Friday, November 24, 2017

Blumner: The faith that holds power


Sen. Marco Rubio has had a peripatetic journey through various religious leanings. He was born Catholic, then converted to Mormonism as a young boy, then back to Catholic alongside attendance at a Southern Baptist megachurch. But I wonder how Florida's Republican senator would feel if 90 percent of the time the U.S. Senate opened with a prayer praising Allah or asking for Allah's blessings and guidance?

Would that cause him to reflect on "what unites us," as he claims government-sponsored Christian prayer does in a recent column for the Christian Post?

I'm guessing not so much.

Of course there isn't a chance of that scenario coming true. Only two Muslims are in the U.S. House and none are in the Senate. Ninety percent of Congress self-declares as Christian, according to the Congressional Research Service. Rubio will never have to feel religiously excluded or out of place.

His constituents, however, are more diverse. They include 150,000 registered Muslim voters, according to Emerge USA, a nonprofit organization that focuses on civic engagement of minority communities. Why shouldn't they feel equally welcome at government meetings? Or his Jewish constituents, or Buddhist or those who are agnostic or atheist?

Rubio glides over that question in his column, "One Nation, Under God," in which he lambasts the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals for ruling that nearly exclusively Christian prayer practices at town board meetings in the town of Greece in upstate New York were a violation of the establishment clause.

Rubio denounces the ruling, saying it "runs counter to what America has always been." The U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal of the case this fall and Rubio has joined an amicus brief with 33 other senators calling on the high court to water down church-state separation to allow for invocations at government meetings that persistently prefer one creed. (Disappointingly, the Obama administration has also weighed in on that side.)

The court's four conservative justices are salivating over this opportunity to invite more religion into government. If they succeed, the practical consequence will be more prayer, overwhelmingly Christian, in official government functions — communicating whose faith holds the power and whose faith doesn't count.

This doesn't trouble Rubio. To him, part of America's "genius" is that "we do not feel threatened by each other's faiths." He points, as an example, to Samuel Adams, a Congregationalist, who demonstrated religious tolerance by picking an Anglican to lead prayer during the First Continental Congress.

Rubio may get history technically right, but he misses history's larger lesson. America's experiment in religious pluralism has succeeded for one reason: the separation of church and state.

Take a snapshot around the globe. In Nigeria, Muslims and Christians are killing each other over control of local government. Israel's mortal battles over territory pit Muslims against Jews. And Iraqis vote in accordance with their Shiite or Sunni sects, knowing the victors will reward fellow adherents with access to power and opportunity.

The United States has avoided the religious strife of other nations by refusing to prefer, even in appearance only, one religion over another.

Still, even here religion has caused deep rifts when it enters politics. Fights over abortion rights, gay marriage and birth control in insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act are largely disagreements over to what extent conservative Christian dictates will be reflected in law.

These battles are still raging, yet Rubio naively states that "America always has been a place where religion brings people together."

From 1999 through 2007, every invocation at Greece's Town Board public meetings was given by Christian clergy members. Most invoked the name of "Jesus" or some other explicitly Christian language. The politicians and audience were expected to participate by bowing their heads, standing and saying "Amen." Two residents, one Jewish and one atheist, complained and finally sued. The town then had four non-Christian prayers before returning to all-Christian.

To Rubio, this is Kumbaya.


Editorial: St. Petersburg should revisit approach to historic preservation

St. Petersburg is headed down a slippery path in the name of historic preservation. After a group of 10 property owners in the Old Northeast neighborhood won approval earlier this year to become a one-block historic district, two more groups of neigh...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Editorial: Strengthening the ties that bind in Seminole Heights following 4 killings

During this weekend of giving thanks, let’s recognize the Seminole Heights community for remaining united and committed to their neighborhood as residents cope with the stress and fear following a series of murders. Their response as police continue ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should help Florida agriculture recover from Irma

Editorial: Congress should help Florida agriculture recover from Irma

Florida agriculture took a beating in September from Hurricane Irma, which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses across the citrus, sugar, cattle and dairy industries. Yet despite a personal plea from Gov. Rick Scott, the Trump administrat...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Editorial: Senate should not repeal health insurance mandate to pay for tax cuts

There are all sorts of problems with the massive tax cut legislation the Senate is expected to vote on this week. Wealthy individuals and corporations benefit more than the poor and the middle class; by 2027, about half of all taxpayers would see a t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Ken Hagan should drop effort to recover attorney’s fees in ethics complaint

Editorial: Ken Hagan should drop effort to recover attorney’s fees in ethics complaint

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan says he’s standing on principle in his effort to collect $7,800 spent defending him against ethics charges that eventually were dismissed.If so, it’s the wrong principle. But Hagan’s strident position rings ...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Another voice: Wall isn’t a lifesaver, it’s a boondoggle

The first stage of President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall project ended last week, while the prospects for any more construction — and even what type of wall — remain uncertain.A Border Patrol agent was killed and his partner seriously wo...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17

Another voice: Time for Republicans to denounce this tax nonsense

Mick Mulvaney, the phony deficit hawk President Donald Trump tapped to oversee the nation’s budget, all but admitted on Sunday that the GOP tax plan currently before the Senate is built on fiction. Senators from whom the public should expect more — s...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nation’s highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: Trump does the right thing for elephants; he shouldn’t back down now

There is bad timing, and then there is this. Last week, an apparent military coup placed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in custody, ushering in a new period of political uncertainty. A few days later, the Trump administration announced that Zimba...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/22/17