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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  WHUT  January 15, 2012 8:30am-9:00am EST

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♪ coming up, calls for churches to lead a new movement to help the country's two million prison inmates and former prisoners. from west africa, ghana's joyous christian funerals antsds fantasy coffins. each representing the lifetime achievement of the deceased.
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the estate of william j. carter. the jane henson foundation and the corporation for public broadcasting. welcome. i'm bob abernathy. it's gooded to have you with us. evangelicals play a role that make up about 60% of the likely voters. candidates are hoping for a strong challenge from mitt romney who one about a third of evangelicals in less conservative new hampshire. rick santorum won about a quarter of evangelicals there.
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romney's mormon faith remains an issue. a new poll of mormons in the u.s. shows that many feel their religion is misunderstood. close to half of those surveyed say mormons face a lot of discrimination. majority say americans know little or nothing about the mormon faith, but a majority sees a growing acceptance of mormoni mormonism. more than half say the country is ready for a mormon president. another poll shows a dramatic increase in the percentage of the americans who see tensions between the rich and more. two-thirds of americans say there's a strong or very strong conflict between these groups. that's a 20% increase from 2009. although democrats and political liberals are likely to see this conflict, the number of
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republicans who agree, 55%, has also grown. the u.s. supreme court affirmed that religious groups have the right to hire and fire their religious leaders without government interference. the high court recognized the mintier yal acceptance to anti-discrimination laws. religious groups who can choose who will preach their beliclee and carry out their mission. the court said it was reluctant to adopt a rigid formula to determine who was a ministered covered by the exception. a broad array of religious groups praised the decision calling it the most important religious case in decades. this weekend of remembering dr. martin luther king jr., we
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take note of those calling for a new civil rights movement. it's on behalf of prisoners and former prison noers. advocates say mandatory sentences most often for drug offenses force unfairly long prison terms for those convicted. there's more than two million people in prison in this country. nearly 40% of them black. many of them and their advocates want more min tistries for thos in prison and much more help from churches from former prisoners now trying to keep from going back. deborah potter begins her report in akron, ohio. >> reporter: at first glance the front porch cafe could be any coffee shop. those guys at the grill aren't your typical cooks. >> i was a small felony on my record. i know how hard it was for myself to get a job.
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>> i've been having real poor jobs. i chose to do street life and street life is nothing but trouble. drugs, jail or both. >> reporter: most of the workers here are ex-offenders. the cafe is run by south street ministries. a fellowship that offers bible study for inmates. a place to live, a job is hard to come by. >> i've been arrested 117 times. i've been convicted 12 times. >> we want fast money. i went to prison for ten years for aggravated robbery. behind the aggravated robbery was drugs. >> reporter: perry clark new runs a construction business. michael starks is a community organizers.
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both say they went straight after finding faith behind bars but when they were locked up the churches they knew were not on their side. >> the church was of the mind set that he did wrong. he's being punished. they thought if you did wrong and went to prison and that was it. >> i wrote three churches to let them know if i was re-entering in the community after ten years of incarceration. i didn't get a response back. >> reporter: both men are now involved in active prison ministries helping ex-o ferhex- rejoin the community. >> i want them to know they can live a normal life. >> reporter: it's not easy. more than two millions americans are in prison. the major reason for the increase, mandatory sentencing for nonviolent crimes and drug
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charges. the war on drugs declared in the 1980s have not had the affect its backers predicted. >> drug use has not declined. all it's done is produce an explosion in our prison population. be whole mandatory sentencing guideline mantra was like the kool-aid we never should have drunk. >> reporter: black men are six times likely to be imprisoned than whites. the drug use is only slightly higher. law professor, michelle alexander says the nation faces a human rights nightmare, more than 40 years after the end of legal se agree gags. >> in cities like chicago, more
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than half of working age men have criminal records. they can be legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits. so many of the old forms of discrimination are legal again once you've been branded a felon. >> reporter: in the 1960s, ministers like dr. martin luther king jr. were in the forefront. there's be no similar movement to end mass incarceration. >> i think dr. king would be so deeply saddened and appalled by what we've allowed to happen in this country in the years since his death. >> we're told to visit the prisoners. that goes with what we do and who we are. >> reporter: he says jesus's command to care for prisoners is not widely followed. >> we have gotten people to be
