia that will feature national and local experts.

“Religion and Homophobia: Spiritual Violence in Our Community” is set for Thursday, June 11, from 7-9 p.m. in the Eberhard Center, Room 215, on Grand Valley’s Pew Grand Rapids Campus at 301 W. Fulton St. The event is free and open to the public.

Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, will begin the discussion with a presentation about the nature, validity, and impact of “ex-gay” reparative ministries or therapies. Truth Wins Out is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community against anti-gay misinformation campaigns.

Panel members will include the following:

• John Corvino, Wayne State University professor, author and lecturer;

• Milt Ford, director of Grand Valley’s LGBT Resource Center;

• Judith Snow, Grand Rapids area forensic therapist and author;

• Doug Van Doren, pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ;

• Josh Sleutel, GVSU student, previous reparative therapy patient.

Join our Facebook group, “Religion & Homophobia: Spiritual Violence in our Community” The National Organization of Women is planning a protest response to “Love Won Out” on Saturday, June 13 at noon – Calder Plaza. Join their Facebook group at “Grand Rapids NOW Takes Action!

The event is sponsored by Grand Valley’s Division of Inclusion and Equity, Dean of Students Office, LGBT Resource Center, Women’s Center, Women and Gender Studies Department, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Liberal Studies Department, Allies and Advocates, and the LGBT Faculty and Staff Association.

For more information, call the LGBT Resource Center at (616) 331-2530. Tell your friends!

Headlines: U.S. Soldiers Accused of Proselytizing in Afghanistan; Vice President Biden to Headline AIPAC Conference

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Soldiers Accused of Proselytizing in Afghanistan; Vice President Biden to Headline AIPAC Conference

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

NYT: US Concerned over Safety of Pakistani Nukes

The New York Times reports senior US officials are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport. Concerns have intensified in the last two weeks since the Taliban entered Buner, a district sixty miles from the capital, Islamabad. The US is currently spending $100 million a year on a secret program to help Pakistan build stronger physical protections around their nuclear weapons facilities, but the Times reports the US does not even know the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear sites. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports Pakistan is continuing to expand its nuclear bomb-making facilities. Commercial satellite photos show two plutonium-producing reactors are nearing completion at Khushab, about 160 miles southwest of Islamabad. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to visit President Obama in Washington on Wednesday.

Obama Seeks Sharp and Independent Mind to Replace Souter

Supreme Court Justice David Souter officially told President Barack Obama Friday that he plans to resign, giving Obama his first chance to make an appointment to the nation’s highest court. Obama said he will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind.

President Obama: “I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.”

The media has been busy speculating about Souter’s possible replacement. Names mentioned include Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Stanford professor Kathleen Sullivan, appellate judge Diane Wood, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and New York Federal Appeals Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, who would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

Obama May Revive Bush Administration’s Military Commission System

The New York Times is reporting President Obama is moving toward reviving the Bush administration’s military commission system for prosecuting prisoners at Guantanamo. On the campaign trail, Obama criticized the military commissions system, saying, “by any measure, our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure.” But Obama administration lawyers are now reportedly concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some Guantanamo prisoners in federal courts. The American Civil Liberties Union said continuing with the military commission system would be a retreat from Obama’s promise to return the country to the rule of law.

Sri Lankan Army Shells Hospital, 64 Killed

In Sri Lanka, at least sixty-four people died Saturday after the Sri Lankan army shelled a makeshift hospital inside a civilian safe zone. Sri Lanka has rejected calls for a ceasefire as it attempts to eliminate the Tamil Tigers. Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the conflict zone. Another 200,000 civilians are living in displacement camps.

US Soldiers Accused of Proselytizing in Afghanistan

Al Jazeera has revealed US soldiers are being encouraged to spread the message of their Christian faith among Afghanistan’s predominantly Muslim population. Soldiers have been filmed with Bibles printed in Afghanistan’s main Pashto and Dari languages. In one recorded sermon, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is seen telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility “to be witnesses for him.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley: “The special forces guys, they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians: we hunt people for Jesus. We do. We hunt them down, get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into kingdom. Right? That’s what we do. That’s our business.”

