Signs and Wonders: Voting, cops in schools, megachurches, and Denzel’s cry to God

Newsworthy | Warren Cole Smith

Signs and Wonders: Voting, cops in schools, megachurches, and Denzel’s cry to God

A pallet of thousands of absentee ballots await mailing at the Miami-Dade County election center in 2012.
Associated Press/Photo by J Pat Carter

Easy to cheat? In his State of the Union address, President Obama vowed to reduce long lines at the voting booth and to “improve the voting experience in America.” But how do you do that in ways that are legal and fair? According to a report from the investigative journalism group Pro Publica, “Since 1980, the number of voters using absentee ballots has more than tripled. Roughly one-in-five votes is now absentee. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia allow voters to request an absentee ballot for any reason,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. How much easier should it get? Also, according to a New York Times report, voter fraud is more likely with absentee ballots.

Cops in schools. After the massacre in Newtown, Conn., many groups are calling for more armed guards in schools. But on Tuesday Denver schools went in the other direction.A new contract, signed Tuesday, limits the role of police officers in schools. Why? Police were getting too involved in minor disciplinary problems. In the wake of the 1999 Columbine shooting, Colorado adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy, referring students to law enforcement automatically for relatively minor offenses. State lawmakers relaxed some of the policies last year because too many kids were ending up in the criminal justice system. According to the Associated Press, “One Denver student, Tori Ortiz, said she had seen students ticketed or escorted out of class by police officers for indiscretions as small as talking in class or talking back to a teacher. The culture in the schools, she said, was one of criminalizing young people.”

Megachurches thrive. Despite the tough economy, the nation’s largest churches are doing OK. According to Religion News Service, “Just 3 percent of churches with 2,000 or more attendance surveyed by Leadership Network, a Dallas-based church think tank, said they were affected ‘very negatively’ by the economy in recent years. Close to half—47 percent—said they were affected ‘somewhat negatively,’ but one-third said they were not affected at all.” About 83 percent of megachurches say they’ll meet their budgets in 2012 or their current fiscal year. A majority also reported that offerings in 2012 exceeded 2011.

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God help us all. Denzel Washington is up for an Academy Award this Sunday night for his portrayal of a booze-swilling, drug-addicted airline pilot in Flight. In an interview with The Guardian’s Xan Brooks, Washington said he avoided the Hollywood celebrity culture and just wanted to be known for the quality of his work. “What’s a celebrity anyway?” he said. “Paris Hilton’s a celebrity. I’m just a working actor.” Washington is normally publicity-shy, but he has granted a few interviews amid the Oscar buzz. He often refers to his religious scruples and the role they play in his life and work. For example, in Flight his character eventually cries out to God for help. “That line, ‘God help me,’ was very important to me,” Washington said. “You see this … coke-sniffing, weed-smoking guy finally get[s] to the point where he can say: ‘God help me.’ He gets his life back.”

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