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interested in prison ministry and contribute money to us and pat us on the back. it's really tough to get people to volunteer to go into the prison. that's really a tough sell. >> reporter: as an ordained baptist pastor, he believes churches should lead campaign against mass incarceration. >> we don't recognize the god in our brothers and sisters who are in prison. it's for us to see fla our sisters and brothers in prison are our sisters and brothers. we owe it to god to get them out. >> just as in the days of slavery, it wasn't enough to shuttle a few to freedom. today we have to work for the abolition of the system of mass inka incarceration as a whole. that means the church has to find its prophetic voice and
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really call on politicians and policy makers to undo the mass of tragedy that's been done. >> reporter: some legal reform is underway. states from ohio to california have approved early release programs and lower penalties for lesser crimes. changes driven largely by the high cost of keeping so many people behind bars. >> i think martin luther king jr. was right when he said we have to be careful of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. if we can afford to lock them up in mass, nothing will prevent us from doing so if we don't learn the most important lessons from this time, which is that none of us should be viewed as disposable. none of us should be treated as thr throwaway people, locked up and branded up and issue into a permanent class status. it's not about saving money. it's about saving lives, saving
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our own sense of humanity. >> people in prison needed to be loved too. if they cannot see the love of christ in spite of their circumstances, then they will never come to accept the fact that christ cares about them at all. how can they care about me when no one from the church is in my life? no one from the church steps forward to give me an embrace. >> talking about congregational involvement requires getting congregations to be about social change. we and the american community have been very, very content to sing our way to heaven, but we have forgotten that in the lord's prayer, the word is thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
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>> reporter: without more support from faith based or community groups, many of these prisoners face a tough road. within three years, national statistics say, more than a third of them will be back behind bars. for religion & ethics, i'm deborah potter in akron, ohio. in other news, a key ruling this week against seven virginia congregations that broke away from the apiscopal church. the church buildings and other properties belong to the national denomination, not the congregations. they have been meeting in the church buildings. unless there's another appeal the congregations will have to
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vacate and turn them over to the episcopal diocese of virginia. each could be compensated $50,000. the recommendation must be approved by the legislature. more than 7600 people were sterilized between the years of 1979 and 1924. approximately 2000 are still alive. the state targeted people believed to be mentally disabled or physically handicapped. many other states had similar programs but most abandoned them after world war ii. north carolina ended its program in 1977. in iraq, somehows of shiite muslims continued this week.
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an estimated 70 shiites have been killed. we take a look at the week's top religion news and religions roll in the general news with kim lawton and david gibson who joins us from new york. hello. evangelical christians made up over 20% of the republicans voting there. coming up, they will probably be more like 60%. what difference do you expect that to make? >> bob, i think it's going to make a critical difference because south carolina is really shaping up as make or break last stand for social conservatives. they cannot get on board were mitt romney for a variety of reasons. social conservatives, these evangelical fundamentalists can
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decide among themselves what candidate they want to back where it's going to be rick santorum one day or nuewt gingri gingrich. if they can't decide and decide by january 21st, when the south carolina primary happens, they could deliver the nomination to mitt romney and then they will have to decide if mitt romney is not mr. right if it's good enough that's he's mr. right now. >> a lot of evangelicals say they are uncomfortable with mormonism, with a mormon candidate. why is that? >> there's a lot of reasons why evangelicals haven't backed mitt romney. a lot of them say they don't trust him on issues like abortion. he's changed his position or they don't like where he stood on health care some time back. there's this issue of his mormon
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faith. many evangelicals don't consider mormons real christians. that's offensive to members of the church. we're real concerns but for some evangelicals the fact that mormons don't believe in the trinity. they believe that god and jesus were separate physical beings, that's a real difference. mormons believe that god continued revelation in the book of mormon. catholics say this is outside the stream of traditional christianity. for some evangelicals that means we don't want our president representing that. some say that would legitimatizize a faith legitimae ize a faith we don't agree with. >> mitt romney is doing well wl
