Column: The Dark Heart of Billy Graham

On the last day of February and the first day of March, the corpse of evangelical Christian minister Billy Graham was presented for public viewing in the rotunda of the United States Capitol Building. Graham was only the fourth private citizen whose body was honored in a ritual normally reserved for presidents, elected officials, and military officers. The only other exceptions to the rule have been civil rights icon Rosa Parks and two Capitol Police officers who died in the line of duty, Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson. Graham is the first religious leader to be awarded this honor by the government of the United States of America. The first clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Laying out a preacher’s dead body in the central building of the nation’s legislative branch does not establish his form of Christianity as an official federal religion, of course, but it is a bold break with 166 years of tradition at the Capitol, and it clearly gives an official stamp of approval to a man who made his living selling one branch of one faith.

Column: An Interview With Dianne Daniels

There are many Pagans doing amazing things throughout the world. Dianne Daniels happens to be one of them. Daniels has currently taken on the intricate balance of holding the work of service within differing communities. This week 53 year old Daniels stepped into the highly public position of branch president within an historic civil rights organization, and she is also a practitioner of modern Paganism. Daniels, a Detroit born native now living in Connecticut, was just elected to the position of the NAACP branch president for its Norwich chapter. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a organization that was founded in 1909, and is considered to be the oldest civil rights organization in the United States.

What Religious Exemptions Look Like in Practice

With the recent legalizing of same-sex marriages in the state of New York there also came a lot of talk about religious exemptions. These additions to the bill’s language were seen as critical to passage, and they exempt clergy and all religious institutions from having to accommodate same-sex couples looking to get married. During this process of negotiation some wanted even greater exemptions, which would include private businesses owned by individuals who had a religious objection to same-sex marriage. Thankfully, those expanded exemptions did not make it into the final language, and the legal status quo remained in place. Jennifer Pizer, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and an expert on sexual orientation and discrimination, says that’s par for the course in America: You can’t let religious beliefs affect commercial decisions. “People are free to hold these views – they’re not just free to hold those views, they’re protected.” But, she said, “the current legal system does not permit people engaged in business to discriminate based on the proprietors’ own religious views.” Pizer said the New York debate over exemptions hearkens back to a time when religious views were used to justify racial segregation and opposition to equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation.

The Future of Unitarian-Universalism and other Pagan News of Note

Top Story: The Religion News Service is featuring a story (alternate link) on the 50th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and whether the shrinking (162,800 members, down 1,400 from last year) creedless denomination can endure for another fifty years.

“For 50 years the UUA has conducted a virtually unprecedented experiment: advancing a religion without doctrine, hoping that welcoming communities and shared political causes, not creeds, will draw people to their pews. Leaders say its no-religious-questions-asked style positions the UUA to capitalize on liberalizing trends in American religion. But as the UUA turns 50 this year, some members argue that a “midlife” identity crisis is hampering outreach and hindering growth. In trying to be all things to everyone, they say, the association risks becoming nothing to anybody.” Modern Pagans are a vibrant part of the modern UUA, and the article by Daniel Burke starts off the piece with a Pagan member of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore leading a service. “A recent Sunday service at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore ended with an apology. Laurel Mendes explained that religious doctrine had been duly scrubbed from the hymns in the congregation’s Sunday program. But Mendes, a neo-pagan lay member who led the service, feared that a reference to God in “Once to Every Soul and Nation” might upset the humanists in the pews.”