(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn)
Here are The Christian Post's "Top 10" politics stories for 2013:
10. "Unstuck Movement" Highlights Broken International Adoption System
Problems have plagued the system of international adoption at least since 2009, after the U.S. State Department began encouraging developing nations to adopt the U.N.'s Hague Treaty. The problems became so acute that international adoption advocates and adoptive parents began fighting back.
A bus tour, which began in 2012, traveled the country showing the documentary "Stuck," aptly named to describe to condition of thousands of orphans hoping to be united with their adoptive families. The tour finished in May with the "March for Orphans" in Washington, D.C. It was at that march that Craig Juntunen, president and founder of Both Ends Burning, announced the beginning of "The UnStuck Movement" to advocate for the needs of orphans worldwide.
Also in 2013, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced legislation, Children in Families First (CHiFF), to address some of the problems that have plagued the international adoption system. And the week before Christmas, the "Children in Families Working Group" sent a letter to Sec. of State John Kerry asking him to address the many problems within the State Department that have contributed to the dramatic decline in international adoptions.
9. Backlash Against Common Core
The Common Core State Standards Initiative was first part of the Education Department's "Race to the Top" program from the 2009 stimulus bill. As states have begun implementing the K-12 standards, though, the pushback has been tremendous, especially over the past year.
The complaints are as diverse as the critics, who hail from all sides of the political spectrum: the standards were implemented in a dubious manner without input from state legislatures, they are inferior to existing standards in some states, they prioritize creating good workers over creating good citizens, and the early childhood standards were written without input from early childhood experts.
8. Federal Budget Battles
2013 began with the signing of a bill to prevent the "fiscal cliff," a combination of spending cuts (sequestration) and tax increases that, some claimed, would have had a devastating impact on the U.S. economy. The bill increased some taxes on the wealthy and delayed the sequester for a few months as lawmakers still could not agree on a budget.
With the two sides still unable to come to an agreement, the sequester went into effect in March. As the parties continued to debate budget priorities, the debate came to a head in October when Republicans refused to pass a government funding bill unless changes were made to Obamacare. That led to a government shutdown lasting until mid-October.
The shutdown was widely blamed on Republicans. With the GOP wishing to recover from the embarrassment of the shutdown and Democrats wanting to avoid some of the sequester cuts, the two sides came to an agreement in a conference committee. The budget they agreed on was passed by both houses by the end of December.
The national debt surpassed $17 trillion in 2013 and political leaders show no signs of a willingness to compromise on a "Grand Bargain" to reduce the long-term growth of budget deficits.
Passage of the budget is a sign (but no guarantee) that, perhaps, there will be fewer budget battles in 2014.
7. IRS Targets Conservatives, Pro-Lifers, Evangelicals
Revelations surfaced that during the 2012 election cycle the Internal Revenue Service had intentionally targeted conservative, pro-life and evangelical groups for additional scrutiny and harassment. Throughout the 2012 election, conservative groups were complaining about IRS harassment, but few took their complaints seriously at the time.
The IRS first staged the announcement by planting a question with a reporter. After that first announcement, other groups said they were being targeted as well, including pro-life groups, Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and James Dobson's Family Talk Action.
Additionally, the National Organization for Marriage sued the IRS for releasing confidential information about its donors to the Human Rights Campaign, a group that opposes NOM's efforts to defend marriage. And Dr. Benjamin Carson had an encounter with the IRS after delivering a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast that was critical of Obama's health care policies.
Obama initially said the IRS' actions were "outrageous" and he had "no tolerance" for them. Later, though, he accused Republicans of bringing up "phony scandals" and in December he criticized liberals who were "outraged" at the scandal.
6. Evangelicals and Immigration Reform
Evangelicals from both the right and left of the political spectrum joined forces in 2013 to advocate for fixes to America's immigration system. The coalition, called the Evangelical Immigration Table, was active in mobilizing grassroots supporters and lobbying members of Congress and the White House.
Their efforts appeared to have momentum after the 2012 election and during the Summer when the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill. Progress slowed considerably, though, when the process moved to the U.S. House of Representatives. While Congress will end the year without immigration reform, after passage of a budget bill, the House appears poised to take up a series of immigration bills early in 2014.
