Tuesday, January 31, 2012

N.J. governor defends remarks on civil rights

TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) Even though a famous civil rights leader came to Trenton to scold him, Gov. Chris Christie unapologetically defended his recent controversial remarks on civil rights, calling one his New Jersey critics "numbnuts."

Agitated and at times caustic, the governor went after openly gay Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who had hammered Christie for saying that in the 1950s and 60s activists "would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets of the South."

Christie was trying to compare his call for a statewide referendum on gay marriage to the civil rights struggle.

"What I said was I'm sure that civil rights advocates would have liked to have this as another option but it was not available to them," Christie said on Monday (Jan. 30). "Yet you have numbnuts like Reed Gusciora who put out a statement comparing me to George Wallace and Lester Maddox."

Christie praised legendary civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who held his own Trenton press conference to condemn the governor's remarks, adding that civil rights never would have won on statewide ballots in the South.

"When it came to the question of interracial marriage, (Martin Luther King) would say races don't fall in love and get married, individuals fall in love and get married. If two men want to fall in love and get married, if two women -- it's their business. It's not the role of the federal government or state government to intervene."

Gusciora said if Christie didn't like the comparison to two notoriously racist governors, "then he should change his position on marriage equality and sign the bill into law."

(Matt Friedman and Jenna Portnoy and write for The Star-Ledger in Newark.)
 

European secularists say they’re not treated fairly

(RNS/ENInews) Humanist and secularist organizations have accused the European Union of denying them equal treatment compared to the continent's Christian churches.

"The EU shouldn't be holding a dialogue with essentially undemocratic organizations," said David Pollock, president of the Brussels-based European Humanist Federation. "By engaging with the Roman Catholic Church, it's giving a privileged position in EU councils to a body which doesn't represent its members and holds views way off the margin of general European opinion."

Pollock, a British humanist, was speaking ahead of the first "dialogue seminar" between humanists and EU officials under the EU's 2007 Lisbon Treaty, which commits EU leaders to maintain a dialogue with both religious and non-religious groups.

In an ENInews interview, Pollock said secularists planned to use the seminar to show how non-religious citizens were "treated as inferior and sinful" and denied jobs and services.

Church leaders, however, reject the charges and say churches are "contributing to European integration in a democratic, transparent way."

"We have the same opportunities for promoting ideas as the humanists," said Johanna Touzel, French spokesman for the Commission of European Bishops Conferences. "The difference is that the churches use this tool to organize a fruitful dialogue, and have something to say and offer on challenges facing the EU."

EU officials hold an annual summit with Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim representatives, and held their third annual summit with humanist and secularist organizations last November.

"If the EU wants a fair, equal dialogue with its citizens, it should even give us a privileged position," Pollock said, "since we operate on a voluntary basis and generally receive no taxpayer support."

Monday, January 30, 2012

Nine reasons why Catholic education rocks

There are many people, Catholics in particular, who have objected to the Obama administration’s decision not to expand the religious exemption in the new federal regulations mandating that all employer health insurance plans – even for religious institutions – provide free contraceptive coverage.

But perhaps few have as much cause to complain – and are less likely to do so – than the nine Catholic educators (one a student) honored by the White House last week ahead of Catholic Schools Week.

The furor over the contraception mandate dominated news coverage because reaction from church leaders and political activists was understandably vocal. Yet that in turn drowned out the stories of these Catholic figures – stories that ought to be heard whether they are being honored by the administration or the local Rotary Club.

