21 December 2013

Thoughts on Advent & The Christmas Wars Are Over, And Christmas Won 20DEZ13

"A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, … and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Christmas Wars Are Over, And Christmas Won

If there is indeed a “War on Christmas,” those on the anti-Christmas side of the war have lost — big time.
Nancy Bauer/Shutterstock
Nancy Bauer/Shutterstock
The television pundits, conservative politicians, and talk-radio loudmouths who believe there is a “War on Christmas” should look around, withdraw their troops, and quit screaming. Because if there is a war on Christmas, Christmas has won.
As Christmas approaches, tens of thousands of churches around the country are planning Christmas services and expecting packed pews. Their choirs are rehearsing Christmas music; and church members have taken the Nativity scene figures out of storage and put them on church lawns. Children costumed as kings and shepherds are learning to sing “Away in the Manger.”
Christmas cards with manger scenes are speeding around the country through the U.S. Postal Service or in the form of online animated greetings that play “Silent Night” and show the wise men following the star to Bethlehem.
No phalanx of anti-Christmas warriors are marching on those churches. No one is going to jail those choir members (not even the screechy sopranos or the off-key tenors); no government agency is going to say “Get that manger scene off your lawn! And make that sign read ‘Holiday services’!”
Christians both conservative and liberal used to lament the commercialization of Christmas and the fact that retailers, ad agencies, and corporations had hijacked one of the most important Christian festivals in order to make more money. Well, it remains a free country, and we Christians can’t take them to court for doing that.
As a pastor, I often told people that we get to celebrate two Christmas holidays. One is the big-time whoop-de-do holiday of shopping, Santa-at-the-mall, Frosty the Snowman, and television specials where singers in sexy costumes croon “Blue Christmas” before covering up a bit to finish with “O Holy Night.” That Christmas is fun, and — let’s face it — you just can’t avoid it unless you hide in a cave for the months of November and December.
Then we Christians get to celebrate a second kind of Christmas, “our” Christmas. We will go to church. Even those of us who don’t always go to church will go to church. We will sing Christmas carols about Jesus which, we have to admit, may not be appropriate for multireligious public school classrooms. We will stand in front of the manger scenes in our homes and churches and be in awe of their spiritual significance. These displays won’t be cluttered with the figures of Frosty or Rudolph added to the “holiday” display at City Hall so that the scene becomes “cultural” rather than “religious.”
In this Christmas — the one that really matters — there is no war on Christmas. This is the Christmas of those who celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christmas of people of faith, the Christmas that gets along just fine without forcing non-Christian children in public schools to sing carols proclaiming a faith that is not theirs.
There is no war on this Christmas. And for people who want to — in the words of an old slogan — “keep Christ in Christmas,” it is the only Christmas that really matters.
Charles Austin is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a former religion reporter with Religion News Service, The New York Times, and The Record of Hackensack, N.J. Via RNS.

The Parting Glass: Tullamore Dew video

WHAT a great commercial and version of The Parting Glass.... 

20 December 2013

Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Found At Fracking Sites Linked To Cancer, Infertility: Study & What Does the Data Actually Tell Us about the Risks Associated with Fracking? & Science, Democracy, and Fracking: A Guide for Community Residents and Policy Makers Facing Decisions over Hydraulic Fracturing 20DEZ&OKT13

THIS is a cartoon from 2011, and with this report turns out our fears were justified. From the Union of Concerned Scientist and HuffPost.....

