November 6th, 2013
12:18 PM ET
By Bill Mears and Daniel Burke, CNN
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Should prayers to God open government meetings?
That's the controversial question a divided Supreme Court debated on Wednesday.
At oral arguments about whether public prayers at a New York town's board meetings are permissible, the high court took a broad look at the country's church-state history and even the Supreme Court's own traditions.
Two local women sued officials in Greece, New York, objecting that monthly Town Board public sessions have opened with invocations they say have been overwhelmingly Christian.
But the case's implications extend far beyond upstate New York and could have widespread consequences, according to constitutional scholars.
"This is going to affect communities across the country," said Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center.
The frequent court battles over public prayers, Ten Commandment memorials and holiday displays might strike some Americans as silly, but they touch on deep questions about national identity to reach back to the Founding Fathers, Haynes said.
"It's a long struggle in our country about self-definition and what our country was founded to be. That's why we keep circling back to these emotional and highly divisive questions."
At Wednesday's oral arguments, the court's conservative majority appeared to have the votes to allow the public prayers to continue in some form, but both sides expressed concerns about the level of judicial and government oversight over prayers presented by members of a particular faith.
October 11th, 2013
02:33 PM ET
Washington (CNN) – Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky devoted his speech to the socially conservative Values Voter Summit to “a war on Christianity” that is being waged by “fanatics of Islam.”
Much of Paul’s speech was a list of violence against Christians across the Muslim world, highlighting what he said was “not a little problem” and something that is “not going away quickly.”
“Across the globe, Christians are under attack almost as if we lived in the Middle Ages or we lived under early pagan Roman rule,” Paul said. “This administration does nothing to stop it and it can be argued that it is giving aid and comfort to those who tolerate these crimes.”FULL STORY
June 28th, 2013
06:19 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – With its ivy-covered entrance and Teddy Bear bouquets, Arlene’s Flowers seems an unlikely spot to trigger a culture-war skirmish.
Until recently, the Richland, Washington, shop was better known for its artistic arrangements than its stance on same-sex marriage.
But in March, Barronelle Stutzman, the shop’s 68-year-old proprietress, refused to provide wedding flowers for a longtime customer who was marrying his partner. Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in December.
An ardent evangelical, Stutzman said she agonized over the decision but couldn’t support a wedding that her faith forbids.
“I was not discriminating at all,” she said. “I never told him he couldn’t get married. I gave him recommendations for other flower shops.”
January 26th, 2013
10:00 PM ET
The family of an American Christian pastor being tried in Iran for his religious activities were told Saturday that he had been moved to a different ward in the prison where he is being held, a U.S. religious group said.
Saeed Abedini "reportedly was moved to (another) ward to receive better medical treatment, although it is impossible to confirm his health status or if he is receiving treatment," the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said in a statement. They were turned away because visitation hours for the ward are on Monday, according to the statement.
Neither Abedini nor his attorney has not been present at his trial since January 21. His family became concerned when they attempted to visit him on Thursday and were told by prison guards that he wasn't there, said the group, a right-leaning nonprofit founded by television evangelist Pat Robertson.
January 2nd, 2013
07:00 AM ET
Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN) –China Daily, an English-language newspaper and a mouthpiece of the Chinese government, last week published an article called “Western Voices Question Tibetan Self-Immolation Acts.”
The first of the voices quoted was mine—for a Belief Blog piece I wrote last summer criticizing the Dalai Lama for averting his gaze from the spate of self-immolations protesting Chinese rule in Tibet. "If the Dalai Lama were to speak out unequivocally against these deaths, they would surely stop. So in a very real sense, their blood is on his hands," I wrote in a passage quoted in the Chinese Daily piece.
In my post, I wrote of an “epidemic of self-immolations,” noting that from mid-March to mid-July 2011 more than 40 Tibetans had set themselves on fire to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Since then, the pace of these protests has accelerated. According to the International Campaign for Tibet, 94 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011, and the pace in November was nearly one a day.
October 21st, 2012
06:59 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
President Barack Obama was sharing a pulpit one day with a conservative Christian leader when a revealing exchange took place.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Christian who has taken public stands against abortion and same-sex marriage, had joined Obama for an AIDS summit. They were speaking before a conservative megachurch filled with white evangelicals.
When Brownback rose to speak, he joked that he had joined Obama earlier at an NAACP meeting where Obama was treated like Elvis and he was virtually ignored. Turning to Obama, a smiling Brownback said, “Welcome to my house!”
The audience exploded with laughter and applause. Obama rose, walked before the congregation and then declared:
“There is one thing I have to say, Sam. This is my house, too. This is God’s house.”
Historians may remember Obama as the nation’s first black president, but he’s also a religious pioneer. He’s not only changed people’s perception of who can be president, some scholars and pastors say, but he’s also expanding the definition of who can be a Christian by challenging the religious right’s domination of the national stage.
September 4th, 2012
08:07 AM ET
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
Four British Christians urged Europe's top court Tuesday to rule that they faced discrimination because of their religious beliefs.
Two women accuse their employers of refusing to let them wear crosses openly at work.
Alongside them, a woman who declined to register gay civil partnerships and a man who did not want to give sex therapy to same-sex couples say they were unfairly dismissed from their jobs.
Gary McFarlane, the relationship counselor, said he was pleased with the way Tuesday's hearing went.
"Today, for the first time, I heard somebody talking about my rights," he said. "Surely I have some rights. I am a member of society. I have some beliefs."
August 7th, 2012
01:37 PM ET
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
But I did not react with shock.
As the adviser to the Sikh Association at Boston University and a professor of many Muslim students, I am aware of the day-to-day discrimination these religious minorities experience in the United States. And as a historian I am aware of the history of discrimination against both groups throughout U.S. history.
July 31st, 2012
10:36 AM ET
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.
June 30th, 2012
10:00 PM ET
This is the first in a series exploring the concept of American exceptionalism. On Monday, we examine areas in which other countries lead the way.
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – It’s safe to say the first European arrivals to New England wouldn’t recognize today’s debate over whether America is exceptional.
Though the United States wouldn’t be born for another century and a half, the Puritans arriving in the early 1600s on the shores of what would become Massachusetts firmly believed they were on a mission from God.
In other words, they had the exceptional part down pat.
Fleeing what they saw as the earthly and corrupt Church of England, the Puritans fancied themselves the world’s last, best hope for purifying Christianity - and for saving the world.
The Puritans never used the word “exceptionalism.” But they came to see Boston as the new Jerusalem, a divinely ordained “city upon a hill,” a phrase Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop used in a sermon at sea en route from England in 1630.
About this blog
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 and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.