Today, for the first time in 30 years, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a constitutional challenge to the practice of legislative prayer. Specifically, in the case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the court will consider whether a local town board’s practice of beginning its monthly meetings with a prayer violates the constitution.
In 2008, two residents of Greece, N.Y., sued the town, complaining that beginning town board meetings with a prayer violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of the establishment of religion (the Establishment Clause) because it promoted Christianity and, by definition, excluded those attending the meetings who were not Christian. In 2012, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with this argument, ruling that the practice violates the Establishment Clause.
Here are five facts about the case.
1The Supreme Court has upheld the practice of legislative prayer before. Thirty years ago, the high court ruled in Marsh v. Chambers that the Nebraska legislature’s practice of beginning its sessions with a prayer did not violate the constitution. Specifically, the high court pointed out that because legislative prayer has a long and continuous history in the United States, it should not be seen as a threat to the Establishment Clause unless it promotes or denigrates a particular faith tradition or religious group. Read More →
Category: 5 Facts
Workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity is banned in 22 states (including the District of Columbia).
After a key procedural vote Monday, the Senate is debating a bill to outlaw workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, almost two decades after the first such measure was introduced in Congress. But even if the Democratic-controlled Senate passes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, it faces strong opposition in the Republican-run House.
According to the Government Accountability Office, 21 states and the District of Columbia already prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation; 17 (plus D.C.) extend that protection to gender identity. In addition, dozens of cities and counties have enacted local nondiscrimination ordinances. All told, those state and local laws cover about 40% of the U.S. population, according to the Senate committee report accompanying ENDA. Read More →
Category: Daily Number
Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality
Today is Election Day 2013, but many eyes are already looking ahead to 2014. In the wake of the federal government shutdown and the narrow avoidance of a default, chatter has grown that Democrats might be able to take advantage of the GOP’s unpopularity and general anti-incumbent sentiment to regain control of the House — or at least cut into the Republicans’ 231-to-200 majority. (Four seats are vacant).
A swing of 18 House seats would be enough to give the Democrats control, which might not seem like much. But in House elections from 1992 to 2012, the median net party gain was just eight seats, according to Brookings’ Vital Statistics on Congress. And in midterm elections, the party holding the presidency usually loses seats: In only two of the 17 midterm elections since the end of World War II, in fact, did the president’s party gain seats (1998 and 2002).
In addition, only a few dozen seats are currently considered competitive. Independent analyst Stuart Rothenberg, for instance, puts the number at 51, almost equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, with the rest deemed safe, at least for now.
An examination of the 2012 election results shows just how few House races were at all close. Out of 435 seats total, in only 62 (14.3%) were the winner and runner-up separated by fewer than 10 percentage points. Democrats won 32 of those “close-ish” contests, Republicans 30.
In 143 of the 234 seats won by Republicans last year, the winner beat the runner-up by 20 percentage points or more; 148 of the 201 Democratic victories were by 20 points or more. Twenty Republicans and 11 Democrats either ran completely unopposed or had no major-party opponent. In nine districts (eight of them in California), the general election was between two candidates of the same party. (California, along with Louisiana and Washington, uses a “top-two” system rather than traditional party primaries. All candidates of all parties run in the first round; the top two finishers, regardless of party, proceed to the second round.)
Political scientists and analysts disagree on why so few House districts are competitive; some blame gerrymandering, while others say the district maps reflect a politically polarized America where people are more likely to live among those who think like they do. Regardless, House Speaker John Boehner (who won a 12th term unopposed last year) probably has more to fear from his own caucus than the voters in his district, while Democrats hoping to put Nancy Pelosi (re-elected with 70.2% of the vote) back in the speaker’s chair will have a high hill to climb.
More than half of Americans express a favorable view of their state government.
Voters in New Jersey and Virginia head to the polls today to elect a governor, several states consider ballot measures and many cities choose a mayor. While state and local off-year elections draw less media attention than presidential or congressional elections, Americans look on their state and local governments more favorably than they do the federal government, according to an April Pew Research Center report.
Category: Daily Number
Five years ago today, on November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency and became our first African American president. The historic moment may not have come as a surprise to many. Twenty years ago, about half of Americans (54%) thought the chances were good that we would have a black president by now, according to a 1993 Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey of U.S. adults, while 45% thought the chances were slim.
In 1993, one-in-ten adults thought that the chances were “excellent” that we would elect a black American as president, 44% thought the chances were “good,” 24% thought they were “not good” and 21% thought they were “poor.”