For example:

  • There is Bertha Castaneda (that's her at right) a senior at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. who maintains a 4.0 GPA in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. She is the daughter of a hard-working single mother who immigrated to the United States from El Salvador, and Bertha began her own summer program for neighborhood children when she was in the tenth grade.
  • Sr. Jennie Jones, who led the rebuilding of the campus of her own alma mater, St. Mary’s Academy, in New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The school was rebuilt and even expanded the curriculum and program to include classes from K-8 to accommodate students and families displaced by the storm.
  • Yvonne Schwab is the principal at St. James the Less Catholic School in Columbus, Ohio, and in eight years took a declining school and turned it around by drawing on the diverse population base of the neighborhood: school enrollment doubled, test scores have risen, and students are involved in service learning and “are able to see that their own financial situation does not prevent them from helping others.” Teachers have been trained to address the needs of bilingual students and children of poverty. The school has expanded its arts and music program, has instruction in English and Spanish, and all students learn American Sign Language.

Pow.

And because I can’t resist anything Jesuitical, there are also three great Jesuits among those honored:

  • William P. Leahy, S.J., president of Boston College; Charles L. Currie, S.J. longtime educational leader; and last but not least, John P. Foley, S.J., who founded the first Cristo Rey high school, in Chicago, which has a unique model of education for children in tough neighborhoods: the students work five days each month in an entry-level job at a professional company, with the fee for their work being directed to underwrite tuition costs. I’ve seen it in action, and it’s amazing.

Anyway, read about all nine here. These are remarkable stories, but what is the future of Catholic education? Catholic schools are not the first choice of Catholics themselves, and because of that they are fading in many places, or don't have enough money to get off the ground in others.

Yet they play a vital role in inner-cities in particular, educating non-Catholic kids who desperately need all the help they can get. Catholic bishops are advocating for vouchers to help. But will that only complicate the difficult church-state relationship that overshadowed these honorees in the first place?

All tough questions, but worth asking.

“Excessive Levity”: Review of James Martin’s “Between Heaven and Mirth”

Finally.

A book that promotes joy—and humor—without offering steps to simply “think positively” and wait for results of unfettered, constant happiness.

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Image credit: LeVan Fisher Design & Anita Kunz. Courtesy of HarperOne

Jesuit priest and best-selling author James Martin (“My Life with the Saints”) instead makes the argument in his latest “Between Heaven and Mirth” (HarperOne), that “God seems to be in favor of excessive levity.” Martin makes his case in a way that provides readers with real advice that allows them to be human. This includes allowing them to feel the whole gamut of human emotions: grumpiness, silliness, uncontrollable laughter, and downright clinical depression. (For the latter, Martin does not shy away from advising the counsel of a trained professional.)
In this fun book chock full of things to learn and passages to underline, Martin takes readers on a ride of exegesis and jokes likely to be enjoyed by Catholics, Protestants, and the nonreligious alike.
Citing big names in the church world and such secular notables as Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Bryson throughout, Martin wryly quips that religious stuffiness is “not just a Catholic problem” and addresses the lack of a “Protestant play ethic.”

Readers will leave “Between Heaven” with insight into why the church seems so gloomy and with a debunked myth that the saints were a grumpy lot. St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, used to break into spontaneous dance. One example of the saints’ sense of humor that gives pause is the story of St. Lawrence, a martyr who was burned to death over hot coals. During his execution he said, “This side is done. Turn me over and have a bite.”

Additionally, readers will look differently at biblical parables after reading Martin’s book. Whereas habituated Christians today are likely to go straight for the serious moral takeaway in a Scripture passage, their original audiences probably found humor in the stories’ hyperbole. Jesus’ mention of a camel through the eye of a needle, while meant to teach a real lesson, also probably caused listeners to laugh.

Martin makes clear that he is not advocating for mindless, maniacal happiness to simply brave life’s downer seasons. Yet he does makes a case for the truth to such clich├ęs as having an “attitude of gratitude,” an idea recently explored in The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/science/a-serving-of-gratitude-brings-healthy-dividends.html

With a stance similar to that of “Jollytologist” and therapeutic humor expert Allen Klein (“Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying”), Martin adds God to the discussion of joy in one’s life. While focusing primarily on the Christian faith and Scriptures _ and noting this bias upfront _ Martin also looks at such faiths as Judaism, Buddhism, and Sufism. http://www.allenklein.com/

Martin takes plenty of time to characterize particular nuances of humor and joy. He explains to readers the difference between healthy sarcasm among loving friends and jokes that are hurtful. Further, he makes very clear the distinction between deep sorrow and tragedy and making the choice to focus on the negative in an otherwise healthy, comfortable, and OK life.

