More than 10,000 Buddhist monks and nuns rallied recently to celebrate Burma’s restrictive new race and religion laws, packing themselves into an indoor soccer stadium to cheer and chant nationalist slogans. The event, held last month in Burma’s commercial capital, was a dramatic display of a rising force in Burma’s political landscape — a group of ultra-nationalist Buddhists called the Ma Ba Tha, whom analysts say could pose a threat to the country’s shaky hopes for democracy. Voters in Burma, or Myanmar, head to the polls Sunday in a landmark election that is the first since the military junta eased their control and began democratic overhauls in 2010. Reliable polling is scarce, but Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s Nobel laureate, has been drawing large crowds as she campaigns across the country for her National League for Democracy party.
Even as polls show Americans broadly oppose electioneering from the pulpit, a new report by a group of faith leaders working closely with Capitol Hill argues for ending the decades-old ban on explicit clergy endorsements. The report being given Wednesday to Sen. Charles E. Grassley — the Iowa Republican whose office for years has been probing potential abuses by tax-exempt groups — comes as the ban has become a culture-war flashpoint. More than 1,100 mostly conservative Christian pastors for the past few springs have been explicitly preaching politics — they call the annual event “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” — in an effort to lure the Internal Revenue Service into a court showdown. Meanwhile, groups that favor a strong church-state separation are going to courtto demand that the IRS more aggressively enforce the ban that dates to 1954.
With the 2012 election less than six months away, congregations are getting the message that Americans want religion out of politics. But that doesn’t mean they plan to keep mum in the public square. Instead, they’re revamping how congregations mobilize voters by focusing on a broader set of issues than in the past. Preachers are largely avoiding the political fray, and hot-button social issues are relegated to simmer in low-profile church study groups. Why? For one, Americans are growing impatient with religious politicking: 54% want houses of worship to keep out of politics (up from 52% in 2008 and 43% in 1996), according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Churches seem to be responding.
Nothing is sacred about your religion when it comes to getting a state identification card without a photo. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation offers ID cards for those with religious objections to being photographed. The Amish and certain sects of the Mennonite community are among those who object to having their photos taken because of their faith. To get a nonphoto ID for religious reasons, applicants must answer a series of 18 questions that delve deeply into their faiths and other personal information. Now that Pennsylvania has passed one of the nation’s toughest voter ID laws to prevent voter fraud, the scope of the questions is drawing criticism.
With Islamist on the doorstep to power in Tunisia, it is now Morocco’s turn to go to the polls in elections that despite the low turnout expected, will likely bring religion closer to government. But unlike votes in Tunisia and Egypt, which served as climatic final acts in revolutions that surprised the world, the November 25 polling day in Morocco is likely to be a subdued affair.
Last summer, spurred into action as autocrats fell across the Arab world, the king of Morocco Mohammed VI hastily called a referendum asking Moroccans to decide on a new political system that would see the monarch ceding prerogatives. In the July vote, more than 98 percent of Moroccans approved the political reforms and a call for early legislative elections quickly followed.