fracking chemicals
Hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to cancer, infertility and a slew of other health problems have been found in water samples collected at and near hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," sites in Colorado, according to a new study published in the journal Endocrinology this week.
Researchers say they found elevated levels of these chemicals -- known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) -- in surface water and groundwater samples collected in the state's Garfield County, a fracking hotspot with more than 10,000 natural gas wells.
Water samples taken from the Colorado River, a drainage basin for the region, were also found to have significantly higher-than-normal levels of EDCs, the researchers said.
EDCs, which have the ability to interfere with normal hormone action, have been linked to a number of health issues. Last year, the World Health Organization issued a report highlighting the health risks associated with the chemicals, including cancer, infertility and impaired neural and immune function. Previous studies have also suggested that EDCs may have adverse effects on the reproductive system in both women and men.
"With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure," Susan Nagel, a veteran endocrinologist at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, told the Los Angeles Times. Nagel was the lead author of the recent study on fracking and EDCs.
In 2010 and again in 2012, Nagel and a team of researchers collected several water samples at five natural gas sites in Garfield County, where fracking wastewater spills are known to have occurred in the last few years. The researchers then tested the samples for four different classes of EDCs. "Of the 39 unique water samples, 89 percent, 41 percent, 12 percent, and 46 percent exhibited estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, androgenic, and anti-androgenic activities, respectively," the report says. The team also gathered water samples from the Colorado river, as well as from areas in Garfield County that are located a significant distance away from natural gas wells. Other samples came from an area in Missouri where there is no fracking.
The researchers said water samples collected from the spill sites and the Colorado river had significantly higher levels of EDCs than those gathered from the control sites in Garden County and Missouri.
Water can contain small amounts of estrogenic substances naturally. However, "Nagel said that although estrogenic substances can be found naturally occurring in water, she did not know of similar sources of anti-estrogenic or anti-androgenic chemicals," the Times reports.
Troublingly, Nagel told The Huffington Post that the people living in the areas of Garfield County where the samples were taken all primarily get their water from local wells. This means that some residents in the area may very well be consuming water laden with these higher levels of EDCs.
"This is a canary in a coal mine that we need to pay attention to," Nagel told the HuffPost of the findings. "And it is absolutely a cause for concern."
Nagel added, however, that more research needs to be conducted to confirm the link between the EDCs found in the samples and fracking.
In their study, the researchers did not test their samples for specific fracking chemicals. Nagel said that a similar study should be conducted again, but with a larger sample size.
Fracking is a process in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are blasted underground to break apart rock and release oil and gas. "The process is exempt from some regulations that are part of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and energy companies do not have to disclose the chemicals they use if they consider that information a trade secret," the Times writes.
In 2011, however, a Congressional report revealed a list of some 750 chemicals and compounds that are used for fracking. A ProPublica report said at the time that the list includes "29 chemicals that are either known or possible carcinogens or are regulated by the federal government because of other risks to human health."
Nagel told the HuffPost that researchers have since found more than 100 known or suspected EDCs in this list, as well.
With billions of dollars on the line, fracking -- and its impact on the environment and public health -- has been a contentious and controversial issue for years. Gas and oil lobbyists maintain that the practice is environmentally sound and perfectly safe (an industry lobbyist told the Times that Nagel's study was "inflammatory"), while environmental groups including Food and Water Watch and the Sierra Club have continued to sound the alarm on fracking's possible effects on our health and that of our planet.
Part of the problem is that studies looking into fracking's effects on public health remain inconclusive and preliminary. Still, there has been no shortage of anecdotal evidence of fracking's impact.
Earlier this year, for instance, it was reported that residents in Bokoshe, Okla., had filed a class-action suit against gas companies that had been fracking in the area. Oklahoma's News 6 reported at the time that "hundreds of millions of gallons" of fracking wastewater had been discharged at Bokoshe. Residents say this activity has triggered a spate of health issues, including cancer, in the town.
Around the Web:
Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in water at fracking sites
Fracking chemicals can disrupt hormones
Fracking chemicals could cause infertility, cancer and birth defects, study finds
Chemicals linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer found at fracking sites
Chemicals Found In Fracking Fluid Could Give You Cancer
Fracking chemicals linked to hormone disruption
Chemicals used in 'fracking' can disrupt human hormone function, MU ...
Chemicals used in fracking may disrupt hormone function, study finds
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals found at fracking sites

What Does the Data Actually Tell Us about the Risks Associated with Fracking?