If these descriptions make Martin’s book sound like one of cheesy advice, it’s certainly not. Martin brings his immense scholarship and natural charisma to the page to entertain and educate readers, but to first and foremost be real with them.

If perhaps just 10 pages too long, the rest of this book is an interesting, jovial delight for all kinds of readers eager to learn and laugh.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh

"My stand on self immolation is the same as that of the Dalai Lama, who has always discouraged drastic actions by Tibetans," says Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile. "He does not even endorse hunger strikes."
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Monday’s Religion Roundup: Embryo skirmishes, birth control battles, Star Wars theology

Newt Gingrich is falling behind Mitt Romney in Florida ahead of tomorrow’s vote, and he’s pulling out all the stops:

That includes promising a ban on all embryonic stem-cell research and creating a commission to study the ethics of in vitro fertilization.

Gingrich’s opposition to research using stem cells from embryos discarded after in vitro fertilization, for example, contrasts with his previous stance and with Romney’s current support for such research.

Rick Santorum is to return to the campaign trail this afternoon because he says his youngest daughter, Bella, who suffers from a rare and fatal genetic disorder, made a “miraculous turnaround” from a life-threatening bout with pneumonia.

Santorum needs a miraculous turnaround of his own in Florida, so not clear why he’s going back there. Maybe he’s checking out retirement homes?

Will President Obama’s contraception mandate cost him the Catholic vote?

Liberal Catholic and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne says the prez “utterly botched” the decision not to exempt religious groups from the health insurance regulations.

Bishops and priests aren’t happy either.

And the mandate is heating up a battle over birth control on Catholic campuses.

Megablogger Andrew Sullivan, who is proudly gay and proudly Catholic – as well as a pretty awesome writer – has at least one fan in the Vatican: someone sent in the photo above to Sully’s popular “The View From Your Window” feature. A tourist?

Pope Benedict XVI is on Twitter now. So…

(BTW, Religion News Service would submit an entry to “The View From Your Window,” except our offices have no windows.)

Canada is justifiably renowned for exalting the Golden Mean in its communal polity, but the center needs extremes to define it, and “America’s attic” has those, too:

  • On Sunday, as CNN reports, a Canadian jury convicted three members of a family of Afghan immigrants of the "honor" murders of four female relatives whose bodies were found in an Ontario canal.
  • Last week, a coroner’s report from Quebec determined that in July 2011 a woman engaged in a “Dying in Consciousness” exercise at a New Age-style personal development seminar was basically “cooked to death” when wrapped in mud and plastic, covered with blankets, and left immobilized for about nine hours.

T.D. Jakes, one of the best-known pastors in America, says he believes in the Trinity. Wait, wasn’t that settled, like, 1700 years ago?

Blasphemy of the Day: Critiquing the theology of “Star Wars.”

Graphic of the Day: The New York Times on how much the candidates give to charity, and how much believers give to charity. (Hint: Newt is better than most Catholics, but doesn’t hold a candle to Romney or Obama. Text by Michael Paulson.)

Quote of the Day: The feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas was Jan. 28, but Michael Moreland at Mirror of Justice has a sermon excerpt from the late, great Herbert McCabe, a Dominican like Aquinas, that is worthy two days later, and beyond:

St. Thomas’s life was spent in asking questions (nearly all his major works are divided up explicitly into questions), and this meant seeking to answer them. A man is a saint, though, not by what he does and achieves, but by his acceptance of failure. A saint is one who conforms to Christ, and what Jesus is about was not shown in his successes, his cures and miracles and brilliant parables and preaching, but in his failure, his defeat on the cross when he died deserted by his followers with all his life’s work in ruins.