The Pentagon has not yet responded to Al Jazeera’s report. Regulations by the US military’s Central Command expressly forbid “proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice.”

NATO Troops Kill 12-Year-Old Afghan Girl

In other news from Afghanistan, NATO-led troops opened fire on a civilian car Sunday killing a twelve-year-old Afghan girl. The girl and her family were driving to a wedding. Two other members of her family were injured. Meanwhile, at least twenty-five people died in Afghanistan today in a series of bomb attacks.

Justice Dept. Drops AIPAC Espionage Case

The Justice Department has dropped espionage charges against two former employees of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The men, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, were charged with obtaining classified information and passing it to the Israeli government. The charges were dropped, even though a former Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, had already pleaded guilty to disclosing classified information to AIPAC. Franklin is currently serving more than twelve years in prison.

Vice President Biden to Headline AIPAC Conference

Despite the espionage charges, AIPAC remains one of the most well-connected lobbying groups on Capitol Hill. AIPAC’s annual conference began yesterday in Washington. Speakers at the event include Vice President Joe Biden, John Kerry, the chair of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee and most of the House and Senate leadership. California Congresswoman Jane Harman is also participating in AIPAC’s conference. Congressional Quarterly recently reported Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap in 2005 telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two AIPAC officials. In exchange for Harman’s help, the suspected Israeli agent reportedly pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 congressional elections.

Mexican Officials: Worse of Flu Epidemic May Be Over

Health officials in Mexico said Sunday the worst of the swine flu epidemic may be over. Many experts say the new H1N1 virus might be no more severe than the normal flu. The number of infections in Mexico has been decreasing since April 24. Here in the United States, cases of swine flu are now confirmed in more than half of US states. But officials said most cases were mild.

Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda Resigns

Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda resigned earlier today after a crisis sparked by his sacking of the country’s army chief. Prachanda is the leader of the Maoist movement in Nepal. His resignation is seen as a possible blow to a 2006 peace pact that ended a decade-long civil war that pitted the army against the Maoists.

Jimmy Carter: Bush’s Latin American Policy Was a “Disaster”

Former President Jimmy Carter met with Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz Friday and praised Bolivia’s new constitution.

Jimmy Carter: “Into a democracy of freedom, more equality for previously deprived people is a very good trend. Now, of course, in a new constitution, there’s a guarantee of a certain level of indigenous participation, not quite as much as they wanted, but a very good step in the right direction.”

Jimmy Carter also expressed support for President Barack Obama’s recent moves to ease travel and financial restrictions on Cuban Americans.

Jimmy Carter: “The policies of President Bush in the last eight years was a disaster for Latin America, and he tightened up the restraints on any accommodations with the Cuban people in an unnecessary way. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Obama has made clear moves, that if his ideas are reciprocated by Raul Castro and Fidel Castro, they will have a new relationship with Cuba. I’ve always felt that the economic embargo should have been abolished.”

Martinelli Wins Election in Panama

In other news from Latin America, the right-wing supermarket chain owner Ricardo Martinelli has been elected president of Panama.

11 Arrested at Port of Tacoma Protest

In Tacoma, Washington, eleven antiwar protesters were arrested Saturday when they blocked a convoy of Stryker vehicles bound for the Port of Tacoma. The Port Militarization Resistance project said more protests are scheduled this week.

Seven Arrested for Protesting Military Recruiter’s Use of Video Games

Seven people were arrested at a mall in Philadelphia Saturday protesting the military’s use of video games for recruitment purposes. The demonstration targeted the Army Experience Center, a 14,000-square-foot facility at a Philadelphia mall, where teenagers as young as thirteen can play video games made by the Pentagon.

