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My Take: Chick-fil-A controversy reveals religious liberty under threat
July 31st, 2012
10:36 AM ET

My Take: Chick-fil-A controversy reveals religious liberty under threat

Editor's Note: R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

By R. Albert Mohler Jr., Special to CNN

(CNN)–Cultural upheavals often occur in the most surprising contexts. Who expected that a clash between sexuality and religious liberty would be focused on a restaurant company mainly known for its chicken sandwiches?

And yet the controversy over Chick-fil-A is a clear sign that religious liberty is at risk and that this nation has reached the brink of tyrannical intolerance from at least some of our elected leaders.

The controversy ignited when Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, son of the company’s legendary founder, Truett Cathy, told a Baptist newspaper that he and his company “operate on biblical principles” and “are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”

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Defining Chick-fil-A as “a family business,” Cathy went on to say that “We intend to stay the course. … We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Media attention to Cathy’s comments revealed a radio interview he had given a few weeks earlier in which he commented that “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at (God) and say, ‘We know better than You what constitutes a marriage.'

“I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think we would have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about,” he said.

Within days, elected officials in Chicago, Boston and New York were pledging to deny the company access to their cities.

“Because of (Dan Cathy’s) ignorance, I will deny Chick-fil-A a permit to open a restaurant in my ward,” Chicago Alderman Proco Moreno said, in a threat echoed by
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was just as blunt: “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston,” he said. “We’re an open city. We’re a city at the forefront of inclusion.”

But the kind of inclusion he had in mind would evidently exclude Chick-fil-A.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who just recently married her lesbian partner, called upon New York University to kick Chick-fil-A off its campus.

9 religious companies (besides Chick-fil-A)

Echoing the Boston mayor’s lack of irony, she also called for exclusion in the name of inclusion: “We are a city that believes our diversity is our greatest strength, and we will fight anything and anyone that runs counter to that.”

Within days, Moreno, Emanuel and Menino had qualified their statements somewhat, promising to operate within the law and constitutional limits. Those clarifications became necessary when legal authorities quickly recognized threatened violations of First Amendment rights.

To his credit, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage, warned, “You can’t have a test for what the owner’s personal views are before you decide to give a permit to do something in the city.”

Note carefully that Chick-fil-A was not charged with discrimination in hiring or service but simply with the fact that its president and chief operating officer supports traditional marriage.

Note something else: Dan Cathy’s statements were explicitly religious. He made his comments to the religious press, including a Baptist newspaper. His comments were infused with his Christian convictions, the same convictions that have led the company to close for business every Sunday.

The threats made against Chick-fil-A betray the principle of religious liberty that is enshrined within the U.S. Constitution. Civic officials in some of the nation’s largest and most powerful cities have openly threatened to oppose Chick-fil-A for the singular reason that its president openly spoke of his Christian convictions concerning marriage.

When Quinn, one of the most powerful officials in New York, announces, “I do not want establishments in my city that hold such discriminatory views,” is she also threatening the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques?

They, along with evangelical Christian denominations, openly oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. Cathy’s statements are completely consistent with his own denomination’s statement of faith and official declarations. He was speaking as a Christian and as a Southern Baptist, and he was speaking as a man who does his best to live and speak as he believes.

Christian groups allege threats to religious freedom in anti-Chick-fil-A campaigns

When Emanuel and Moreno tell Chick-fil-A to stay out of Chicago, are they audacious enough to deliver that same message to the churches, mosques and synagogues of their city that also oppose same-sex marriage? What do they do with the fact that their own state does not allow same-sex marriages?

This country is deeply divided over the issue of same-sex marriage, and the controversy over Chick-fil-A is an ominous sign that many of the proponents of same-sex marriage are quite willing to violate religious liberty and to use any and all means to silence and punish any individual or organization that holds the contrary view – a view sustained by the voters in 29 states by constitutional amendments.

Addressing the intersection of same-sex marriage and religious liberty, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has warned that the government must not be “viewed as unfairly trying to pre-determine the debate or harass one side.”

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That is exactly what some elected officials have just shown themselves ready to do. It will not stop with Chick-fil-A. Who will be next to be told to get out of town?