-- David Gibson

(Photo via The Dish)

Catholics rally against Obama contraception mandate

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) From Maine to Arizona to southern Louisiana, Catholic churches across the country echoed with scorn for a new federal rule requiring faith-based employers to include birth control and other reproductive services in their health care coverage.

Dozens of priests took the rare step of reading letters from the pulpit urging parishioners to reach out to Washington and oppose the rule, enacted Jan 20.

The rule requires nearly all employers to provide their employees access to health insurance that covers artificial contraception, sterilization services and the "morning after" birth control pill.

The mandate exempts individual churches but applies to Catholic universities, Catholic-based charities and to groups affiliated with Methodists, Baptists and other denominations.

Roman Catholic leaders morally oppose artificial birth control and related services, and they called the rule an infringement on their constitutional rights.

"This is the government interfering in the workings of the church," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has made fighting the contraception mandate a top-shelf priority.

Catholic Church actions in opposition to the federal edict included:

-- New Orleans-area churches read a letter from Archbishop Gregory Aymond at weekend Masses, directing churchgoers at the diocese's 108 parishes to denounce the rule and contact Congress to reverse the ruling. "This ruling is an example of government violating our rights," the letter read.

-- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix issued a similar letter to its 92 parishes, saying it plans to flout the law and urging churchgoers to write Congress.

-- Church leaders in Maine read a letter from Bishop Richard Malone protesting the rule he called a violation of the church's First Amendment right to freedom of religious practices and urging parishioners into action.

-- In a letter to his diocese, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said the Obama administration's message to U.S. Catholics is clear: "To hell with your religious beliefs; To hell with your religious liberty; To hell with your freedom of conscience."

It was not known exactly how many churches addressed the issue. About one-third of America's 67 million Roman Catholics attend weekly Mass, according to William D'Antonio, a sociologist at the Catholic University of America. However, in recent polls, about 95 percent of Catholics have said they use contraceptives, and 89 percent say the decision to use them should be theirs, not the church's, he said.

Judy Waxman of the National Women's Law Center said easier access to contraceptives could prevent unwanted pregnancies and cut down on the number of abortions. "This is such a major step forward for women in this country," she said.

Wesley and Lesley Sterling of McComb, Miss., heard about the rule for the first time while attending Saturday Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Both side with the church on the debate.

"It's wrong," Wesley Sterling, 30, said of the rule. "It should not be forced upon what we believe in as Christians."

(Rick Jervis writes for USA Today.)

Monday Godbytes: Christians Against Cockfighting; Buddhist Video Games; More Muppet Meditation

"My stand on self immolation is the same as that of the Dalai Lama, who has always discouraged drastic actions by Tibetans," says Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile. "He does not even endorse hunger strikes."
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Friday, January 27, 2012

Americans intrigued but wary still of Mormon beliefs

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Michael Patrick and Eduardo Martins, both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, observe Temple Square from an observation deck in Salt Lake City, Photo by Jerilee Bennett.

(RNS) When Mormons call themselves "a peculiar people," they mean it in the biblical sense -- set aside by God, chosen.

But many Americans call them peculiar in Webster's way -- strange, odd.

Now Mormons, followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are in the spotlight. One of their own, Mitt Romney, is a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Suddenly, America's abuzz about "gold plates and magic underwear," says Terryl Givens, a professor of religion at the University of Richmond in Virginia and a Mormon himself.

Mormon ways are little-known, yet many Americans are suspicious of them. That could be because:

-- Mormons are unfamiliar to many. There are 6 million, adults and children, accounting for fewer than 2 percent of the U.S. population, and 76 percent live in a handful of Western states.

-- Outspoken evangelical pastors call Mormonism a non-Christian "cult," Mormons disagree, saying they just center their faith on a different understanding of God, Christ, Scripture and salvation than Catholics or Protestants. Christian private schools and home-schooling associations specify that the Bible is the only Scripture, thereby excluding Mormons, who add three more holy books.

