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CULTURE DIGEST: Catholic Dems issue statement touting faith; poll says Americans want controvery about evolution taught

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A group of 55 of the U.S. House of Representatives’ 72 Catholic Democrats recently issued a declaration of the role their faith plays in their lawmaking decisions, seemingly to draw some of those sought-after values voters over to their side in the upcoming mid-term elections.

Most surprising may be their attention to the controversial subject of abortion, about which they wrote, “We work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being. We believe that government has moral purpose.”

Even some of the House’s most passionate pro-choice advocates signed the document, which is an unprecedented attempt by a large number of elected officials to explain the connection between their religion and their public roles.

“We envision a world in which every child belongs to a loving family and agree with the Catholic Church about the value of human life and the undesirability of abortion — we do not celebrate its practice,” the Democrats stated. “Each of us is committed to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term.”

The group, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, plans to reduce abortions by promoting adoption and improving access to children’s healthcare and childcare.

Also, the 55 Catholic legislators counted among their goals what they consider “basic principles that are at the heart of Catholic social teaching: helping the poor and disadvantaged, protecting the most vulnerable among us, and ensuring that all Americans of every faith are given meaningful opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country.”

Their statement of principles, as an outward display of religion, stands in stark contrast to the separated stance taken by the only Catholic ever elected president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. But the group said that “in recognizing the Church’s role in providing moral leadership, we acknowledge and accept the tension that comes with being in disagreement with the Church in some areas.”

MOST AMERICANS FAVOR TEACHING EVOLUTION CHALLENGES — As the debate over science curriculum in public schools continues, a new Zogby International poll indicates that 69 percent of Americans support the idea of teachers presenting both sides of the evolution controversy.

By contrast, just 21 percent of the group of likely voters who participated in the Zogby telephone survey from Feb. 27 to March 2 said that biology teachers should teach only evolution.

“This poll shows widespread support for the idea that when biology teachers teach Darwin’s theory of evolution they should present the scientific evidence that supports it as well as the evidence against it,” said Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs with Discovery Institute, which commissioned the poll.

Zogby found that among the biggest supporters of teaching the controversy are 18-29-year-olds, 88 percent of whom thought it is a good idea. Seventy-four percent of independent voters, 73 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats agreed that challenges to evolution should be taught alongside the theory, according to the poll.

Furthermore, 77 percent of respondents agreed that when Darwin’s theory of evolution is taught in school, students also should be allowed to learn about scientific evidence that points to an intelligent design of life.

“While we don’t favor mandating the teaching of Intelligent Design, we do think it is constitutional for teachers to discuss it precisely because the theory is based upon scientific evidence, not religious premises,” Luskin said in a Discovery Institute news release March 7. “The public strongly agrees that students should be permitted to learn about such evidence.”

STATES FIGHT TO CURB PROTESTS AT FUNERALS — The problem of protesters at military funerals, namely the Fred Phelps bunch from Topeka, Kan., has gotten so out of hand that at least 15 states are taking legislative action against the practice. Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church has no affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Bills are quickly moving through Senate and House chambers in certain states, and they’re drawing support from governors as well. Some of the bills, as in Wisconsin, would outlaw noisy, disruptive behavior or signs with “fighting words,” the Associated Press reported.

Laws in other states would bar protests within one or two hours before and after a funeral’s start time, and others would require protesters to keep a distance ranging from 10 car lengths to five blocks from the funeral, AP said.

Punishment for violating the laws could amount to a few hundred dollars, 30 days in jail or more. In fact, Wisconsin legislators want fines of up to $10,000, and one of five Oklahoma bills would set a one-year jail sentence.

“What we’re looking at here is trying to keep the environment [at funerals] one of respectability,” bill sponsor Sen. Diane Black, a Republican in Tennessee, told AP.

Phelps and his extended family have long made a practice of picketing with offensive language on signs at various events, but lately they’ve approached grieving military families with words such as “Thank God for IEDs,” or improvised explosive devices, which have killed a large number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

States stepping in to curb the protests include Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

MORE AMERICANS KNOW SIMPSONS THAN CONSTITUTION — Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but more than half can name at least two of the five members of the family featured on the prime-time cartoon “The Simpsons,” a study has revealed.

Twenty-two percent of Americans could name all five family members, but just one in 1,000 could name all five First Amendment freedoms — the freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.

The study was conducted by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, which is scheduled to open April 11 on Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue and will be the nation’s first museum dedicated to helping people understand freedoms with a focus on those guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“These survey results clearly demonstrate that many Americans don’t have an understanding of the freedoms they regularly enjoy. The Freedom Museum is designed to inspire people to understand and value their freedoms,” Dave Anderson, executive director of the museum, said. “The Freedom Museum will present freedoms in not merely a historical context, but in modern-day examples, allowing people young and old to relate to modern day freedom debates.”

YOUTH RAISE MORE THAN $4.1 MILLION FOR CHARITY — Nearly 10,000 organizations, including 607 Baptist churches, have reported raising more than $4.1 million this year for charity through a project called the Souper Bowl of Caring, which coincided with the Super Bowl last month.

The Souper Bowl of Caring is a faith-based crusade against hunger led by young people who collect donations in soup pots as churchgoers leave services on the Sunday of the Super Bowl, according to Danielle Haugh, public relations coordinator for the project.

Each group of youth sent the donated money directly to the charity of their choice and simply were asked to report the total sum to the Souper Bowl of Caring officials. Baptist youth, which are not limited to Southern Baptists, collected a reported $230,098.

Since the program began in a South Carolina church in 1990 and then spread nationwide, youth have raised a total of at least $32 million.

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  • Erin Roach