Disclosures:

I know Dan and Truett Cathy and other members of the Cathy family. Truett has spoken on our campus. I have prayed at the opening of multiple Chick-fil-A locations. I serve on the board of directors of Focus on the Family, which has been supported by Chick-fil-A. My son, Christopher, is a part-time service employee of a local Chick-fil-A restaurant in Louisville. I have not communicated with Chick-fil-A about this column.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of R. Albert Mohler Jr.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church and state • Homosexuality • My Take • Opinion • Religious liberty

soundoff (3,216 Responses)
  1. inHISlight

    Standing on biblical principals is rooted in Rock. Standing on the man made/scientific principals is rooted in sand. It will shift. In the end every knee will bow and every toungue confess that Jesus is LORD

    July 31, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Do you feel the need to re-imagine every event in biblical metaphor? "Rock," "sand," to say something useful with these terms, you'd need to define them, which means you'd have to use science. Oops!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • KyleGlobal

      So you do you support that eating shrimp is an abomination before God, or have you shifted the sands in your beliefs from what the Bible says? The Bible gives slavery the OK. Is this a deeply held Biblical principle for you? One could go on and on from what is written in many places in the Bible of things modern civilization now finds horrible that the Bible OKs.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • inHISlight

      Moby- scientific principal is certainly useful. Indeed would be used in a discussion to define rock and sand. Duh. But I do not place it above my creator and the creator of science itself. You can question something until death. That still won't change the end result.
      Kyle I have no idea what bible you are referring too. Your interpretation is twisted and disallusioned at best.

      Glad to have "met" you both. I pray you have a real encounter with a living and loving God tonight. I can tell you have not.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  2. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    July 31, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  3. Doh

    STFU! You only think "religious liberty" is under threat because you want the churches, and government, to force your stupidity on everyone else, violating their liberties.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  4. Bob

    No. This isn't about religious freedom. This guy wouldn't bat an eye if we were running a KKK-supporting business out of town. He just doesn't see that he's just like them.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Yeahitsme

      The problem is the CEO of the USA can be for gay marriage, but the CEO of Chikfila can't be against it. I'm not worried about religious freedom. I'm worried that people can't see hyprocrisy in what they say.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  5. Jim

    Much of the criticism of Chick-fil-A has been childish and overblown, but it hardly threatens freedom of religion. The vast majority of Americans are religious, so a vocal minority represents dissent, not tyranny. Being overly sensitive about your faith suggests that your faith is easily shaken. Atheists need to relax and recognize that it may take a couple of generations before we are in the majority.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  6. Ivan Biial

    Religious groups have nothing to fear as long as they keep their nose out of politics.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • twinelms

      We have just as much right as you do.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      No,Twinelms, you have much MORE right if you are religious (specifically christian) in the US.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  7. Rick G

    How sad that people are being so narrow minded in the name of being open minded. Chick-fil-A has not taken any anti-gay position, has not been accused of discriminating against gays, and has not acknowledged donating a dime to any anti-gay groups. The owner was asked on a religious program about his religious beliefs if he supported Christian values and he replied in the positive. First Amendment guarantees all of us the right to freedom of speech. We all have different opinions about everything, gay rights, abortion, politics, religion, immigration, you name it! I actually support gay marriage, but I more support Mr. Cathay’s right to express his opinion even more. The politicians and others who are screaming about refusing permits and boycotts ought to be ashamed of themselves. Every Chick-fil-A restaurants generates millions of dollars in sales tax revenues as well as jobs. I had lunch there today and I absolutely believe that the young man who served me lunch was as gay as they get! Pick your battles people, and have a tasty fried chicken sandwich..or not!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Ellen

      http://equalitymatters.org/factcheck/201207020001

      July 31, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Craig

      Actually if Mr Cathy had any sense he would stay completely out of the political arena. He could then continue to run his business according to his beliefs and no one would care at all. He chose however, to attack a minority both by his words and his dollars and is thus enduring the consequences. No problem as I see it. Those who disagree with him are welcome to speak their minds about his proclamations just has he had a right to make them in the first place. They also have the right to refuse to do business with him and to encourage others not to do business with him as well. Even the politicians have their own right to stand for or against him, but they probably do not have the right to deny him the right to do business and should refrain from making such threats. I personally can't stand the greasy gunk that is served at his restaurants and haven't eaten anything from there since I first tried it a few years ago. Wendy's has MUCH better chicken sandwiches, french fries, and pretty much everything else – and they stay out of politics. I would encourage anyone with a craving for chicken to go to Wendys, or KFC, or PopEye's, or any restaurant they choose, but I would caution them to stay away from the gunk they serve at Chic-fil-a. Who needs another clogged artery?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  8. MBU