Fourth Grader Questions Rice on Torture

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been questioned again over her support of the Bush administration’s interrogation techniques and use of waterboarding–this time by a fourth grader. During an event at the Jewish Primary Day School in Washington, Misha Lerner asked Rice what she thought about the things President Obama’s administration was saying about the methods the Bush administration had used to get information from prisoners. Rice answered by repeatedly defending President Bush, saying he only authorized policies that were legal in order to protect the country. Misha’s mother, Inna Lerner, said the question her son had wanted to ask Rice was “If you would work for Obama’s administration, would you push for torture?” But Misha’s teachers wanted him to soften it and take out the word “torture.”

NYT Threatens to Close Boston Globe in 60 Days

In media news, the New York Times Company threatened last night to notify federal authorities of its plans to shut down the Boston Globe in sixty days if the unions representing workers at the Globe did not agree to a series of major financial and contract concessions. The Times issued the ultimatum at 10:00 p.m., but negotiations kept taking place past the midnight deadline.

World Press Freedom Day Marked

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked World Press Freedom Day Sunday by saying the number of attacks on journalists around the world remains “shockingly high.” At least eleven media workers have been killed so far this year, including the prominent Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Thousands March in May Day Protests

Immigrant rights activists and workers held rallies across the country Friday to mark May Day. In Los Angeles, six separate immigration marches took place. Juan Jose Gutierrez helped organize one of the marches.

Juan Jose Gutierrez: “There has never been better conditions than now. We need to send a strong message to our president: we supported him, and now we are waiting for him to keep his promise of an immigration reform this year.”

John Edwards Faces Federal Investigation

In political news, federal investigators have launched a probe of former presidential candidate John Edwards to determine if he misused any campaign money in an attempt to cover up an extramarital affair.

Filipino Poet Al Robles Dies

The Filipino poet and community activist Al Robles died in San Francisco on Saturday. In 1996 the poet Russell Leong said of Robles, “Perhaps no one has listened as closely to the voices of the Filipino American community during the last thirty years.”

Augusto Boal, Founder of the Theater of the Oppressed, Dies

And one of Latin America’s most famed dissident artists, Brazilian playwright Augusto Boal, has died at the age of seventy-eight. Boal was the developer of the Theater of the Oppressed. In 1971 the Brazilian military dictatorship imprisoned him for four months. After his release, he was forced into exile for fifteen years. Augusto Boal joined us in the firehouse studio in 2007.

Augusto Boal: “And I only have one dream. It’s to dream all my life. That’s my only dream. I would like to go on dreaming. And if I can dream of things, well, I dream of solidarity among men and women, black and white, solidarity among countries, and solidarity to create ethics. What we think sometimes, we don’t think that there is a difference between moral and ethics. Moral is mores. It’s customs. And it was moral in this country, my country–slavery. It was moral. It was moral to buy a human being. So I’m not moralist, because I know that in moral there are horrible things. But I am ethical. We need to create an ethos. In Greek, it means the tendency to some kind of perfection. And my kind of profession is solidarity, is dialogue, is democracy–real democracy, not one that we see? That’s my–I want to–not to accomplish, because to accomplish–not to accomplish, to go on. To go on. There is a poet, a Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, who says, ‘The path does not exist. The path you make by treading on it. By walking, you make the path.’ So we don’t know where the path leads, but we know the direction of the path that we want to take. That’s what I want, and not to accomplish, but to follow.”

Michigan Supreme Court Wants to Restrict What Can Be Worn in Court

Under a new rule being considered by the Michigan Supreme Court, judges would be able to restrict what witnesses wear in the court room.

The proposed rule grows out of a 2006 case when a Hamtramck woman had her case dismissed because she appeared in court wearing a niqab and refused to remove it during testimony. The Muslim woman eventually took the case to court and sued the judge, but the lawsuit was dismissed and the state was told to come up with its own rules on the issue.

In response, the Michigan Supreme Court is proposing a rule change that “would clarify that a judge is entitled to establish reasonable standards regarding the appearance of parties and witnesses to evaluate the demeanor of those individuals and to ensure accurate identification.”