-- Unlike Judaism, Mormonism is not a faith commonly studied in comparative religion classes. When Mormons show up in history books, it's generally limited to a saga of persecution (they were driven from the Midwest to Utah in the 19th century) and legal conflicts over polygamy. The church banned polygamy in 1890, but polygamist splinter groups, such as those depicted in "Big Love" and "Sister Wives" often see more media airtime than mainstream Mormons.

Joseph Smith founded the LDS church, according to church teachings, after discovering gold plates buried in upstate New York that he believed contained the words of ancient prophets detailing Jesus' visit to the New World. When translated, it became the text of The Book of Mormon, which Mormons believe is essential to restoring the original church as Christ intended. According to one of the four books of Mormon scripture, The Pearl of Great Price, Smith later returned the golden plates to an angelic guardian.

Some adult Mormons in good standing with the church wear a simple cotton T-shirt and fitted pants that have been blessed by the church.

"Once someone actually lifted the sleeve of my shirt to peek while asking, 'Do you wear the magic underwear?' Stop! I don't check your underpants!" recalls Erin Gillie, 26, who moved to Washington, D.C., from Alabama last week. She wears the undergarments, she says, "as a reminder of who I am: a child of God who should live by certain standards."

"A lot of people have preconceived ideas about Mormons, and there's not much I can do to change their minds if their pastor is telling them Mormons are evil," she says. "People will ask, 'How many moms do you have?' I've had dates who never called again once they learned I was Mormon. I figure it's their loss."

Mormons cherish their "peculiar" distinctiveness, says Michael Otterson, chief spokesman for the LDS church.

"We value and recognize and respect the values of other religions, but we very much appreciate our own. If you are a Latter-day Saint, a member of the fourth-largest (denomination) in the country, you shouldn't have to go hat in hand for acceptance while acceptance of other minorities -- Jews or Muslims or Presbyterians -- is taken at face value," he says.

Of course, Otterson notes, "You may not even know that the person who cuts your hair or does your taxes is a Mormon because we're totally integrated in the American mainstream already."

If you're not a Mormon you're about as likely to know one as you are to know someone Jewish, and about three times more likely to meet a Mormon than a Buddhist or a Muslim.

A survey of Mormons released last week by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life delineated Mormons traditionalist values -- high on family and education. Most (67 percent) of adult Mormons are married, compared with 52 percent of the nation. College-educated Mormons also have the highest level of commitment to religious orthodoxy: 84 percent say they follow the teachings "wholeheartedly."

Other Christians, not so much.

On Pew Forum's 2010 U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, which asked 32 questions on the Bible, major religious figures and core beliefs and practices, the average score was 16 correct. Just 19 percent of Protestants knew the basic tenet that salvation is through faith alone, not actions as well. Who scored best?  Atheists, Jews and Mormons.

Mormons' strong communities make them a potent organized force, whether for joining in relief programs, campaigning for a moral cause or proselytizing by those ubiquitous young missionaries knocking on doors from Peoria to Peru.

Advocates of same-sex marriage still burn over the millions in donations and savvy campaigning by Mormons backing Proposition 8, which overturned legal gay marriage in California in 2008.

The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center turned its outrage into a moneymaker and rallying point. The center raised $70,000 in contributions. Jim Key, spokesman for the center, says, "For each donation, we sent a postcard to LDS President Thomas Monson saying a gift had been made in his name to invalidate Prop 8."

It's Mormons' religious outreach that worries Warren Cole Smith, an evangelical blogger and associate publisher of World, a Christian news magazine. He fears a Romney presidency would give credence and publicity to a "false faith."

One proof of falsehood, to Smith, is that Mormons believe the Bible didn't close the book on God's revelations. They believe present-day prophets, including the president of the church, can proclaim new teachings from God.

Smith cites two examples: The LDS church banned polygamy in 1890 (perhaps, say historians, prompted by the threats from the U.S. government and by the Mormons' wish to see Utah become a state).