    The one main point that Mr. Mohler is forgetting is that Chic Fil A has donated MILLIONS of dollars to ANTI GAY foundations. This is wrong and I do not want my money supporting a business that donates the money I spend on this type of discrimination.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Rick G

      Says who? Not true, but repeating lies like that helps spread the hate.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      i agree and i don't want my tax dollars going to any church organization to,..why would i support there one-thousand year kingdom if it means the death of my people

      July 31, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Jim

      The WinShape Foundation, had donated nearly $5 million to anti-gay causes between 2003 and 2010.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Bob

      Can you send us any proof of this? Any links? Or does he donate to organizations that are pro-traditional marriage, so you take that to mean anti-gay?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Logic Priest

      Hey, Rick, says the author of the article. Chicken place supports FOC, a hate group as labelled by the SPLC. Also, disagreeing with your views that other people are less than people is not at all hate. Disagreeing and demonstrating it is a protected right. The right to avoid criticism is not real.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Ellen

      Do these people that say that there is no evidence to the claim that Chick-Fil-A supports anti-gay groups NOT know how to use google?

      http://equalitymatters.org/factcheck/201207020001

      July 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Craig

      Duh, RickG, it IS true – the article's author even admitted it. Focus on the Family is an extremely anti-gay organization and Chic-Fil-A is a large contributor of theirs. The author even WORKS for F** on the Family... so he is obviously prejudiced on the subject to begin with. Not exactly the person I would choose to write an editorial opinion.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  9. twinelms

    "The god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." 2 Corinthians 4:4

    July 31, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      You'd think god would be able to do something about that.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Ellen

      Does this verse from the Koran convince you that Allah is the true God?

      "The unbelievers are like beasts which, call out to them as one may, can hear nothing but a shout and a cry. Deaf, dumb, and blind, they understand nothing" (2:172).

      July 31, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  10. Stacy

    It's a pure JOKE that Wall-Mart is in the "religious" list! My aunt works there, been there for 7-8 years. About the only thing they worship is the almighty DOLLAR. If Jesus treated his followers the way they treat their employees Christianity wouldn't even have a following in 2012.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      judge them by the fruit they bare and Jesus bore bad fruit

      July 31, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • Craig

      Sam Yaza,

      Actually Jesus bore no fruit at all. According to the bible he never married or produced any children. He just ran around the desert with a bunch of guys (ok and one or two chicks) and was said over and over to LOVE a guy named Thomas (the one whom Jesus loved). Sounds to me like he was probably gay.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Yeahitsme

      If your gonna make fun of the Bible get the name right. John, not Thomas.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      your both wrong he loved Mary ,..who he turned into a man

      Thomas
      114) Simon Peter said to Him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are
      not worthy of Life."
      Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her
      male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you
      males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the
      Kingdom of Heaven."

      but regardless i was using one of JC parables you know
      Matthew
      15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are gra.pes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. 18 A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

      Jesus's fruit bore genocide, bigotry and slavery.,.. hes bad fruit time to burn the bible

      July 31, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  11. R

    What garbage. Freedom of religion isn't in trouble, no one is persecuting the religion over it. Freedom of speech is being exercised, by all parties. An inflammatory statement was made (and no, it doesn't matter where, or to whom, if it's a public statement), that has incensed many people. They have as much right to be angry as the Chick-Fil-A guy had to make the statement in the first place. No one has the right to dictate how statements are interpreted.

