Tom Gjelten

America, unlike some countries, is not defined by a common ancestry, nor is it tied to an official faith tradition. But it does have a distinct identity and a quasi-religious foundation.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Among the more daunting challenges President Biden faces in the coming year will be to make good on his goal of admitting 10 times as many refugees — 125,000 — as former President Donald Trump allowed to enter the United States last year. During his presidency, Trump ordered drastic cutbacks in the U.S. refugee program.

"It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged," Biden said in a speech last month at the State Department, "but that's precisely what we're going to do."

A potential revision of federal civil rights law to extend protection to LGBTQ people could soon get a long-delayed vote in the U.S. Senate, but concerns about its implications for religious freedom cloud its prospects for final passage.

The Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, has twice passed the House. Republicans in the Senate have until now blocked its consideration, but Democratic control there should finally ensure at least a hearing.

Health care personnel are not alone on the front lines of the struggle with COVID-19. Another group is the faith leaders who minister to the sick and console those who are grieving. Four faith leaders with different missions and experiences share their thoughts and feelings about their pandemic work and the burdens they bear.


Pastor Patrick Young

1st Baptist Church, East Elmhurst, N.Y.

The mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol may have been a fringe group of extremists, but politically motivated violence has the support of a significant share of the U.S. public, according to a new survey by the American Enterprise Institute.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

For the ninth time in six months, the Trump administration is preparing to put a federal prisoner to death.

Brandon Bernard, 40, is due to be executed Thursday evening at the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana, as punishment for the murder of a young couple in Texas in 1999. The Justice Department plans another federal execution later this month, with three more scheduled in January.

With COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths at record levels, a top public health official called on religious leaders to keep their worship spaces closed, despite rising protests from some church leaders.

"The virus is having a wonderful time right now, taking advantage of circumstances where people have let their guard go down," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. "Churches gathering in person is a source of considerable concern and has certainly been an instance where super spreading has happened and could happen again."

As president, Donald Trump slashed refugee admissions to the United States to a record low. Paradoxically, his administration also took major steps to highlight the persecution of religious minorities around the world, a key driver of global refugee movements.

Key government policies on religious freedom and discrimination, once set through legislation, are increasingly dictated by presidential orders, meaning they shift capriciously from one administration to the next.

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden this year both looked to rally support among religious Americans, but the faith vote largely broke along familiar lines.

"The religious landscape in terms of voting has been remarkably stable," says Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. "Since Reagan, we have essentially seen this: white Christian voters have tended to support Republican candidates, and Christians of color and everyone else, including the religiously unaffiliated, have tended to support Democratic candidates."

Four years ago, white evangelicals rallied behind Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, and he reveled in their adulation.

Updated at 2:42 p.m. ET

Pope Francis has called for legislation to protect same-sex couples, according to comments he made in a new documentary that mark a break from Catholic doctrine.

"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They are children of God and have a right to a family," the pope said in an interview in the documentary Francesco, which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival. "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

In Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump put forward a Supreme Court nominee who embodies a set of voters the Democrats need on their side to win elections. She's a well-educated, white, suburban Catholic woman.

Many Democrats object to her well-documented conservative views in such areas as abortion, health care, guns and immigrant rights, but they must tread carefully in opposing her nomination so as not to alienate those voters, especially women, who may be inspired by Barrett's life story.

Within minutes of President Trump's announcement that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive for the coronavirus, he got a compassionate message from one of his harshest critics.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC tweeted, "God bless the president and the first lady. If you pray, please pray for their speedy and complete recovery. ... This virus is horrific and merciless – no one would wish its wrath on anyone."

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that Abby Bogdan's views are her own and not those of her employer.

The Trump and Biden campaigns this year are both targeting Catholics, with messages reflecting their differing judgments of how Catholic faith values might push swing voters in one direction or another. In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, it's a critical effort.

Republicans hope opposition to abortion will drive Pennsylvania Catholics to support President Trump.

The Lutheran church did not have many ordained African American ministers in 1955, so when a call went out that year for a new Lutheran pastor to serve a majority Black congregation in Montgomery, Ala., it was answered by a white clergyman in Ohio, the Rev. Robert Graetz.

Graetz and his wife, Jeannie, already had a record of church-based civil rights activism, and some Lutheran authorities worried that Graetz might become ensnarled in the developing racial unrest in Montgomery, where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor.

The 2020 presidential election is likely once again to feature religion as a campaign issue, if the Republican and Democratic conventions are any indication.

Speakers at the Republican National Convention this week touted the religious credentials of their own candidates, but they were equally determined to question the faith of their opponents, with Joe Biden their main target.

Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz told the convention that the Democratic candidate is a Catholic "in name only," citing his support for abortion rights.

Five months after the coronavirus forced houses of worship across the country to close their doors, a new survey finds that two-thirds of regular churchgoers feel it's now safe to resume in-person worship.

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