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CULTURE DIGEST: Blue states stingier than red states?; Bibles distributed in newspapers; Muslims push for school holiday

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–After United Nations emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland called America’s initial commitment of $15 million in tsunami relief aid “stingy,” citizens began to live up to their ranking as the second-most generous people on Earth.

Last year, Americans contributed $241 billion to private charities, according to reporter Peter Brown of The Orlando Sentinel. Only Israel ranked higher.

In the midst of Asia’s current tsunami crisis, Americans are contributing money at record rates, not to mention the number of people volunteering to travel to the country and help personally.

But a closer look at charitable giving in the United States shows the poorest states give the most. As a percentage of income, giving is highest in states where the average household income is lowest — states like Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to a Christian Science Monitor report on the Catalogue for Philanthropy’s Generosity Index for 2004.

On the other hand, states known for high incomes like Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts rank near the bottom in charitable giving rates. The Monitor noted the states that give the most correlate to the red states — those who voted for George W. Bush in the last election — while the states that give the least are the blue ones that voted for John Kerry. The color pattern has continued each year since the index began keeping track in 1997.

“The reason low-income states give a lot is religion,” George McCully, president of the Catalogue for Philanthropy, told the Monitor. “They are tithing, evangelical Protestants, and they are giving in proportion to their income.”

The Monitor also looked at other factors that influence giving, such as whether people have always been wealthy or whether they know what it’s like to be poor.

“Inevitably, our biggest gifts aren’t from old money that comes with a feeling of right and nobility,” Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International, a relief agency for poor children, told the Monitor. “Inevitably, it comes from people who have clawed their way up and remember what it was like to be on the brink of having nothing.”

New Englanders who have inherited wealth tend to guard it more than those who have earned it themselves, the Monitor said, and one’s faith might lead to an increased confidence in the future that would cause people to give money away rather than hoard it for possible rainy days.

NEW TESTAMENTS DISTRIBUTED VIA NEWSPAPERS — The International Bible Society is taking some heat for one of its latest efforts to spread the Gospel in Colorado Springs, Colo. The group, which began in 1809, paid the standard advertising rate to insert 91,000 copies of the New Testament in the Dec. 19 issue of The Colorado Springs Gazette as a Christmas gift to the community.

More than 125 local churches, businesses, individuals and organizations such as the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family contributed funds for the endeavor but, in response, some Jews and Muslims have complained that they felt like they were being proselytized in their homes, The New York Times reported Dec. 24.

The distribution method also has raised questions in journalistic circles regarding freedom of speech.

“I do think it’s important that any newspaper that engages in new or different types of advertisement approaches think carefully about how their independence from this particular product is achieved,” Aly Colon, an ethics in journalism professor at The Poynter Institute, told The Times. “And I think the Bible takes on some additional meanings at times like this, as people are trying to balance religious freedoms and concern about the separation of church and state.”

Bob Burdick, publisher of The Gazette, told The Times he doesn’t think papers should back away from ideas just because they’re religious ideas, just as they shouldn’t back away from ideas because they’re political ideas. He also reported that the paper received 195 positive messages about the insert and 69 negative messages. Five people canceled subscriptions.

The Times said the International Bible Society inserted the Gospel of Luke into The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., to correspond with the release of “The Passion of The Christ” in theaters, and they distributed more than 420,000 copies of Luke via The Houston Chronicle when the film was released on DVD.

MUSLIMS PUSH FOR SCHOOL HOLIDAYS — While Christmas is a national holiday and children are always granted a reprieve from school for its observance, some Muslim parents are now calling for a comparable consideration when their children need to miss school to mark the holidays of Eid al-Fitr, the celebration concluding Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, the feast that follows the pilgrimage to Mecca, according to The Washington Post Dec. 25.

Muslim leaders in Baltimore County, Md., asked a state education committee to recommend that all students be given two floating holidays for religious observance in order to accommodate various holy days connected to their particular religions.

When schools don’t close on religious holidays, students may miss school at their parents’ request, be marked excused and be allowed to make up work, The Post noted, but Muslim families typically take attendance seriously and want nothing short of perfect attendance records.

PBS STATION BANS ID DOCUMENTARY — “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” a science documentary about intelligent design, has been banned by a local PBS station in Albuquerque, N.M., according to the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

New Mexico scientist Phil Robinson worked with KNME staff to arrange the airing of the documentary and then found by accident that the show had been pulled and newspaper advertising halted just four days before it was to air, according to a Jan. 4 news release.

“It is simply astounding that a public television station would engage in this sort of politically correct censorship,” said Rob Crowther, director of communications for the Center for Science and Culture. “Public television usually prides itself in exploring new ideas, not suppressing them. Doesn’t anyone at KNME believe in free speech?”

The documentary has aired in major markets across the United States, including PBS stations in California, Florida and New York, the Discovery Institute said.

Unlocking the Mystery of Life is a 58-minute program exploring what DNA reveals about the origin of life, and it considers how some scientists are skeptical about naturalistic explanations for the origin of genetic information. State of the art computer animation and other visuals enhance the documentary, which also includes interviews with key intelligent design scientists such as William Dembski of Baylor University, who was tapped last September to begin leading Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s new Center for Science and Theology in June.

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  • Erin Curry