And in 1978, then-LDS president and prophet Spencer Kimball overturned the church's ban on ordaining black men to the priesthood.

Smith's oft-quoted line that makes evangelicals jittery is that Mormons "may believe one thing today, and something else tomorrow."

Still, Smith ruefully admits: "The vast majority of Americans won't care about these theological implications. Indeed, Americans are generally tone-deaf to theological nuances."

(Cathy Lynn Grossman writes for USA Today.)

Friday Godbytes: Airport Yoga; Jewish Star Wars; Mormon Cuisine

I don't know about you guys, but flying can be a pretty stressful experience. It's not the flying itself that gets me so much as the journey to the plane: The security checks ("Does chapstick count as a gel if it melted in pocket?"); the annoying fellow travelers ("Stand on the RIGHT side of the escalator so folks can walk on the LEFT side, people!"); the long lines at food vendors ("How could this many people possibly want a Cinnabon right now?"); the boarding confusion ("Did she say Zone 1 or Zone 2? Wait, what gate is this?!")…It's all a bit intense.

But anxious passengers, worry no more: San Francisco Airport is unveiling the world's first dedicated yoga room within an airport. That's right, you can now get your frozen yogurt AND your Downward Facing Dog at the SAME PLACE.

On the plane, however, things are looking a lot less spiritual. Alaska Airlines reportedly just ended their practice of handing out prayer cards during flights. (Update: RNS did our own story on this!)

Star Wars fans: ever wanted to hear and in-depth deconstruction of George Lucas' famous trilogy (that's right, the TRILOGY. I don't know anything about these "prequels" of which you speak) from a Jewish theological perspective?  Well know you can, complete with an in-depth exegesis of why Han Shot Greedo first.

Mormon cuisine isn't what it used to be…Wait, what did Mormon cuisine used to be?

Finally, your Video of the Day is of the annual Lantern Floating Ceremony at  Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.  While the ceremony doesn't champion one religion over another, it is reportedly led by Her Holiness Keishu Shinso Ito, the spiritual head of Shinnyo-en.  Whatever it is, it's beautiful (Warning: super-dramatic music ahead):

- Jack "Han Totally Shot First" Jenkins

Court says student’s faith may have led to expulsion

(RNS) A counseling student who declined to advise a gay client might have been expelled from her university because of her faith, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday (Jan. 27).

Citing her evangelical Christian religion, Julea Ward disagreed with professors at Eastern Michigan University who told her she was required to support the sexual orientation of her clients. When the graduate student was assigned a client who sought counseling on a same-sex relationship, she asked to have the client referred to another counselor.

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Julea Ward was dismissed from Eastern Michigan University after she declined to counsel a patient in a homosexual relationship as part of her counseling degree program. RNS photo courtesy Gene Parunak/Alliance Defense Fund.

Ward was then expelled from the school.

A lower court sided with the university, but Ward appealed, saying the school had violated her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

On Friday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Ward could have a valid claim, and sent the case back to a district court for another hearing.

"A reasonable jury could conclude that Ward's professors ejected her from the counseling program because of hostility toward her speech and faith, not due to a policy against referrals," the appeals court ruled.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has helped defend Ward, hailed the ruling as a victory for religious freedom.

"No individual should be forced out of their profession solely because of her religious beliefs," said Eric Rassbach, the Becket Fund's national litigation director.

The Ypsilanti, Mich.-based university issued a statement noting that the court has not ruled in favor of Ward, but rather called for more legal consideration.

"This case has never been about religion or religious discrimination," the university said. "It is not about homosexuality or sexual orientation. This case is about what is in the best interest of a person who is in need of counseling."

Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims blast Rick Santorum on ‘equality’ comment

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has broad appeal among some evangelical voters because his conservative Catholic views dovetail with their social concerns. RNS photo courtesy Gage Skidmore.

