The Morning Read: 1/3/13

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A morning run down of the day's news stories addressing secular issues and church/state separation.

On the Hill/Washington:
Kyrsten Sinema: A success story like nobody else's
Debates percolate on the Internet about Sinema's spiritual beliefs, a dynamic fueled by the vague responses she gives when asked about this aspect of her life. The fascination with Sinema's spiritual life is another source of pique for her. She is frequently referred to as agnostic or non-theist. But when I asked, she wouldn't go into detail, saying merely, "I am not a member of a faith community." What she does believe, she says, is that Americans deserve "freedom of religion and freedom from religion."

Petition, lawsuits demand changes in tax perks favoring religious institutions
On Christmas, a petition was filed on the White House's "We The People" site, asking that the Obama administration lead an effort to get Congress to repeal the parsonage income tax exemption enjoyed by religious ministers. The petition has only 117 signatures.

State & Local News:
Chicago cardinal leads new fight against gay marriage
Chicago Cardinal Francis George has launched a last-ditch campaign to convince the lame-duck Illinois legislature not to legalize same-sex marriage, saying that government "has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible." The bill is expected to be introduced this week and debated before a new set of legislators is sworn in on Jan. 9.

Texas ousts Planned Parenthood from its Women's Health Program
On 1 January 2013, a new law has taken effect in Texas that strips Planned Parenthood from receiving any monies that the state has allotted for its Women's Health Program. The law, signed by GOP Governor Rich Perry.

Nontheist News & Secular Reads:

Defending the Faith: Secularism offers little comfort
Why, faced with appalling tragedies such as Newtown, does secular humanism seem so irrelevant? And not just in the face of extreme tragedies. "We have humanist celebrants, as we call them," says a secularist counselor interviewed by Freedman, "but they're focused on doing weddings" - happy, easy, non-challenging events. "I don't see celebrants working in hospice or in hospitals."

In wake of Newtown shooting, why blame atheists?
I admire the people of all faiths and beliefs who have come together to honor the lives lost in the incomprehensible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary earlier this month. They provide support to those who are in mourning, and strive for a safer and more unified community. That said, I am concerned that some of these efforts have rendered people like me-nonreligious Americans-invisible. The interfaith memorial service in Newtown featured expressions from multiple faiths, including remarks from President Obama that reflected only a theistic perspective. A non-religious perspective was absent, and this, I think, is a problem. Especially since, in the human search to place blame for this tragedy, nontheists like me have become a target.

Reports to the contrary notwithstanding, secularization is not the wave of the future.
In 2012 a much trumpeted Pew study showed a record number of Americans professing to be religiously unaffiliated, with 20 percent declared as "nones." Although the same study showed about the same percentage of Americans attending church regularly as have for the last 80 years, it was widely heralded as proof of accelerating secularization.

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