The rule change is being opposed by both the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is sending a letter to the court saying that the law is discriminatory and that it might cause religious people to avoid going to court.

The ACLU argues that the rule would deny Muslim women access to the court:

In its comment, the ACLU and other groups warn that the court rule threatens to unconstitutionally deny individuals their fundamental right of access to the courts based on their religious beliefs. The groups ask the Supreme Court to add a sentence to the rule ensuring “that no person shall be precluded from testifying on the basis of clothing worn because of a sincerely held religious belief.

Richard and Helen DeVos Give $10 Million to Christian Schools; Media Ignores Ideological Goal

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Yesterday, a $10 million dollar donation to Grand Rapids Christian Schools from Richard and Helen DeVos made it onto the front-page of the Grand Rapids Press.

The story was covered in other Grand Rapids media as well, with WZZM 13, WOOD TV 8, and WXMI 17 all reporting on the donation.

The coverage was similar across the four media outlets. It focused on the generosity of the DeVos gift with little else of substance. The Grand Rapids Press cited Grand Rapids Christian Schools Superintendent Tom DeJonge who said that the donation was “absolutely astounding” and “incredibly generous.” WOOD TV reported that the DeVos family “was not seeking any personal glory.”

By focusing exclusively on the “altruism” and “philanthropy” of the donation, the local media missed an opportunity to address a much bigger story–how the DeVos family has used its vast fortune to undermine and delegitimize public education. Over the years, Richard and Helen DeVos have given millions of dollars to private schools and political efforts aimed at increasing state support for private schools. Their family–particularly Dick and Betsy DeVos–have also been active in this effort.

While it may be true that the two were “not seeking personal glory,” their donation is certainly motivated by a specific ideological goal. This is rarely mentioned in the media, instead we are told to see the DeVoses as simply generous and selfless billionaires. However, how they have used their money–from supporting Christian schools to Republican politicians–clearly shows that they have specific political goals.

The Press on Obama’s Choice to Deliver Inaugural Prayer

On Saturday, The Grand Rapids Press reported on local religious leaders’ reaction to Obama’s selection of Revered Rick Warren to give the inaugural prayer next month. The story mentioned that “liberal and gay groups” criticized the selection but failed to name or cite any specific group.

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On Saturday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story that reported local religious leaders’ reaction to president-elect Barrack Obama’s decision to have Reverend Rick Warren give the inaugural prayer next month. Warren is the pastor of Saddleback, a mega-church in California that hosted a forum with Obama and McCain during the presidential race.

The Press article framed the issue in the second paragraph by stating, “Some liberal and gay groups criticized the selection, because Warren, pastor of the Saddleback mega-church in California, is an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion.” The article never mentions which liberal or gay groups criticized Obama’s choice, even though numerous groups have responded. Here is part of a statement by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force:

“President-elect Obama campaigned on a theme of inclusivity, yet the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation is a direct affront to that very principle. This was a divisive choice, and clearly not one that will help our country come together and heal. We urge President-elect Obama to withdraw his invitation to Rick Warren and instead select a faith leader who embraces fairness, equality and the ideals the president-elect himself has called the nation to uphold.”

In addition to not reporting on how national groups were reacting to the choice of Rev. Warren, the Press story omits other aspects of the evangelical minister’s politics. According to Sarah Posner (author of the recent book titled God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters), Warren is not only anti-gay, he also “does not believe in evolution, has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

Besides not providing readers more information on the background of Rev. Warren it is important to ask why they only asked local Christian clergy their reaction to Obama’s pick for the inaugural prayer? The new administration had the opportunity to choose leader from the Muslim, Jewish, or another international faith traditions. Such a choice could have sent a strong message to the rest of the world and to US residents who are not Christian.

The Press article did point out that there has been little attention given to Obama’s choice for giving the inaugural benediction, Rev. Joseph Lowery. However, the only information provided on Lowery was that he is “a liberal minister and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Lowery is a long-time Civil Rights leader and has been involved in numerous campaigns for justice, such as organizing against the apartheid regime of South Africa and traveling to Central America and the Middle East with peace delegations.”