Ask a Scientist - October 2013
Patrick Simon of Oscada, MI, asks "With all the polarized discussion about fracking in the news lately, what does the evidence and data actually tell us about the risks associated with this extraction process for oil and natural gas?" and is answered by Dr. Gretchen Goldman, an analyst with Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.  
Technological advances such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) have resulted in the rapid expansion of unconventional oil and gas extraction from shale and other tight rock formations that had been previously deemed inaccessible or too costly to tap. While these techniques have been used for several decades to extract oil from shale in Texas and elsewhere, fracking for oil and natural gas has now expanded into some 28 U.S. states, creating new risks in new places.
One of the risks is the potential for drinking-water contamination. Many fracking sites around the country have operated successfully with no known water contamination issues. But the risk of serious problems is real and borne out by the evidence. We have already seen documented cases of groundwater contamination near oil and gas wells from fracking fluids as well as from gases, including methane and volatile organic compounds. Surface waters also face contamination risks from potential spills and leaks of chemical additives, diesel or other fluids from equipment on site, or leaks of wastewater from facilities for storage, treatment, and disposal. Water quantity issues can also present risks: the large volume of water used in fracking operations has already raised concerns about water availability in some water-scarce regions.
Water issues may get more attention in the media, but unconventional oil and gas development also poses documented risks from air pollution. Some areas where drilling occurs have experienced increases in concentrations of hazardous air pollutants, particulate matter, and ozone. Air pollutants are emitted during the well completion phase, when most of the water and chemicals flow back from a well, and during onsite processing to separate the fuels from other substances. And some communities have faced significant air pollution from the increased truck traffic carrying water and materials to and from the well site.
Earthquake risks are also a serious consideration. Oil and gas production using hydraulic fracturing is not generally associated with earthquakes detectable at the surface. Rather, concern about seismic activity stems primarily from the deep injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations. This wastewater injection has been linked to large earthquakes, such as one earthquake on November 5, 2011 that was felt in 17 states.
As serious as these particular environmental risks may be, communities must also weigh the socioeconomic impacts of oil and gas development that use fracking, considering effects on the social fabric, crime rates, public services, and community resources. Such impacts are complex and will be different for different localities. If you live in a community considering fracking, it is important to question decision makers and the companies involved on a wide range of issues until you are satisfied with the answers. To help communities ask the right questions, UCS has developed a toolkit for communities faced with decisions around fracking. It draws upon advice and experience from leading experts and community stakeholders who attended a forum about fracking held by the Center for Science and Democracy this summer in Los Angeles, California.
For even more details on the evidence about risks associated with unconventional oil and gas development, and the challenges communities face in making science-informed decisions about fracking, check out the new UCS report, Toward an Evidence-Base Fracking Debate: Science, Democracy, and Community Right to Know in Unconventional Oil and Gas Development.
As an analyst for the Scientific Integrity Initiative at the UCS Center for Science and Democracy, Gretchen Goldman researches influences and interference in how science is used in federal government policies. Dr. Goldman holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Environmental Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Atmospheric Science from Cornell University.

Science, Democracy, and Fracking: A Guide for Community Residents and Policy Makers Facing Decisions over Hydraulic Fracturing

Recent advances in hydraulic fracturing ( or “fracking”) technology leading to a rapid expansion in domestic oil and gas production.  The pace of growth is driving many communities to make decisions without access to comprehensive and reliable scientific information about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on their local air and water quality, com­munity health, safety, economy, environment, and overall quality of life.
If you are an active citizen in a community facing decisions about fracking, this toolkit is for you. It provides practi­cal advice and resources to help you identify the critical questions to ask and get the scientific information you need when weighing the prospects and risks of shale oil or shale gas development in your region.
This toolkit can improve decision making on fracking by helping you to:
  • Identify critical issues about the potential impacts of fracking in your area, and how to obtain answers to your questions
  • Distinguish reliable information from misinformation or spin—and help your neighbors and local decision makers do the same
  • Identify and communicate with scientists, journalists, policy makers, and community groups that should be part of the public discussion
  • Identify and engage with the key actors in your community to influence oil and gas policy at the local and state level

What Are People Saying About Fracking?