    It's probably not the case that the mayors can enforce a ban on a business based solely on a statement and contributions to anti-gay rights groups (hey, money is just speech, right?), but it's not surprising that politicians would tie themselves to a popular opinion. IANAL, but it seems to me that this kind of thing is begging for a lawsuit by current or former employees who believe they've been discriminated against, regardless, and that may be grounds for a more serious action or investigation. It seems like it's the current locations, not future ones, that should be most worried.

    tl;dr, you're free to be an outspoken bigot, but you may get into very serious trouble for what you say, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  12. katremark

    Actually, I'm more and more in favor of segregation, which may eventually happen naturally by people moving to Blue or Red states. We will have a United States of Modernity and the United States of the Christian Taliban. The dicey part is figuring out what part of the US land mass to give the Christianists.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  13. Y'all disgusting

    F 4 ggots need to go suck a c0k someplace else

    July 31, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • ericinmd

      You have been reported. Ignorance is shameful and you display yours for all to see.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  14. Yeahitsme

    Here's the thing. Every religion believes that their's is the correct one. Now, the truth is all religions could be wrong but they can't ALL be right-there is therefore exclusivity in any set of beliefs. I am a Christian because I believe there is proof for the existence of God and the truth of the Bible. If I'm right then all other religions are wrong-not in every aspect but in the most important which is the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ. God's word is offensive to those who don't believe. It should be. If it wasn't then that would mean that anybody could do anything without consequences. There has to be truth, and there is. It's God's truth. Not yours, not mine, God's.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • TheyNotHim

      Hello! Please prove that Jesus was a real person. Thanks!

      July 31, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Yeahitsme

      " God's word is offensive to those who don't believe. It should be. If it wasn't then that would *mean* that anybody could do anything without consequences. "

      Please help me understand, what appears to me as a faulty 'complex equivalence.'

      Curious.

      Peace...

      July 31, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • manbearpig

      Well, since you believe there's proof, let's hear what you got. What is this "proof"?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • Yeahitsme

      Sorry peace, I'm just a dimwitted uneducated dufus so I don't know what "complex equivalence" "means"

      July 31, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      And please itemize the proof you claim you have for your god. I'm betting you have none.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      And the real reasons your god's alledged word is offensive is because it is 100% bullshit and the whole notion of religion in the 21st century is offensive to any right thinking (non mentally ill) person.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Yeahitsme

      Pig, for one the universe is here. It hasn't always been here because it would have run out of energy by now. So it had to be created and therefore had a beginning. Anything that is created has to have a creator. And before you say who created God, He has always been and always will be. He had no beginning. Evolutionists want to say everything came from the big bang or whatever, but why and how could something come from nothing? There also has to be a moral law and therefore a moral law giver. That can't be a human been cause some of us love our neighbors and some eat their neighbors.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Yeahitsme

      What is your determination for truth or what is right or wrong?

      July 31, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Yeahitsme

      I meant human being, not been

      July 31, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  15. Erik Mathews

    The whole religious freedom is under attack is false on it's face. Grow up and act like adults here. When a Political Action Commitee (aka most "Christian" religions in the country) want to hide behind a 501(c)3 non-profit status, and expect tax free status become so involved in politics they cease to be able to hide behind their crosses and cry religious persecution. They are spending tax free donations as active PAC's to disenfranchise the civil rights of people who they have no business legislating. There IS separation of Church and State in this country. We are not IRAN. So... all you you religious bigots who cry foul every time one of your schemes blows up in your face, go to the hell you believe in. The rest of us educated people aren't buying it. Not for a second. Oh, and I cannot wait until the day that all of non-profit statuses get taken away and they all have to pay back taxes right to the very first voter guides they printed. The first one said "Reagan" on it. He's already rotting in hell.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Mary

      Exactly. And they constantly try to get legislation passed that affects all women regardless of religion. Hypocrites.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  16. tom

    God already made his feelings known about chik fil a. He smote one of their top dogs last week. Let's see who he smites this week from that business.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Erik Mathews

      He sure did. They are a religious restaurant. They served pork, and lies. So God smote him down.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  17. Sara

    I love how Christians, the MAJORITY in this country, act like they're persecuted. Give me a break!