Study Examines Congregations in Kent County

A new study released yesterday examines congregations in Kent County and their various educational and social service programs. While it documents a lot of essential work that churches are doing, it largely ignores larger questions around what causes people to need social services in the first place.

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A new study called “Gatherings of Hope” offers a detailed overview of religious congregations in West Michigan. The study was funded by the Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation (Douglas is an heir to the Amway fortune of Richard DeVos ) and conducted by the Calvin College Center for Social Research.

The study is interesting on many levels, not only for what it says about religious demographics in West Michigan, but also about what some influential religious people see as the appropriate role for religion in society. The study focuses on educational and social services that exist in the community, as well as how congregations can expand programs to fill needs in the community. It advocates for increased presence in many facets of the community–including in the public schools–and outlines possibilities for churches to increase their activities. The report estimates that religious congregations provide over $95 million in social services.

Churches often provide many valuable services in their neighborhoods and often serve as essential anchors in their communities–and have an important place in many people’s lives. While our intent is not to diminish their contributions, it is worth pointing out that the report is silent on why so many children and families are “vulnerable” in the first place. There is no discussion of institutional racism, the underlying reasons for social inequality, why disparities in wealth and education exist, or any of the other systemic issues that play a role in creating poverty. Similarly, there is little discussion as to why social services are lacking and why churches have to be counted on to fill the gaps.

The executive summary outlines the major findings:

* Kent County is an unusually religious community. Compared to congregations across the country, Kent County residents are significantly more likely to attend religious services. Kent County congregations are larger in size, have more leaders, are better funded, and are more likely to have participated in or supported a social service program.

* Hundreds of congregations are located in areas of poverty and great need. Compared to majority White congregations, Black and Hispanic congregations in the county average three to four times the proportion of people with household incomes under $25,000.

* Local congregations transfer $75.6 million annually to denominations and to international, domestic and county aid and missions–but only 14 percent is clearly designated for Kent County.

* Worship services in Kent County take place in 28 different languages, reflecting cultural and ethnic diversity. At times multiple languages are spoken in the same congregation.

* Religious attendance is strongly associated with service to others. Almost 5,200 people from Kent County congregations–including paid staff and volunteers–participate in community service activities. Congregation leaders spend time worth $8.8 million annually on civic and social efforts.

* Congregations supply 2,827 volunteers for educational programs, but only a third of congregations report any involvement with public schools.

* Kent County congregations offer higher numbers of social service programs than comparable national averages–2,338 programs in all. Religious participation is not required by 70 percent of these programs.

* Other institutions would have to generate from $95 million to $118 million to replace the services and programs that Kent County congregations provide annually in their community-serving ministries.

2008 Jesus Radicals Conference Report Back

Over the past weekend, Christian Anarchists from across the country attended the 2008 Jesus Radicals conference. Among those attending was a local anarchist who wrote this report back.

Mediamouse.org was sent the following report back from a local individual who attended the 2008 Jesus Radicals Conference:

This past weekend, over 90 people met at the St. John Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ohio for the 2008 Jesus Radicals Conference. Jesus Radicals is a Christian anarchist website and organization founded about eight years ago. The conference started Friday afternoon after registration and housing arrangements had been made.

The first event was a Service of Prayer and Protest. The conference participants piled on to the Psalter’s band vegetable oil tour bus and drove to a local defense supply company on the east side of Columbus. Across the street from the entrance of the plant, we held a short liturgy and communion service.

After returning to the church, people could choose between two concurrent sessions: Anarchism and Christianity Primer or Christianity and the Nation-State. I attended the primer that was facilitated by one of the founding members of the Jesus Radicals website. The session included an overview of the Judeo-Christian scriptures focusing on anti-state passages, a brief description of the basic tenants of anarchism, a Christian anarchist response to Romans 13 and on open discussion.

