MIDDLEBURY, Vt. —
America's Catholic bishops and other traditional religious leaders cried foul, claiming that under the leadership of Obama, the U.S. Justice Department and other branches of the national government were trying to separate "freedom of worship" in religious sanctuaries from the First Amendment's more sweeping protection of "free exercise of religion" in public life.
In a year packed with church-state fireworks, the members of the Religion Newswriters Association selected this religious-liberty clash as the year's top religion news story. Meanwhile, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the point man for Catholic opposition to the mandate, was voted the year's top religion newsmaker from a ballot that did not contain the president's name.
The story I ranked No. 2 overall didn't make it into the association's Top 10 list. I was convinced that the 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming a Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation's right to hire and fire employees based on doctrine could be crucial in the years or even months ahead.
Here's the rest of the RNA Top 10 list:
- Research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that religiously unaffiliated people the so-called "nones" make up the fastest-growing religious group in modern America, approaching 20 percent of the population.
- The online trailer of an anti-Islam film, "Innocence of Muslims," is alleged to have inspired violence in several countries, including a fatal attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya.
- White House candidate Mitt Romney's Mormon faith turns out to be a non-issue for white evangelical voters, who support him more strongly than they did 2008 GOP nominee John McCain.
- Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia becomes the first senior U.S. Catholic official found guilty of hiding priestly child abuse, followed by Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo.
- Vatican officials harshly criticize liberal leaders among U.S. nuns, citing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for its history of criticism of church teachings on sexuality, abortion and the all-male priesthood.
- Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington affirm same-sex marriage. Minnesota defeats a ban on same-sex marriage, while North Carolina approves one.
- Episcopal Church leaders adopt a trial ritual for blessing same-sex couples.
- A gunman police describe as a neo-Nazi kills six Sikhs and wounds three others in a suburban Milwaukee temple.
- The Southern Baptist Convention unanimously elects its first African-American president, the Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans.
Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.
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