If you're curious about the current state of the national conversation about fracking, you might find the results of our post-forum survey enlightening. UCS blogger Deborah Bailin looks at the language respondents used and explores the implications for policy makers and activists.


Take Action Now! 

Help ensure that your community is making informed decisions on hydraulic fracturing by sharing our informational toolkit with your state legislator.

582 New Charity Ratings Available Today from Charity Navigator 20DEZ13

CHARITY NAVIGATOR'S DEC e mail newsletter includes updated rankings on 586 charities this month and 12 new charities and their ratings. If you are going to donate to those in need (and I hope you will) be smart and check the charity out with Charity Navigator first!
Charity Navigator View this email in a web browser    |    Forward to a friend

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Thank You For Using Charity Navigator
We wish to thank you for using our service to guide your charitable giving this past year. To show our appreciation and to help you make an informed decision before the year ends, our analysts have updated nearly 600 charity ratings and added another dozen charity ratings to our site. Best wishes in all your charitable endeavors this holiday season.
The Charity Navigator Staff
Charity Navigator to Ring the NYSE Opening Bell! 

At the height of the year-end giving season, Charity Navigator will ring The Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). We couldn't be more excited and we hope you'll tune in to watch Pat Dugan, Chairman of the Board and co-founder of Charity Navigator; Marion Dugan, co-founder; and Ken Berger, President & CEO of Charity Navigator ring the bell.

Watch the Ceremony Live Online
on 12/27 @ 9:30 am >>>
Time Is Running Out! 

Your gifts to charity are an expression of your generosity and commitment to solving the problems that threaten our society. Even if your intentions are 100% altruistic, Uncle Sam still rewards your charitable endeavors by making these gifts tax-deductible. But remember you must make your donation by December 31 to claim the tax deduction on your 2013 taxes.

Go To Holiday Giving Guide>>Go To Tax Benefits of Giving>>
Visit our site to see our updated Top 10 Naughty & Nice lists.

View all Top 10 Lists
View our Expanded List of the Highest and Lowest Rated Charities
NEW feature! Add ANY IRS Registered Nonprofit to 'My Charities'

At Charity Navigator we currently rate 7,000 charities. Registered users have the ability to follow any of these organizations by adding them to 'My Charities'. We're happy to announce that you can now also follow any of the 1.4 million unrated nonprofits found on our site. With this expanded feature you can manage a comprehensive list of all the nonprofits you care about, whether we rate them or not.
This Year...

  • Our analysts updated ratings for more than 5,500 charities' ratings
  • We added 1,037 new charity ratings to our site
  • We added a page of information for the remainder of the 1.4 million U.S. nonprofits
  • We added Results Reporting data for 600 charities

Join the 25,000 donors who gave close to $1.2 million to Charity Navigator in 2013 and Donate Now to ensure our accomplishments are just as plentiful in the new year.
Visit Ken's Commentary to read his recent Blogs

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Habitat Update from Habitat for Humanity International 20DEZ13

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY'S monthly e mail newsletters are always full of good news, and this month is no exception. If you can make a donation, because while the news in this e mail is good, the need in the U.S. and around the world is great. Check out these stories..
Habitat for Humanity International
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Habitat  Email Newsletter

Our corporate partner Nissan has offered a generous $1.5 million gift and now they are challenging YOU to help match it with your own generous gift to Habitat for Humanity. Make your special year-end gift now and help Habitat go twice as far to help families who are in need of simple, decent and affordable homes.
Ways to give your 2013 year-end support
There's still time to send a Gift from the Heart

This is your last chance in 2013 to give a holiday gift that makes a difference in the life of a family who desperately needs a home. Give a Gift from the Heart and then send a personalized card or e-card to your loved one. Send your Gift from the Heart today.
Resolve to give hope all year long

As 2013 comes to a close, start your 2014 resolutions now. Resolve to bring hope to your neighbors in need all year long as a HopeBuilder. What a great way to end the year and start 2014—by changing lives! Join HopeBuilders today.
10 Habitat ReStore items to help fix up your home

Your local Habitat ReStore is a great place to shop and donate. Find home improvement items at a fraction of retail prices while helping to improve the lives of families in your community.
"My own miracle"

