- The Washington Times - Friday, October 23, 2009

Diverse faiths on common ground

Fighting Poverty With Faith, a coalition of dozens of faith leaders and organizations, wrapped up a week of events in Washington, where the group pushed an anti-poverty and green-jobs agenda. Citing national unemployment (9.8 percent) and poverty (39.8 million) statistics, the group held workshops and urged federal officials to create new, sustainable and green jobs for the nation’s poor.

One means to that end is the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, leaders of the group said.

The Rev. Larry Snyder, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, said now is the time to practice loving thy neighbor and put reducing poverty on the national agenda.

“Families are hurting. Children are hurting. Senior citizens and those who worked hard all of their lives are hurting,” he said. “If we ever hope to seriously reduce poverty in America, we must work harder to reduce the social and economic risks that result in people falling into poverty - particularly now as we have the opportunity to rebuild our nation’s economy.”

Others members of the coalition include American Baptist Churches USA, Bread for the World, the Episcopal Church, Hindu American Seva Charities, Islamic Relief, Islamic Society of North America, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, National Council of Churches USA, Progressive National Baptist Church, and Sojourners.

They held roundtable discussions, job training seminars and home retrofitting fairs. They want federal, state and local government officials to:

• Target funds toward projects that help low-income families develop the necessary skills to compete in a new economy.

• Ensure green industries create “good jobs” with decent benefits, family-supporting wages and safe working conditions.

• Promote projects that improve the quality of life for low-income families by lowering energy costs and enhancing public health through safer housing.

• Create pipelines that enable low-income people to access jobs in green, traditional and other newly emerging industries.

• Ensure equity and transparency in the distribution of funding associated with the creation of new work force development, including green jobs.

“It is tragic that in today’s era, despite being the richest country in the world, there are still those who are unable to make ends meet,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “There is no doubt that the United States is making strides to transform our nation into a more clean-energy economy. No matter if one is a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or of any other faith, all of our religious traditions have a strong ethical mandate of helping the most vulnerable among us. This central tenet of our faiths is why we are speaking as one voice to encourage our nation’s leaders to make poverty reduction a central component of any initiatives ushering in this new economy.”

These are the same religious and human rights leaders who made a similar faith-based appeal last week to President Obama during his visit to the hurricane-struck Gulf Coast.

Housing, jobs, mental health care and living wages were cited in a detailed letter addressed to Mr. Obama. The also urged the president and Congress to support the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act.

“We have learned that acts of faith and mercy alone, no matter how profound, cannot provide everything needed for a just recovery,” the signatories said. “Gulf Coast families deserve a federal government that recognizes their human rights and needs by partnering with them to rebuild and sustain their communities.”

Mr. Obama, before jetting off to San Francisco from the Crescent City, vowed to rebuild New Orleans.

Homosexuality and kindergarteners

In case you hadn’t heard, check this out from a Tuesday posting at CNSNews.com:

“The Obama administrations safe schools czar, Kevin Jennings, has accused the Baptists, the Boy Scouts and sports fans of anti-gay bias, and he has advocated a special high school for gay teens as well as gay-straight alliance clubs for every high school in America.

“Jennings, who was a prominent homosexual activist before being named director of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education, also has called for kindergarteners to be taught to respect all sexual orientations, while insisting that ‘ex-gay messages’ and ‘Christian values’ are ‘misused to isolate or denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people’ and have no place in the nations public schools.

“Recent controversy surrounding Jennings’ role in the Department of Education has revolved around a 1988 conversation in which Jennings told a high school sophomore in a relationship with an older man that he hoped he used a condom — rather than reporting the possible case to statutory rape to authorities. Jennings recently said in a written statement that he was 24 at the time and wished he had handled the situation differently.

“Last Thursday, 53 House Republicans sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that he remove Jennings from office.

“In the years before he became a political appointee in the Obama Education Department, Jennings served as founder and executive director of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), an organization that seeks to promote the mainstreaming of homosexuality in the nations schools and prevent bullying of gay students. In this capacity, he made frequent media appearances, statements and speeches, which were sometimes controversial.

” ‘What GLSEN does is teach young children they should not call each other names; that they should not beat each other up,’ Jennings was quoted as saying in The Washington Times in November 2000. ‘Being gay doesn’t kill people, but homophobia does kill people.’

“CNSNews.com could not reach Jennings for comment for this story after repeated phone calls last week to the Department of Education press office. …

“In a 2000 speech at a GLSEN event Iowa, Jennings argued that students as young as kindergarten should be taught to respect people ‘regardless of sexual orientation.’

“The Washington Times has posted an audio of this speech on its Web site.

” ‘Our curriculum at kindergarten, and first grade, and second grade — every grade until students have graduated should be ‘you must respect every human being regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of gender identity, regardless of race or religion or any arbitrary distinctions we make about people,’ Jennings said in the 2000 speech. ‘If we cannot teach this very basic lesson in our schools we will be very surprised at how hard it is for these students to learn French or English or math.’ ”

Special needs students and religious schools

Parents of special needs children can rejoice. In response to a nearly year-old lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice, Washington state school officials have repealed a ban on special education services at religious schools and established new regulations.

The old regulations prohibited school districts from providing on-campus services covered by the Individuals With Disabilities Act. That forced parents who chose religious schools for their special needs children to travel off-site to a “nonsectarian” location, leaving the children “stigmatized,” the institute said.

The upper room

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, says with the last Sunday of October being Priesthood Sunday, Priests for Life will begin a special novena for all priests. He is inviting you to submit prayer requests for priests that you know and he would like to know your favorite priest stories. A special Web page is set up at www.priestsforlife.org.

“Our priests rely on the prayers of everyone in the [Catholic] Church,” Father Pavone says on his blog. “Let us pray in particular that they will not be afraid to address pro-life issues, and speak out with vigor and compassion for unborn children.

“Priests need to know that each time they speak up for the unborn, lives will be saved.”

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