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Republican presidential candidates rate poorly on secular scorecard

If kids brought home grades like this, they'd be grounded.

The Secular Coalition for America rated all presidential candidates on nine issues, including church-state separation, civil rights, evolution and taxpayer funding of religion.

At the bottom of the class is Michele Bachmann, who scored straight F's before bowing out of the race after the Iowa caucuses. She was followed closely by former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who both scored a string of F's and a single C.

At the top of the class were President Obama with three A's, three B's and a C -- a modest mixed bag -- and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman with 4 B's and an A.

The report card is the first issued for presidential candidates by the coalition, said SCA president Herb Silverman, and is intended to help "secular-minded Americans" in the voting booth.

Most secularists, however, won't be voting in a GOP primary: data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life show that religiously "unaffiliated" Americans tend to favor Democrats over Republicans, 55 to 23 percent.

Retail politics not what they once were in NH

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MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The old, red-brick mills of Manchester line the entire eastern bank of the Merrimack River, but no textiles or shoes are made there these days. Now, technology companies, Jillian’s Billiards Club, Milly’s Tavern, and the local campus of the University of New Hampshire fill the rooms that once held looms and shoemaking equipment. And, this year, with the political calendar moved forward so that the New Hampshire primary occurs only two weeks after Christmas, it is not only the mills that have changed.

Catholics silent in Iowa caucus hype

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DES MOINES, IOWA -- Religion has had an extraordinary presence in the buildup to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, but Catholics have been distinguished by their silence.

“It’s part of the Catholic culture,” said Deacon Dan McGuire, parish administrator at Assumption Parish in Granger, Iowa. “We get involved in politics. That’s obvious. But as a former excluded minority ... we keep faith in our private community. We don’t vocalize it in public.”

Partisanship in the pulpit, then and now

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ANALYSIS

In October, at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, sponsored by a host of conservative, mostly Christian groups, including the Family Research Council, Liberty University and the Heritage Foundation, Pastor Robert Jeffress stirred up a hornet’s nest when he called Mormonism a “cult” and said that Christians had an obligation to prefer a coreligionist to a non-Christian, all other issues being equal. Jeffress’ comments raised the immediate issue of anti-Mormon bigotry, but they also raised another issue: What should be the role of clergy in campaigns?

Americans tend to conflate nostalgia with history, which produces a highly conservative understanding of the large variety of ways our forebears confronted complicated questions. The way things were done in our youth is, we assume, the way things have always been done.

Vigil calls for extended jobless benefits

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WASHINGTON -- Ever since Shonda Sneed of Yellow Springs, Ohio, lost her engineering job two years ago, she has depended on unemployment benefits to support herself and her 81-year-old mother. “I loved working,” she told a crowd of hundreds of people gathered recently near the U.S. Capitol at a prayer vigil calling on lawmakers to extend benefits for millions of jobless workers. “Honestly,” she said, “I feel like the American dream is slipping out of my hands.”

An economic vision with a ray of hope

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ANALYSIS

President Barack Obama’s Dec. 6 speech in Osawatomie, Kan. -- where Teddy Roosevelt gave his “New Nationalism” speech in 1910 -- marks a defining moment in this presidency. The speech offers a moral framework -- resonant with Catholic social teaching -- that names the absurdity that seems to rule national politics.

One of the signs of our time is its absurdity -- most evident, perhaps, when the most privileged economic and political interests in the nation call the president’s economic speech a “continuation of class warfare.”

People who stand for economic justice ought to turn such redbaiting on its head and name it what it is -- hypocrisy. The same voices calling the president’s economic vision “class warfare” or “socialist” themselves stand for a preferential option for the top 1 percent -- in the form of extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- as they refuse to lift a finger for millions of Americans who are jobless, underemployed or straining to make ends meet.

HHS announcement made MRS plan to help trafficking victims a tough sell

This story is the second in a series on the decision by federal officials to discontinue funding the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services program to assist foreign-born victims of human trafficking.

WASHINGTON -- After weeks of waiting, the federal announcement that staff members of the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services had been anticipating became public.

But the Department of Health and Human Services document released May 27 was not exactly what MRS's Hilary Chester, associate director with the Anti-Trafficking Services Program, and Beth Englander, director of special programs, had expected.

The document, called a funding opportunity announcement, was soliciting proposals from qualified nonprofit agencies to operate the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program, under which MRS had provided case management services to foreign-born trafficking victims since April 2006.

Time to take back our government

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The name Buddy Roemer might not exactly roll off your tongue -- yet. But he will have a place in the 2012 presidential election story. He’s running on a platform with a timely message, like it or not. Roemer served four terms in Congress from 1981-88 as a Democrat who often broke ranks with his party to vote with President Ronald Reagan, and was Louisiana governor from 1988-92 as both a Democrat and Republican.

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August 15-28, 2014

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