Habitat homeowner Michael Townsend shares how his accessible house is helping him achieve greater independence while battling Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Soccer and building with a special Global Village trip

Travel with other soccer players and enthusiasts to Recife, Brazil, in March. The team will repair houses in partnership with local single mothers while organizing and playing soccer games with at-risk youth.
Changing the lives of 10,000 North Carolina families

Firefighter John Cram and his two children will be the proud owners of an Asheville Area Habitat house—the 10,000th built by Habitat for Humanity in North Carolina. Read more in Habitat World magazine.
Thanks to you, more families remain secure and able to grow

This year, Habitat was able to help overcome barriers to secure housing around the world, including fortifying property rights for women in Bolivia and correcting mortgage regulations in the U.S., to allow our affiliates to continue to serve our partner families. Read more in our 2013 Advocacy Report.
Habitat homeowner takes a star turn

Toshia Williams has been a Habitat homeowner for almost 20 years, paying off her mortgage early and raising three children. This month, she and her house are featured on a home décor TV show.
Habitat Statistics  
1 million
Habitat for Humanity's next housing milestone

19 December 2013

From Jennifer Boysko & Herndon Patch, the 86th District Delegate Race: Boysko-Rust Recount Results 19DEZ13

32 votes. That is the number of votes tom rust won reelection as delegate by after the recount results that were announced today. 32 votes. rust is used to winning by 32% (or more), he has never had to work so hard to keep his seat. He better realize the 86th district isn't tea-bagger country and he has a responsibility to represent all the people of this district and not kow-tow to his political bosses in Richmond. AND THANK YOU JENNIFER BOYSKO FOR A RACE WELL RUN AND FOR INSPIRING US AND GIVING US HOPE. WE ARE VERY, VERY PROUD OF YOU!!!!!! From Jennifer Boysko and  Herndon Patch....
Dear friends,
The recount has ended and I called to congratulate Tom Rust and wish him a successful term in the House of Delegates as soon as I received the news.  
When all of the votes were finally counted today, I learned that we came up 32 votes short.  The final tally was:
Boysko 10378
Rust 10410
It was a hard fought fight and I am so proud of what we did. Thank you for your strong support and friendship over the past year. It was important for so many people that we took this time to assure that all votes were counted and everyone's voice was heard in this very close election. It was an honor to be the Democratic nominee and I appreciate having the opportunity to discuss those issues that matter to all of us during the past year with the voters in the 86th District.
I owe a special word of thanks to my core team members who have been with me through thick and thin:
Taylor McLeod, my manager
Brad Flemming, my finance director
Henry Jackson, my field director 
Dadly Cordero, my communications director
Les Halpern, my treasurer
And to all of you who have cheered me on, talked to me at your doorsteps or on the phone, donated your money and time, I say thank you.  I plan to run again in 2015 and hope to have you by my side once more.
Finally, I want to acknowledge my family who stood by me, picked up the slack at home and served as my biggest supporters: Glenn, Hannah, Sophie Claire, as well as my mom Dianne (a Republican from Alabama) and my mother-in-law Judy (a Democrat from Ohio), who were here for both the primary and general elections helping me get out the vote. I love you all dearly.
I ran for office because I want good government.  When we all participate, using our voices and taking part in this process, we will have it. We had a tremendous run, winning all of the Statewide races. You did that and I want to say thank you. Thank you and happy holidays.
Warmest regards,

The race was the tightest in all of Virginia this year.
With the recount complete, Tom Rust has officially won re-election as Delegate to the 86th District. (Courtesy Photo)
As the results of the recount in the 86th District Delegate race were reported Thursday, Democrat Jennifer Boysko conceded to Republican Tom Rust, who has held the seat since 2002.

The race was the closest of any in Virginia this year.

State-certified tallies in November had Boysko trailing Rust by just 54 votes, out of more than 21,000 cast in the district, which encompasses Herndon and parts of Oak Hill and Sterling.

After the recount, she was down just 32.