    July 31, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Aristocles

      The majority can be persecuted, especially if the minority in question has control over the media.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Craig

      Christians ARE the majority, however many Christians resent being lumped into a group with guys like Cathy and the FOC mouthpiece who wrote this article. The hate-filled anti-gay, supposedly "pro marriage" crowd is a definite minority even within the larger Christian grouping. They just happen to be very vocal and nasty so it seems like they are bigger than they really are.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  18. Buddy Edgewood

    This whole situation is idiotic. Cathy's just a chicken sandwich salesman. As a business owner and to keep the business profitable, he ought to keep his personal and religious views just that: personal. However, if he chooses to use his business has a pulpit from which to preach, as the CEO, that's his prerogative. But then he should also be prepared for differing views and protest. And no, the company should not be punished by the Gov't (local or fed), it's all covered under the 1st Amendment – let them open sandwich shops wherever they please. If you don't agree with his (or his company's) views, guess what... don't eat his chicken sandwiches! Now, as far as "religious liberties" being under attack... that's BS. Nobody gives a hoot about who or what you personally pray to. But religious "organizations" should take note: as long as you try to force your views on other people (via lobbying for religious based laws, etc), the people will fight back. The United States is NOT a theocracy. Religious liberty also includes liberty FROM religion, if one so chooses. So, either get used to differing views or don't... you're not going to convert anyone by shoving it down their throats. If you want a war, the first thing I would lobby for is bringing all religious organizations under the corporate tax structure. It's a business (of selling faith) – which isn't any different from selling chicken sandwiches.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Sean

      No one is arguing that individuals citizens should or should not have the right to engage in business with Chik-Fil-A. The question is whether or not elected officials have the right to selectively enforce zoning laws against a company BECAUSE of the stated religious beliefs of the CEO, which by the way have no bearing on the operation of the business. Doing so is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • JG

      But the point of this whole matter is that NOTHING he SAID was in reference to any discriminating action on behalf of his company. A personal opinion, that is not a far fetched, founded one, albeit unpopular to a large group of people should not be compared to bigotry or hatred. Period. When it is, that is how these types of things get turned into over-blown situations. So in other words, don't have an opinion. If you do, it can hurt you. And that goes for ANYTHING. I mean, I am a Christian, but I work with Muslims and Atheists, who both have differing points of views. It's silly that we live in a World now where there really is reverse discrimination for having a found point of view that is different from another group. He didn't say it with malice or hate...but that is exactly how it is taken. That kills context, free speech, standing for something and having a set of principles. This is more about people being anti-religion than anything else, which is the SAME exact thing you are accusing CFA of being!! It really makes no sense at all.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Buddy Edgewood

      Sean and JG: Read my post again. I'm defending Cathy's right for free speech (even tho I might disagree with him). As long as he or his company are not discriminating against anyone or any one group, nobody has the right to deny him or his company from opening a sandwich shop anywhere they please. Just as we, who are free-thinkers and consumers, will likely chose to patronize KFC over CF because it's apparent that the CEO of KFC knows to keep his personal views to himself.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Buddy Edgewood

      Oh, and by the way... nobody said they were denying a business license to CF in Chicago or Boston. The mayors only stated that CF might want to reconsider opening shop in those two cities because they're not welcome, by the people – not by the local Gov't.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  19. katremark

    If they are discriminating in their hiring practices or in refusing to give service to customers, and their are applicable laws, they should be subject to prosecution or civil suit. If management is simply enunciating a political/religious view, then those who agree can patronize the business and those who disagree can boycott the business - let your money do your voting. Otherwise, I don't see the issue.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  20. Dorkus

    I wonder if Mr. Cathy would be as supportive of a business that based its philosophy on, say, the Koran? Me thinks he would protest, and strongly. He's a hypocrite and in all probability proud of it, as are most "Christians".

    July 31, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • LJ

      Explains why your name is "Dork".

      July 31, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Sean

      Considering that Mr. Cathy is not an elected official, why would you care? He has absolutely no power to suppress a businessman that bases his corporate values on the Koran. Quite honestly, I would imagine Mr. Cathy wouldn't be concerned about what another business owner does with their company.

      July 31, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.