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CULTURE DIGEST: N.C. added to list of states with lotteries; Romney’s Mormonism may hurt presidential candidacy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The absence of two lottery opponents cleared the way for passage of a state lottery in North Carolina that had been on the governor’s agenda for four years.

The state’s House of Representatives approved the necessary legislation in April, but the holdup was in the Senate, where opinions were split over whether a lottery would improve the state’s education program or have a detrimental effect on the economy.

But when one opposing Republican senator was out of town on his honeymoon and another was bedridden Aug. 31, lottery supporters brought the issue to a vote that resulted in a 24-24 tie. Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, the Senate’s presiding officer, stepped in and cast her vote on the side of the Democrats to give the bill a 25-24 margin. It was the first time a lieutenant governor had cast a vote since 1996, according to the Associated Press.

Gov. Mike Easley signed the bill into law the same day, and he and the General Assembly will appoint a lottery commission to work out the specifics.

Lottery supporters say the program could generate income of $300 million during the first year alone, of which 35 percent would be spent on education initiatives.

“The new economy brings new demands on education which require new revenue,” Easley said. “This is a win for our schoolchildren across the state that will now have greater access to pre-kindergarten classes, smaller class size, safe, modern school buildings and college scholarships.”

But local education advocates disagree with the governor and fear the money will come with strings attached instead of in a manner that allows school officials to decide the best use for it, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

“The passage of the lottery leaves the false impression that it fixes all of the state’s education needs,” said Sen. Martin Nesbitt, a Democrat.

Most state residents want a lottery, the Citizen-Times reported, but Republican opponents said the lottery will send a message to children that gambling is a legitimate way to solve the state’s financial problems.

ROMNEY’S MORMONISM MAY HURT CANDIDACY — With such a significant chunk of the Republican Party comprised of values voters these days, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may feel like he would have a pretty good chance at earning the nomination for president. He’s a social conservative who opposes “same-sex marriage,” abortion and some forms of embryonic stem cell research.

But he’s a Mormon.

Some political observers are predicting that Romney’s religious affiliation could prevent many evangelical conservatives from casting their vote in his favor even though he shares their political values.

The Boston Globe examined the issue in an Aug. 30 article quoting three Southern Baptist leaders and noting that “the Southern Baptist Convention website categorizes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a ‘cult’ that is ‘radically’ different from historic, biblical Christianity.”

“It would be extraordinarily hard for mainline denomination people in the South to openly and strongly politick or be involved in a Mormon’s run for office,” SBC President Bobby Welch told The Globe.

And an estimated 40 percent of Republican primary voters are conservative Christians, the article said.

But David Dockery, president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention-affiliated Union University in Jackson, Tenn., told The Globe he could envision conservative Christians laying aside their religious differences to vote for someone like Romney, whom he called an “outstanding governor and a wise leader who has an opportunity for a larger platform beyond Massachusetts.”

“There are key doctrinal differences between Mormons and Baptists — and most other evangelicals,” Dockery said. “But I don’t see that that would be an issue [in a presidential bid] because he would share many of the same views on political and cultural issues, especially related to life and family, the economy and the environment.”

Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also was interviewed for The Globe’s report. He said that because Romney is so similar to conservative Christians in his policy leanings, the question of whether enough evangelicals would vote for him could simply come down to who he’s running against for the Republican nomination.

“If he were running against Bill Frist or George Allen — if [evangelical voters] have a choice between a social conservative who is an evangelical or a social conservative who is a Mormon — most are going to choose a social conservative who is an evangelical,” Land said. “But if Mitt Romney were running against Rudy Giuliani, he’d probably get a lot more votes than Rudy.”

MOST AMERICANS WANT CREATIONISM IN SCHOOLS — A substantial majority of the public favors including creationism in school curricula, according to a recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The survey found 64 percent of Americans support teaching creationism along with evolution in the public schools while only 26 percent oppose the idea. Support for teaching creationism alongside evolution is broad-based, Pew said in an Aug. 30 release, with majority support even among seculars, liberal Democrats and those who accept the natural selection theory.

“Large majorities of Americans believe that parents, scientists and science teachers and school boards should all have a say in how evolution is taught in public schools, and these majorities are found among all religious groups and people on both sides of the question of how life developed on earth,” Pew said.

But differences of opinion are stark when it comes to who should be the primary authority on how evolution is handled. Forty-one percent of the public says parents should have the primary say, compared with 28 percent for scientists and science teachers and 21 percent for school boards.

The poll, conducted July 7-17 among 2,000 people, also found that 78 percent say God created life on earth and 5 percent believe a universal spirit or higher power was responsible for creation. Forty-eight percent say humans and other creatures have evolved over time, and 42 percent say humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

Twenty-six percent of the public overall accepts the Darwinian account of evolution, Pew reported, and 18 percent say that evolution was guided by a supreme being for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today, a view consistent with the emerging intelligent design theory.

The survey’s results are likely to add to the nationwide debate over evolution that has heated up recently in some sectors of society. The National Center for Science Education, a strong backer of evolution, said they have tracked 70 new controversies over evolution in 26 states this year, some in school districts and some in state legislatures, The New York Times reported. President Bush addressed the issue himself in early August when he said he believes both evolution and Intelligent Design should be taught in public schools “so people can understand what the debate is about.”

For more information on the Pew poll, visit people-press.org.

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  • Erin Curry