The final totals were: Rust with 10,410, and Boysko with 10,378.

Boysko issued a statement just before 6 p.m. Thursday.

"I'd like to congratulate Tom Rust and wish him a successful term in the House of Delegates," she said.

As for the recount, Boysko said, "It was important for so many people that we took this time to assure that all votes were counted and everyone's voice was heard in this very close election."

Boysko, a former aide to Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, who also previously worked with Howard Dean, launched her campaign in January, and won the Democratic nomination in the June primary with more than 77 percent of the vote.

"It was an honor to be the Democratic nominee and I appreciate having the opportunity to discuss those issues that matter to all of us during the past year with the voters in the 86th District," she said Thursday.

Obama: Stop Spying on Us and support the USA Freedom ACT 19DEZ13

THE advisory panel has spoken, and much to the dismay of Pres Obama and the nsa and others they have recommended restrictions on our government's policies on spying and surveillance on Americans in this country and world wide. See more on this at Intelligence Panel Recommends Limits On NSA Surveillance & Obama Is Urged to Sharply Curb N.S.A. Data Mining 18DEZ13
and I hope you will sign the petition to Pres Obama telling him to support the USA Freedom Act
free press action fund

The White House just released a series of recommendations for the NSA’s surveillance programs.1 The report is a positive step in the push to end the mass surveillance of millions of people.
But on their own these recommendations would do nothing to stop the NSA’s invasive programs. And some suggestions — like the notion that companies like AT&T and Verizon, rather than the NSA, should retain bottomless troves of our personal data — could prove even more harmful to our rights to connect and communicate in private.
The president needs to support the recommendations that would stop mass surveillance. And his next step should be to support the USA Freedom Act.
Tell President Obama to Stand Up for the USA Freedom Act
This week’s report echoes what we’re hearing from the courts and Congress. Just this week, a federal court ruled that collecting “metadata” on millions of peoples’ phone calls is likely unconstitutional.1 This is the program that the bipartisan USA Freedom Act — which more and more members of Congress are in favor of — would end.
Urge President Obama to Support the USA Freedom Act
Obama once said that “there is no reason we cannot fight terrorism while maintaining our civil liberties.”
We agree. That’s why the president should heed the panel’s recommendations — and get behind the USA Freedom Act.
Josh, Jen, Misty, Amy and the rest of the Free Press Action Fund team
P.S. Free Press fights every day to protect your privacy. We don’t take money from business, government or political parties and rely on the generosity of people like you to fuel our work. Please give $15 (or more!) today. Thank you!

1. “Liberty and Security in a Changing World,” the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, Dec. 12, 2013:
2. “Judge: NSA Phone Program Likely Unconstitutional,” Politico, Dec. 16, 2013:     
The Free Press Action Fund is a nonpartisan organization building a nationwide movement for media that serve the public interest. The Free Press Action Fund does not support or oppose any candidate for public office. Learn more at

Religious activist group says ENDA would discriminate against Christians 16DEZ13

A right wing Christian organization using lies and deception to incite fear, hatred, prejudice and discrimination. And during Christmas no less! What a witness, what a testimony!!!! And how refreshing and admirable Rep Tom Cotton R AR, Christian and challenger for Sen Mark Pryor's (D AR) Senate seat in 2014, would have none of it and publicly defended Sen Pryor when the Traditional Values Coalition attacked Pryor's profession of Christian faith because he also voted for ENDA in the Senate. From PolitiFact.....
The Truth-O-Meter Says:
Traditional Values Coalition

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act "discriminates against Christian daycare, Christian parents, Christian business owners, and the rights of religious freedom."