Following a vegan dinner, the opening plenary session was Dorothy Day’s granddaughter describing the life of her grandmother. Dorothy Day was a Catholic convert, radical journalist and dedicated pacifist who established the Catholic Worker newspaper. Dorothy Day lived a life of voluntary poverty and provided housing to the poor through “houses of hospitality,” a movement that continues to this day. The session included an in-depth biography of Dorothy Day and readings of her passages regarding issues of Christianity, social justice and anarchism.

Friday ended with the screening of the movie, A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash. This documentary film interviewed a variety of people connected to the oil industry and Washington D.C. who are fully aware that oil production will peak and the American age of cheap gas will come to an end.

Saturday started with breakfast and two more concurrent sessions: Jesus’ Beatitudes: A Blueprint for Anarchists and Opting Out: Refusing to Vote as Political Resistance. Since I had already decided not to vote in this year’s presidential election, I attended the session on the Beatitudes. The presenter offered an interpretation of the “blessed” statements that describes a process of both individual and social transformation that continually confronts our personal and shared idols.

Immediately following were another two concurrent sessions: Remedying an Unhealthy System of Care and Imagining a Stateless World. I attended the latter. The presenter connected faith, politics, privilege and praxis. He described how privileged radicals could best foster an alternative society through listening to the materially poor in the world and following their directions.

After lunch, two options were again offered: a radical bike tour or an open forum. I had access to a bike and went on the tour of Columbus. Stops included a Sudanese refugee housing and an adjacent abandoned parking lot that is being eyed by developers. We prayed that this land would remain green space and be offered to the Sudanese community for agriculture and recreation. We also biked to one of the Mount Caramel Medical Centers and the Ohio Rehabilitation and Corrections Facility. Spoken words calling for reform along with prayer were offered at each location.

The final plenary session of the conference was a panel of three speakers addressing Christianity, Anarchism and Black Liberation. The first presenter discussed the connection between the Christian abolition movement and its shift towards anarchist thought. The next presenter gave a Black anarchist critique of white privilege, racism and class conflict. They described four tenants that a Christian anarchist movement should include: 1) the movement must be anti-racist, 2) white privilege must be confronted, 3) the movement must be in solidarity with other oppressed peoples, and 4) the Black critique of society must be acknowledged. The final presenter concluded the session by stressing that Christianity, anarchism and Black liberation are not opposed but quite compatible.

This was the first time I had attended a Jesus Radicals conference. I was encouraged to find a wide variety of people subscribing to both Christian and Anarchist beliefs. The conference participants were primarily from the Midwest, but there were people from as far away as Texas, California, Florida and New Mexico. The interaction I had with other people in the conference was challenging, yet inspiring. I had a great time and was reluctant to leave.

For more information and copies of this year and past year sessions, go to: Jesusradicals.com

– A Grand Rapids Christian Anarchist

Agema Supporting so-called “Intelligent Design” Legislation

Dave Agema–a controversial West Michigan legislator who has previously attacked undocumented immigrants and who has called for public school teachers to be armed–recently signed onto legislation in that would enable intelligent design (creationism) to be taught in Michigan’s public schools.

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Dave Agema, a West Michigan member of Michigan’s House of Representatives, recently joined with Representative John Moolenaar of Midland to introduce legislation that would support the teaching of intelligent design–otherwise known as creationism–in Michigan’s schools. The legislation, HB 6027, is based on draft legislation prepared by the Discovery Institute, a leading religious right think-tank on the issue of creationism and intelligent design.

The bill is designed to make the issue one of “academic freedom” rather than intelligent design, with advocates of the legislation arguing that it will “protect” teachers and enable them to teach about the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories such as evolution and global warming. However, critics argue that it is “Trojan horse” legislation that instead encourages teachers to bring incorporate material that has no scientific basis and material that has been declared to be unconstitutional to teach.

In The Grand Rapids Press last week, Agema said that he believes “Nothing in science should be beyond scrutiny, not global warming, not intelligent design or cloning” and that “Students and teachers should be allowed to use facts to present alternative views.”