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CULTURE DIGEST: Romney aligns with Christians; churchgoers more likely to support Iraq war; religion rift hits ‘South Park’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Despite his status as a member of the Mormon church, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a likely presidential candidate, is aligning himself with the Christian right, noting that he shares their values on issues like “gay marriage” and stem cell research.

“I think the American people, whether in their governor or their senator or their president, would like to have a person of faith. And I’m without question a person of faith,” Romney said during an interview on C-SPAN’s “Q&A” March 19. “I don’t think they care so much what brand of faith they are, and of course, there are going to be differences in religion.”

Political pundits have questioned Romney’s ability to win over the evangelical base, which now makes up an estimated 30 percent of the Republican electorate and is especially strong in primary states like South Carolina and Virginia. But Romney, a Republican, is sure that won’t be an obstacle.

“I know a number of great evangelicals that I speak with and that are very interested in me and what I stand for,” he said. “We worked together in Massachusetts. They had no difficulty supporting me there.”

The reason, Romney said, is because he’s at the forefront of some of the toughest cultural issues in the nation. He called himself the leader in the fight to preserve traditional marriage in Massachusetts, where “gay marriage” was legalized in 2003, and the leader to ban embryonic stem cell research.

“And I’m fighting hand-in-hand with evangelical and conservative religious leaders to encourage abstinence education in our schools,” Romney added. “So we are on the same page on values. And that’s what evangelicals care about. But, of course, there will be some percent who say they wouldn’t vote for me no matter what. But, you know, overall, if you look at the American public, the great majority want a person of faith but don’t care about what particular religion they believe in.”

Most Americans, Romney said, get to know candidates and learn about their positions to determine whether they share their values, and that “sweeps away questions about someone’s particular religion.”

“We don’t apply religious tests. And I think for that reason, whether it’s me or somebody down the road, they are going to get judged ultimately by their positions and their views on the issues and their character and their vision,” he said.

FREQUENT CHURCHGOERS MOST SUPPORTIVE OF IRAQ WAR — As President Bush marked the third anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq liberation with resolve to complete the task, a Gallup poll revealed that Protestants and frequent churchgoers are among those Americans most likely to grasp his vision for the young democracy.

“More fighting and sacrifice will be required to achieve this victory, and for some, the temptation to retreat and abandon our commitments is strong,” Bush said in his radio address March 18. “Yet there is no peace, there’s no honor and there’s no security in retreat.

“So America will not abandon Iraq to the terrorists who want to attack us again,” he said. “We will finish the mission. By defeating the terrorists in Iraq, we will bring greater security to our own country. And when victory is achieved, our troops will return home with the honor they have earned.”

The Gallup Poll released March 16 said “highly religious Americans, Protestants and other non-Catholic Christians are most supportive of the Iraq war” while “infrequent churchgoers, those who identify with non-Christian religions and those with no religious identification are least supportive.”

Overall, 45 percent of Protestants and 47 percent of “other Christians” told Gallup the war in Iraq was a mistake. Among Catholics, 52 percent thought it was a mistake, while 58 percent of other religions and 62 percent of those who had no religion agreed.

Among those who never went to church, 62 percent said the war was a mistake, and among those who attended services once a week, just 44 percent opposed the war.

Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup, said the opinions could have something to do with party lines.

“The more religious the American, in general, the more likely he or she is to identify with the Republican Party,” he said. “Frequent churchgoers tend to be Republicans, who in turn can be expected to support the policies of a Republican president.”

‘SOUTH PARK’ VOICE DEFENDS SCIENTOLOGY — Oscar-winning soul singer Isaac Hayes recently backed out of lending his voice to Comedy Central’s “South Park,” saying the animated show’s frequent lampooning of religion was part of a “growing insensitivity toward personal spiritual beliefs.”

“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs … begins,” he said.

But one of the show’s co-creators said Hayes’ departure was related more to South Park’s mockery of Scientology than of other religions.

“In 10 years and over 150 episodes of ‘South Park,’ Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons or Jews,” Matt Stone said in a statement. “He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show.”

Hayes in the past described himself as a Baptist by birth and said Scientology was “an applied religious philosophy.”

The episode needling Scientology, “Trapped in a Closet,” first aired last November and poked fun at the secrecy of the religious sect by featuring cartoons of celebrities Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Comedy Central planned to re-air the episode last week but pulled it at the last minute.

Some observers speculate that Hayes, who suffered a stroke in January and has apparently experienced speech and memory problems, did not make the decision to quit South Park on his own.

Nevertheless, Hayes’ departure from the show shed light on the culture’s comfort with joking about Christianity and other major religions and discomfort with jabs at more socially popular groups.

NETHERLANDS IMPLEMENTS OFFENSIVE IMMIGRATION TEST — Among the policies aimed at reducing The Netherlands’ immigration rate is a controversial new entrance examination that requires people to view a 105-minute movie featuring two homosexual men kissing in a park and a topless woman emerging from the sea.

The test, designed to evaluate a person’s readiness to participate in the liberal Dutch culture, costs $420 and includes a preparation package with a picture album of famous Dutch people, according to the Associated Press.

“As of today, immigrants wishing to settle in the Netherlands for, in particular, the purposes of marrying or forming a relationship will be required to take the civic integration examination abroad,” the Immigration Ministry said.

Those exempt from taking the exam include citizens The Netherlands wouldn’t mind letting in: European Union nationals, asylum seekers and skilled workers earning more than $54,000 per year and citizens of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Switzerland.

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  • Erin Roach