Acclaimed journalist talks politics, religion

Leonard Pitts won the Putlitzer Prize for a commentary in 2004 while working for the Miami Herald.  |  Robert Z. Easely/The Daily Cougar

Leonard Pitts won the Putlitzer Prize for a commentary in 2004 while working for the Miami Herald. | Robert Z. Easely/The Daily Cougar

Faith is an influential tool in American politics, and campaigns now resemble “religious litmus tests,” said guest speaker and Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts.

Pitts gave a lecture on Wednesday called “Religion in the 2012 Elections”. The lecture was sponsored by Texas Freedom Network and held at Congregation Emanu El.

“There is a word for nations that impose a religious litmus test for public office,” Pitts said.  “Such nations are called theocracy, i.e. countries in which the words of putative holy men carry the force of law.”

Countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan under the Taliban were named.

Pitts began his lecture with a story of a retired white minister who traveled with the second wave of Freedom Riders to advocate for African American voting rights, but was brutally beaten. This, he says, was a pure act of faith.

“Consider the legacy,” he said. “Consider what he and other people of faith in this country once did to change the landscape of our lives and our politics.”

Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, said this lecture was designed to “expose extremism seen in politics today.”

The Texas Freedom Network has also started a new chapter at UH. Freshman Emily Lynd, an active member of the Network, attended Pitts’ lecture.

“I really like their grassroots and activism approach,” Lynd said. “It seems like a good way to make a difference.”

According to Miller, chapters like the one started here on campus are important because faith is still strongly considered when choosing elected officials.

“Faith is absolutely important to most Texans,” she said.  “Politicians should not use faith as a campaign prop or political weapon to inflame the culture war.”

Pitts said that the use of religious belief in the political arena is too focused on everyone’s differences, whether it is nationality, sexual preference or faith. He said this has become a human issue.

“The paradox of religion seems to loom larger in our political lives than it did 50 years ago,” Pitts said.  “It feels … small (and) mean like it’s not about much at all.”

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  • Ms. Santos:
    Thank you for attending my lecture and for writing about it. For future reference, the movement of young people I referred to in that speech was the Freedom Riders, not "writers."
    Leonard Pitts, Jr.

  • One of the things that I have yet to understand about these types of discussions is how we can talk about extremism and how to eradicate it from religion when the bible itself has such passages as "Judges 21:10-24" "Leviticus 20:13" "Luke 19:27" "Exodus 21:20-21" and dozens of other passages in which God and Jesus both condone and encourage slaughter, murder, and rape for various "crimes". I can never understand how no one ever assumes that the people preaching these hateful messages legitamitely get their arguments from the Bible. Arent these passages "extreme"? Why are they never mentioned in a "liberal" discussion setting? I can't imagine that everyone at that event is that ignorant of the Bible.

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