Even after Obama’s election, about a third of American adults (35%) think it is unlikely that we will elect another black president by 2030. But the share that thinks the chances are excellent or good is somewhat higher than it was in 1993 – fully 65% of Americans think we will elect another black president in the next two decades, compared with 54% in 1993.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, is a bill that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, with exemptions for small businesses and religious institutions. ENDA has often been put before Congress since the 1970s in some form, with the gender identity clause added in 2009.
It has never passed both houses of Congress, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to bring it up again this week for a vote.
A Pew Research Center survey of 1,197 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults conducted this spring found that workplace discrimination is one of the most important policy issues in the LGBT community, with 57% of LGBT adults saying that equal employment rights should be a “top priority.”
The American public increasingly has been looking inward after years of economic stress at home and a decade of wars abroad. But while Americans are putting a lower priority on foreign issues and a higher one on dealing with problems at home, they have a keen awareness of the challenges posed to the U.S. by China in the superpower competition between the two countries.
This is a pivotal time for China with the top leaders of the Communist Party set to gather later this week for the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress, a gathering expected to focus on economic reforms.
Unlike 20 years ago, American public now looks to Asia—rather than to Europe—as the region of the world most important to U.S. interests. In a January 2011 survey, 47% said Asia was the most important to American interests compared to 37% who cited Europe.
Seven-in-ten blacks say that blacks in their communities were treated less fairly than whites in dealing with police.
The way that blacks are treated by a number of institutions and businesses – from the criminal justice system to big-name department stores – has become a major issue in New York City.
Last week, a federal appeals court halted changes to the New York Police Department’s sweeping “stop-and-frisk” program. And, New York’s attorney general announced that is investigating allegations of racial profiling at Barneys and Macy’s as several black customers claim they were wrongly targeted as shoplifters. A 19-year-old black man asserted in a lawsuit that police detained him on suspicion of stealing a belt from Barneys that he had paid for.
A nationwide Pew Research Center survey in August found that substantial percentages of blacks see unfair treatment in many aspects of life, especially by the criminal justice system. Fully 70% said that blacks in their community were treated less fairly than whites in dealing with the police and about as many (68%) said the same about the courts. By contrast, just 37% of whites said blacks were treated less fairly by the police and 27% said they received less fair treatment by the courts.
Among blacks, roughly half said blacks were treated less fairly than whites at work (54%) or in schools (51%). In those instances, as well, blacks were more likely than whites or Hispanics to say there was unfair treatment.
Perceptions of unfair treatment by stores and restaurants were less widespread among blacks– 44% (and 16% of whites) said that stores and restaurants treated blacks less fairly than whites. Notably, while there were few significant demographic differences in blacks’ opinions, blacks living in urban areas were more likely than suburban blacks to express the view of unfair treatment in stores or restaurants in their community (49% vs. 36%).
In general, 35% of blacks said they had experienced personal discrimination or unfair treatment based on race or ethnic background in the past year, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 10% of whites.
Category: Daily Number
The Vatican plans to canvass Catholics around the world about their views on some church teachings, according to a report Thursday in the National Catholic Reporter. The goal is to gather “input from local sources” in preparation for an October 2014 Synod of Bishops to discuss family issues and challenges.
The Vatican plans to ask a range of questions on topics related to the family, including divorce, artificial contraception and same-sex marriage, according to the publication, which obtained a copy of the Vatican questionnaire.
While some news reports have referred to the effort as a poll, it appears that bishops around the world will be given latitude to collect and report information in many different ways. Still, according to NCR, this is “the first time the church’s central hierarchy has asked for such input from grassroots Catholics since at least the establishment of the synod system following the Second Vatican Council.” Read More →
From “best places to live/retire/do business” lists to arguments over who has the worst weather, Americans love to compare themselves with each other. This map, part of an interactive series developed by Measure of America (a project of the Social Science Research Council) aims to summarize people’s well-being with a single indicator: the American Human Development Index. The darker a state is colored on the map, the higher its score.
Adapted from the United Nations Development Program‘s Human Development Index, the American HDI uses four indicators to summarize three overarching goals: leading a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy at birth), having access to knowledge (measured by school enrollment and adults’ educational attainment) and having a decent material standard of living (measured by median wage and salary earnings).
Connecticut has the highest overall HDI in the U.S.: It ranks third on the health and education indices and fourth on the income index. Mississippi has the lowest composite HDI score: It ranked at the bottom of the health index and 48th on the education and income indices.
Along with the HDI components, the interactive version of the map on Measure of America’s site also lets you see at a glance how the states rank on dozens of other indicators, from population over age 65 to carbon dioxide emissions. You can also sort by gender, race and ethnicity, download the underlying datasets, hover over each state with your cursor to see each state’s data, and look at previous years’ data, to see who’s improved and who hasn’t.
Category: Chart of the Week