Traditional Values Coalition on Friday, December 6th, 2013 in a fundraising email

Religious activist group says ENDA would discriminate against Christians

Early in the 2014 campaign season, religion has played an important role in the Arkansas Senate race. Incumbent Mark Pryor, a Democrat, released an ad recently about how the Bible guides him.
Interestingly, when the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacked Pryor on the issue, challenger Rep. Tom Cotton’s office went against fellow Republicans to stand with Pryor.
But that’s not where the debate about Pryor’s faith ends. It circles back to his November vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would prevent workplace discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity. It passed in the Senate but hasn’t been taken up by the House.
While the bill’s status is in flux, the debate among lawmakers, advocacy groups and religious leaders continues.
The Traditional Values Coalition, a religious activist group, criticized Pryor for his ENDA vote. Andrea Lafferty, the coalition’s president, highlighted a perceived contradiction of Pryor’s religious beliefs in a Dec. 6 mass fundraising email.
"There's a reason why Pryor is attempting to run as a Christian in Arkansas," she said. "It's because Pryor has voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in Washington, a bill that discriminates against Christian daycare, Christian parents, Christian business owners, and the rights of religious freedom."
PolitiFact wanted to take a closer look at how religious organizations would fare if the bill becomes law.
American Christianity and LGBT rights
Before we take a look at the bill, let’s contextualize the coalition’s claim in the broader context of American Christianity. It’s important to note that within Christianity, gay rights is a divisive and complex issue.
The Traditional Values Coalition’s ENDA disapproval is shared by other Christian groups, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They expressed their view in an Oct. 31 press release:
"The USCCB continues to promote the dignity of both work and marriage and to oppose unjust discrimination on any grounds, including those related to homosexual inclination or sexual identity. But we cannot support a bill, like ENDA, that does not justly advance the dignity of all workers and authentic non-discrimination."
At the same time, groups like ReconcilingWorks, a Lutheran group that welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members, support ENDA’s passage.
"ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation believes that all hardworking people — including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people — should have a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families without fear of being fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance," spokesman Tim Fisher said. "We strongly support the passage of ENDA."
As the gay rights movement gains more traction, some Christians have changed their perspectives.
"Most American Christians do not want a gay pastor overseeing their church, and that is not likely to change soon," said Kate Bowler, an American Christianity professor at Duke University. "However, we are seeing thawing numbers of those who agreed that gay people should be allowed same-sex unions."
The basics
The ENDA bill would prohibit private-sector employers and government employers on the local, state and federal levels from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. That protects people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
Under the law, employers can’t fire or refuse to hire people based on actual or perceived sexuality and gender identity (which need not align with a person’s biological identity).
Churches and other institutions with religious purposes (like schools and daycares) are exempt from the ENDA rules, just as they are from the religious discrimination portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII.
Under Title VII, and therefore under ENDA, religious organizations, which need not be church-run, would be exempt. Additionally, all businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt, whether they’re religious or not.
Nelson Tebbe, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in religious liberty, said ENDA’s religious exemption exceeds Title VII’s.
"It’s broader because the religious exemption in Title VII only allows religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of religion," he said. But it doesn’t allow religious groups to discriminate based on factors like an employee’s gender or race.
So by permitting religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, ENDA allows them more flexibility than Title VII.
Let’s break down the Traditional Values Coalition claim to see how each mention would be treated if ENDA becomes law:
  • Daycare: "If it were a secular daycare that just happened to be owned by a religious individual with a conviction that prohibited them from hiring LGBT folk, then the exemption would not apply," Tebbe said. He added that nonprofit daycares with religious affiliations would be exempt.
