Signs and Wonders
Robert George
Photo by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, via Facebook
Robert George

Signs and Wonders: Federal religious freedom commission picks conservative leader

Newsworthy

Interesting pick. Dr. Robert P. George of Princeton was elected last week as chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan commission set up by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. It’s an interesting pick because George is both thoroughly conservative and not afraid to speak out on religious liberty issues. He’s a board member and a co-author of the Manhattan Declaration, who promotes life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. He also helped found the National Organization for Marriage. In fact, it is George’s pro-family and pro-life bona fides that have some critics up in arms. Pro-homosexual groups are objecting to his election as chair, though it is unlikely the objections will carry much weight, since members of the commission choose the chair. Members serve two-year terms and most of the current members are Democrats. They know Robert George is a conservative. They also know that he is a brilliant spokesman for religious liberty issues. For once in Washington, it appears common sense will trump politics.

Credential-gate. On Monday I told you about the controversy at Fox News. Lauren Green, religion correspondent for Fox News Channel, interviewed Reza Aslan, author of a new book on Jesus titled Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Green took heat for questioning Aslan’s credentials and motives for writing a book about Jesus. Green rightly identified the fact that book is an attack on Christianity. Even Aslan admitted that he and the book question both the divinity of Jesus and the virgin birth. Aslan also defended himself as a “scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament. To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian. I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions.” Joe Carter, writing for the blog “Get Religion,” notes that Aslan does indeed have four degrees: a 1995 B.A. in religion from Santa Clara University, a 1999 Master of Theological Studies from Harvard, a 2002 Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from the University of Iowa, and a 2009 Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Carter also points out that none of these degrees is in history, so Aslan’s repeated claims that he has “a Ph.D. in the history of religions” and that he is “a historian” are false. Meanwhile the mainstream media continue to vilify Lauren Green. The Atlantic Wire called the interview “embarrassing for Fox News.” Buzzfeed headlined: “The Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done.” None of them even hint at the possibility that the reason for the awkwardness in the interview was not Green’s questions, but Aslan’s answers.

Radio gaga. Talk radio could be headed for a shake-up. Cumulus Media, the second-largest broadcaster in the U.S., is in negotiations with both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who fill its airtime from noon to 6 p.m. every weekday. Limbaugh and Hannity are the country’s highest-rated (and among the best paid) radio hosts. But both see their contracts expire this year, and—according to Politico—Cumulus is shopping for replacements. Cumulus said in a statement that it “is not in a position to comment about negotiations with talent under contract.” Limbaugh gets a reported $50 million per year through 2017. Hannity gets about $20 million. That’s a lot of money, especially in an environment in which radio revenue is declining, and other conservative hosts are waiting for their chances.

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Regional differences. The recent Pew study on abortion includes a new round of data that highlights regional differences regarding attitudes toward abortion. Among the most interesting findings: The South Central region of the country is now solidly against abortion-on-demand.  “The most important trend in this report is that the balance has flipped” in the South Central part of the country, says Carroll Doherty, associate director of the Pew Research Center. “You always saw less support for legal abortion in South Central, but since the ‘90s, it’s flipped from modestly in favor to 12 points against.” The South Central Region includes Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. The country is still divided on abortion, but the trend is definitely in the direction of life. The Pew study says Americans are more pro-life now than they were during a similar study the organization did in 1995, but 54 percent of Americans still say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 40 percent say it should be illegal in all or most cases. In 1995, the figures were 60 percent favoring legal abortion and 38 percent opposing abortion all or most of the time.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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