(RNS) Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are accusing Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum of bigotry and ignorance after he said that "equality" is solely a Judeo-Christian concept.

"Where do you think the concept of equality comes from?" Santorum said on the campaign trail last Friday (Jan. 20). "It doesn't come from Islam. It doesn't come from the East and Eastern religions. It comes from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

Not everyone agreed.

"Sen. Santorum's presidential campaign is now playing to the lowest common denominator of religious bigotry and prejudice by attacking Eastern religions and Islam," said Aseem Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation. Santorum's comments, Shukla added, "show a profound ignorance of the teachings of Dharma spiritual traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism."

Santorum's campaign did not answer repeated requests for comment.

Critics said Santorum -- a devout Catholic -- not only has his politics wrong, but also his history.

For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, the god Krishna writes, "I look upon all creatures equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear."

"Indian religions predate Abraham, Jacob and all that Rick Santorum was talking about," said Sulekh Jain of Sugar Land, Texas, chairman of the International School for Jain Studies. "All souls are equal in every way. All feel pain and all feel pleasure. This concept is deeply embedded in the whole philosophy of Jainism."

Sikhs, who also trace their religion to India, were equally upset.

"In Sikhism, all human beings have equal status in the eyes of God. No differentiation in status or ceremonies or rights is made between men and women, rich and poor, foreigner and countryman, high caste or low caste," said Manbeena Kaur, education director for the New York-based Sikh Coalition.

"Sikhs have had this belief in and practice of equality as a spiritual mandate long before the political revolutions that brought freedom to America and much of the Western world."

Buddhism expert Toshie Kurihara argues equality was a foundational teaching of the Buddha.

"The Buddha preached against the caste system and advocated equality of all people. From the beginning, Buddhism espoused the concept of equality of all people," she wrote last year in the Journal of Oriental Studies.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said it would send Santorum a copy of the Quran, Islam's holy text.

"The Quran is the best refutation of Mr. Santorum's inaccurate and offensive remarks," said Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesman.

The group cited Quran verses and sayings of Islam's Prophet Muhammad that supported equality. For example, Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, "All people are equal as the teeth of a comb."

Pennsylvania Catholic bishop criticized for Hitler comment

HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., is being criticized for saying Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini would love the country's public school system because it teaches all children one set of beliefs.

Bishop Joseph P. McFadden made the remark while advocating for school vouchers during a televised interview last week.

"In totalitarian governments, they would love our system," McFadden said. "This is what Hitler and Mussolini and all those tried to establish: a monolith so all the children would be educated in one set of beliefs and one way of doing things."

McFadden's words sparked outrage from the area chapter of the Anti-Defamation League and a rebuke from the legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

In an email sent to The Patriot-News on Wednesday (Jan. 25), McFadden said he didn't mean to cause offense and that he was not trying to trivialize the Holocaust.

"The reference to dictators and totalitarian governments of the 20th century, which I made in an interview on the topic of school choice, was to make a dramatic illustration of how these unchecked monolithic governments of the past used schools to curtail the primary responsibility of the parent in the education of their children," McFadden said.

"Today many parents in our state experience the same lack of freedom in choosing an education that best suits their child as those parents oppressed by dictators of the past. I intentionally did not make reference to the Holocaust in my remarks," he said.

ADL regional director Barry Morrison said McFadden's remarks are offensive to people who suffered through the Holocaust or fought fascism.

"We appreciate his commitment to the education of children and the viability of Catholic schools," Morrison said. "However, he should not be making his point at the expense of the memory of six million Jews and millions of others who perished in the Holocaust."

Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said that while everyone makes mistakes, McFadden's remarks were "completely inappropriate."

Besides, public schools are diverse, not monolithic, Hoover said.

"Sure, there are standards that are set by the state, but everything is done in an open, public process and is checked by the political system," he said. "School boards are elected, the people from the Department of Education work for the governor. So, our public school system is actually very democratic and very open."

(Diana Fishlock writes for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.)