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Will evangelical endorsement fuel Santorum surge?

The Iowa caucuses revived Rick Santorum's underdog presidential campaign. Now an influential assortment of Christian conservatives has moved to consecrate it.

On Saturday, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania sewed up the endorsement from a coalition of prominent national evangelical leaders. And he has basked in the glow of their affirmation.

"Every (GOP) candidate and campaign greatly coveted this endorsement," said Hogan Gidley, Santorum's national campaign spokesman. "Once Rick Santorum received the endorsement, all the other campaigns dismissed it, (but) they all had emissaries in the room trying to get the endorsement."

Gidley predicted the endorsement would spark a late Santorum surge in Saturday's South Carolina GOP primary, similar to the push that saw him come within eight votes of winning the Iowa caucuses.

"We were this far down six days out of Iowa, too," Gidley said, alluding to Santorum's double-digit deficit in the polls. "But this kind of endorsement is the shot in the arm that awakens the activists and gets them behind the candidate they can relate to and trust."

Bishops: Same-sex marriage 'not in the public interest'

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SEATTLE -- Legislation introduced by lawmakers in Washington state that would redefine marriage to allow same-sex marriage "is not in the public interest," said the bishops of the state's three Catholic dioceses.

"Marriage in faith and societal traditions is acknowledged as the foundation of civilization. It has long been recognized that the stability of society depends on the stability of family life in which a man and a woman conceive and nurture new life," the bishops said in a statement released Jan. 13.

Supreme Court sides with churches in employment fights

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously threw its support behind a church school that fired a teacher, using a widely watched church-state case to bolster a legal doctrine that exempts religious institutions from some civil rights laws.

Religious groups heralded the ruling as a firm assertion of religious freedom that keeps personnel decisions about religious employees where they should be: within a church, synagogue or mosque.

"The court hasn't spoken this clearly on a church-state matter in almost 20 years," said Rob Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who wrote an amicus brief on the case in support of the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School.

"This is bedrock," Garnett continued. "All the justices came together to say if religious freedom means anything, it means governments can't interfere with religious institutions' decisions on who is going to be their minister or teacher."

Those who advocate for the separation of church and state said the court has now set the bar far too high for employees of religious institutions who seek redress against discrimination.

Rick Santorum appears to be a Catholic and an evangelical

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Just days after Rick Santorum surged to a virtual tie for first in the Iowa caucuses, conservative activists at an invitation-only summit along the South Carolina coast were buzzing about the former Pennsylvania senator's sudden and promising breakthrough.

Deal Hudson, who directed Catholic outreach for George W. Bush's White House before starting the conservative group Catholic Advocate, was among the movers and shakers at the annual Awakening gathering on Kiawah Island. He was especially pleased to hear such praise for a fellow Catholic -- until Hudson realized something odd.

"There were a number of knowledgeable people who were very enthusiastic about Rick but didn't know he was Catholic," Hudson said with a quiet laugh. "I was really surprised."

To be fair, those conservative kingmakers may not be the only ones who don't know what church Santorum attends, much less care. But that, some say, is exactly the point.

Polls in Iowa showed that rank-and-file evangelicals threw most of their support to Santorum, a devout Catholic, rather than either of Santorum's evangelical rivals, Rep. Michele Bachmann or Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Five former US ambassadors to Vatican endorse Romney

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WASHINGTON -- Five former U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican have endorsed Mitt Romney in his campaign to win the Republican nomination for the presidency.

The Romney campaign released the ambassadors' statement Jan. 7, three days before the New Hampshire primary, customarily the first such primary in the nation every presidential election year.

"We believe it is important to support the one candidate who is best qualified by virtue of experience, intelligence and integrity to build on all that is best in our country's traditions and to lead it to a future where every American has the opportunity to reach his or her highest potential. That candidate is Mitt Romney," said the former ambassadors, all of whom are Catholics.

Thomas Melady, who was Vatican ambassador during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, told Catholic News Service in a Jan. 10 telephone interview that the statement was "very positive" and "didn't bring up the religious question."

Some GOP activists have voiced their concerns over Romney because of his Mormon faith.

A silver anniversary message for the economy

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VIEWPOINT

Twenty-five years ago, 33 million Americans -- including one out of every four children -- were poor. About 7 percent of workers were unemployed. And approximately 28 percent of the nation’s wealth was held by the richest 2 percent of the population.

In response to those economic ills, the U.S. bishops unveiled one of the most insightful, challenging and controversial documents ever written by the leaders of the Catholic church in the United States.

New White House staffers have Catholic, Jewish ties

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President Obama on Tuesday named an immigration expert with longstanding ties to the Catholic Church as his top domestic policy official, continuing a campaign-year makeover of White House staff.

The hiring of Cecilia Munoz, along with the appointment on Monday of Jacob Lew, an Orthodox Jew, as White House chief of staff, may improve Obama's sometimes tense relations with two key religious groups: Catholics and Jews.

Lew, who has extensive connections in the American Jewish community, is expected to help Obama build a more friendly rapport with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Similarly, the administration's relations with Catholic bishops have been tense at times, principally over abortion rights and conscience protections. Munoz has for years worked closely with Catholic groups, including U.S. bishops, on immigration and other issues.

Munoz began her career working on immigration policy for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

"Catholics and people of faith have a true ally with the appointment of Cecilia Munoz to head the administration's Domestic Policy Council," said James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, a liberal group.

New California law targets global child labor, slavery

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Religious advocates of responsible investment are praising a new California law for making it tougher for major corporations to profit from child labor or human slavery around the world in the supply chain of their products.

The state’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which took effect Jan. 1, requires all large companies that do any business in California to study the supply chains for their products.

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