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t with the catholic vote. he's polling well nationally with catholics that tend to be a little more moderate. mitt romney is completely acceptable. perhaps catholics have a communal memory of the bias they face for so long in american culture and they don't want to inflict that on mormons as well. i think that's an irony that kim was picking up on. you see those same evangelicals flocking to catholic candidates like rick santorum or newt gingrich who is a convert to catholicism. >> the big news for a whole lot of people in the news this week was the supreme court decision saying that religious organizations can hire who they want to without regard to the
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anti-discrimination laws. kim, pick up on that. >> for a lot of religious groups, the key part was without government interference. that the government can come in and second guess. >> people who are ministers? >> that's the term. although, that's the big question, who is a minister? the court left a little open wiggle room in that one. they didn't give a definition. that's the concern of some civil rights groups that this will be interpreted broadly so the janitor does ministry that he or she is a minister. they were concerned about creeping government power and if the government can say you shouldn't have fired that minister, then they felt would interfere with their religious
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liberty. >> david you want to follow on that? >> i think it's an important decision. a resounding rejection of the obama's administration argument to limit this so called ministerial acception. the concern is the obama administration is trying to curtail religious freedom. imwill impinge on the conscience rights of these people. that's a real problem for catholic and evangelical institutions and groups in particular. they are hoping this signals that the administration is going to have to back off of some of
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those plans and policies. >> quickly, kim, just to sum up, religious groups are more free now than they were before to hoo hire and fire people according to what they believe. >> they say they are free under the first amendment as they always were. they were worried about the government coming in and changing that in some way. this has been an issue for a lot of religious groups as the culture becomes more diverse and there's different points of view, how can these religious groups do their faith, exercise their belief in a culture that may largely differ with them and can they hold those believes on some controversial issues. how can they do that in this context. i think they were very pleased. >> kim lawton of religion &
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ethics news weekly. david gibson, many thanks. finally, on his travels around the world, fred de sam lazaro has found some unusual religious practices. one of them is in ghana in west africa with its youous funerals and fantasy coffins. each representing the lifetime achievements of the deceased. fred's report is from ghana's capitol. >> reporter: half days are set around for funerals in the numerous congregations that line the streets and alley, the air is filled with prayer. most time with songs blaring at it electronic limits. nowhere it seems any outward
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sign of sorrow or grief with few exceptions like the death of a young person. my host said that's theway it is. >> when somebody dies in christ or dies a christian, it's a good thing because he's going to god. he has died on a good path. when somebody dies and somebody that does not know god, then people cry because his soul is lost. >> reporter: we saw little evidence of any crying on this saturday and it would be hard to discern a lot soul. the vast majority of people strongly confess some form of christianity. most of them live in the country's north. funerals a major social events that bring family.
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they are anticipated years in advance and say much about a person's status. nowhere is that more evident than in the coffins. >> people who have achieved in their lifetime -- >> well to do. >> show you an area of achievement. if one were a fisherman, they would show some canoe or fish. if you're a driver and you own transport, they would show some transportation. >> reporter: we saw coffins waiting for the next crab fisherman, hunter or could this one be for an animal love. there's one for the beer lover, farmer, athlete. fantasy coffins have gained a reputation for their high art. many are sold to foreigners or collectors. it's a strong tradition of
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honoring and worshipping ancestors. grand funerals are a way for the living to please the newly depart departed elder. >> the belief is that they are there and if you're going to meet them, you must meet them properly. it becomes a blessing to the family. they call upon him to send us something. >> reporter: funerals even without the expensive fantasy coffins are a huge financial drain on families providing meals and libation for dozens, sometimes hundreds of guests, the musicians and the morticians. >> they pay this money with interest. maybe they have left children behind or some properties. sometimes it has to be auctioned or sold. >> reporter: there are calls
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from time to time from religious leaders to cut out the excess, but here funerals are an investment and harmony with one's ancestors. how many families ask do you put a limit on that. this is fred de sam lazaro in ghana. >> that's our program for now. i'm bob abernathy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook. you can watch us any time on smartphones. there's also more on our website. audio and video podcasts are available. join us at as we leave you this martin luther king jr. weekend, music from the boys choir of harlem. ♪
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