  • Parents: "There is nothing in ENDA that would require parents to alter their beliefs or what they teach their children about religion, homosexuality, marriage equality, et cetera," said Ian Thompson, an American Civil Liberties Union representative for LGBT issues.
  • Business owners: For-profit companies with 15 employees or more would need to abide by ENDA, said Dena Sher, an ACLU religious liberty counsel. But Christian nonprofits and Christian (or any other) businesses with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt. Tebbe also noted that religious organizations who don’t hire LGBT people are protected under ENDA.
  • Rights of religious freedom: "Not only does the Constitution protect religious freedom broadly, but existing federal discrimination law already prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion," Thompson said.
The Traditional Values Coalition doesn’t believe that these religious exemptions are broad enough.
"ENDA would not cover any secular companies and organizations that are run by committed Christians," said Harry Mihet, a Liberty Counsel lawyer the coalition referred us to.
Mihet is correct. But as far as discrimination goes, in the bill’s full text, there’s no reference to Christianity, or to any other individual religion, for that matter. All religions are treated the same and can legally invoke the same exemption. And Christianity isn’t the only religion that has historically grappled with acceptance of sexuality and gender identity issues.
Merriam-Webster defines discrimination as "the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people." To say that the law discriminates against Christians doesn’t fit based on our experts’ interpretation of the bill and the inclusion of an overall religious exemption that applies to any religion, not just Christians.
"If you had some exemption that wasn’t available to Christians, that would be discrimination," said Doug Laycock, a law and religious studies professor at the University of Virginia. "The only way they’re treated differently is they get an exemption."
Our ruling
The Traditional Values Coalition said ENDA discriminates "against Christian daycare, Christian parents, Christian business owners, and the rights of religious freedom."
The bill’s religious exemption indicates that churches, church-run initiatives and other religious businesses need not comply by employing people of all sexualities and gender identities. And there’s no special negative treatment for Christians. Businesses of any religion could qualify for the exemption. Individuals of any faith who oppose sexuality would have to abide by the law, so no religion is singled out.
We can understand why religious conservatives may take issue with this bill. However, the rhetoric in the email is too broad and overstated, and claims to speak for all Christians.
We rate this claim False.
About this statement:
Published: Monday, December 16th, 2013 at 3:02 p.m.
Subjects: Gays and Lesbians, Religion, Workers
Email interview with Kate Bowler, Duke Divinity School history of American Christianity professor, Dec. 12, 2013
Email interview with Ross Murray, GLAAD spokesman, Dec. 10, 2013
Email interview with Tim Fisher, ReconcilingWorks spokesman, Dec. 12, 2013
Freedom to Work, "ENDA’s religious exemption," accessed Dec. 10, 2013
Human Rights Campaign, "Employment Non-Discrimination Act," Nov. 7, 2013
Mark Pryor, "North Star," Dec. 4, 2013
Merriam-Webster, "discrimination," accessed Dec. 16, 2013
National Republican Senatorial Committee, "Mark Pryor vs. Mark Pryor on the Bible," Dec. 4, 2013
New York Times, "Senate vote 232 -- approves ban on antigay bias in the workplace," Nov. 7, 2013
Phone interview with Andrea Lafferty, Traditional Values Coalition president, Dec. 10, 2013
Phone interview with David Codell, University of California Los Angeles School of Law, Williams Institute visiting legal director, Dec. 11, 2013
Phone interview with Dena Sher, ACLU legal counsel, Dec. 11, 2013
Phone and email interviews with Doug Laycock, University of Virginia professor of law and religious studies, Dec. 11, 2013
Phone interview with Erik Dorey, Mark Pryor campaign spokesman, Dec. 11, 2013
Phone interview with Harry Mihet, Liberty Counsel senior litigation counsel, Dec. 10, 2013
Phone interview with Ian Thompson, ACLU legislative representative, Dec. 11, 2013
Phone interview with Nelson Tebbe, Brooklyn Law School professor, Dec. 13, 2013
Politico, "Tom Cotton blasts NRSC attack on Mark Pryor," Dec. 5, 2013
Public Religion Research Institute, "Majorities of all religious groups support ENDA," Nov. 6, 2013
Traditional Values Coalition Education and Legal Institute, "The ENDA common sense," July 10, 2013
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, letter regarding ENDA, Oct. 31, 2013
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Questions and answers: religious discrimination in the workplace," Jan. 31, 2011
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," accessed Dec. 10, 2013
U.S. Government Printing Office, "S. 815," Nov. 12, 2013
Wall Street Journal, "Religious exemptions at center of ENDA debate," Nov. 1, 2013
Washington Post, "Most Republicans, evangelicals support ENDA," Nov. 5, 2013
Washington Post, "The last remaining obstacle for ENDA: religious liberty?" Oct. 31, 2013
Written by: Julie Kliegman
Researched by: Julie Kliegman
Edited by: Angie Drobnic Holan