5. Religious Liberty Lawsuits Over Obamacare's Birth Control Mandate
Religious freedom lawsuits continued in 2013 over the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that most employers provide birth control, including contraceptives, sterilization and "morning after" pills that can cause an abortion, in their employee's healthcare plans. The biggest birth control mandate news in 2013 is that Supreme Court will review, in 2014, the constitutionality of the mandate as it applies to for-profit corporations.
According to The Becket Fund, 89 cases have been filed so far with almost 300 plaintiffs. About half of those cases are from non-profit groups.
4. Kermit Gosnell Trial Leads to Abortion Restrictions Debate
The trial helped advance pro-life arguments because it illustrated that, indeed, a fetus is a human life worthy of protection. Gosnell was sent to prison while abortionists continue to legally do the same thing he did with the only difference being geography - they kill the baby before she leaves the womb.
The most high profile state-level debate that emerged in the aftermath of Gosnell occurred in Texas, mostly due to the emergence of State Sen. Wendy Davis as the defender of late-term abortions. Davis famously filibustered a bill to ban abortions after the fetus is 20-weeks old. Activists from both sides of the debate descended on Austin as the legislation went into a second special session in July.
Davis used her newfound celebrity status to go on a fundraising trip to Washington, D.C., where she admitted that she was unaware of what happened in the Gosnell trial. She is now running for governor of Texas, which will help ensure that the abortion debate will continue into 2014.
3. Advancement of Gay Marriage in States and Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court decided two groundbreaking cases related to the definition of marriage in the Summer of 2013. The Court struck a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law, and refused to overturn a lower court ruling that declared California's Proposition 8, in which voters decided to define marriage as between one man and one woman, unconstitutional.
In addition to California, marriage was redefined to include same-sex couples in nine additional states in 2013: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Maryland, Rhode Island and Utah.
2. Obamacare Rollout is a Disaster
First came news that the website was not working, then health insurance policy cancellation letters began arriving in mailboxes, then came news of a possible "death spiral" with too few healthy young people signing up, then Obama's promise that "if you like your plan you can keep it" was declared the "lie of the year" by Politifact, then administration "fixes" to the problems created additional confusion to an already chaotic situation.
The rollout of Obama's signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act or "Obamacare," has been widely recognized across the political spectrum as a disaster. The failures will likely have consequences going into the next two election cycles and, indeed, for Obama's legacy.
And, as of the week before Christmas, the blunders keep coming. Organizing for Action, Barack Obama's campaign organization, tweeted a photo of a young adult wearing a plaid onesie and drinking hot chocolate as part of its media campaign to get young adults to sign up for Obamacare. "Pajama Boy" was widely panned by media from both the right and left and further diminished Obama's perceived competency.
1. Christian Persecution in the Middle East
CP's top political news story for 2013 is the alarming rise in violence and persecution against Christians in the Middle East. This would not be the first year that Christians have been persecuted for their beliefs, and Christians are not the only religious group suffering from attacks due to their beliefs (as Tibetan Buddhists in China, Bahá'í in Iran or Shia Muslims in Pakistan can attest), but 2013 has been particularly notable for the large increase in violence against Christians.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram went on a killing spree that took the lives of 14,000, most of whom were Christians who were targeted because of their faith. According to one expert, this amounted to about 60 percent of the Christians who died for their faith over the past year.
Christians have also been targets amid the chaos of the civil war in Syria and the coup in Egypt. While also fighting the Assad regime, rebel forces with ties to Al Qaeda have targeted Christian communities, even though they remain neutral in the Syrian war. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been attacked and their churches have been burned to the ground.
John L. Allen, Jr., the senior Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, published a book in 2013, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. In a November interview with CP, he said, "When I ask persecuted Christians [how Western Christians can help] ... the first thing they always say is, 'Don't forget about us.'
"They have a powerful sense of having been abandoned and ignored, which exacerbates their hardships. The best answer to what Western churches can do, therefore, is to make it clear in every way possible that they haven't forgotten."