Religion in America: Charitable Contributions.

When I was 12, my soccer teammate Ian Miller died in a sledding accident in Pennsylvania’s bradford county.

He was headed down a hill on a saucer sled, lost control and ran into a ski-lift beam. He was gone by the time his parents arrived in the emergency room. When the medical staff removed his boot, they found a bible verse inside. It was from the book of James, chapter 1, verse 12–“consider it pure joy, my brothers, when facing trials of many kinds. For when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure. ”

His parents took the verse as instruction, and founded a charity in his name called In Ian’s Boots, which delivers used shoes and boots to people across the world. They’ve been in operation for almost 5 years now, and have found great success, helping hundreds of different organizations across the world.

I don’t remember too much about Ian. We didn’t hang out very much off of the field, and although he was incredibly personable, we really didn’t know each other that well. But we were teammates, and therefore friends. But I feel like I know him better now because of the time I’ve spent working with In Ian’s Boots.

Which, of course, wouldn’t have been created without the strong faith of his parents and, obviously, Ian himself.

Take a look at the main tenants of any major worldwide religion and it’s likely you’ll see something about donating time or money, often 10 percent of your income, to the poor. Jesus preached about it, Muslims are directed to give away a little over two percent of their salary, and in Judaism, the word Tzedakah, which translates roughly to the duty a Jewish person has to support and donate to the poor, is considered an obligation.

Generosity and empathy are important parts of every religious doctrine, and this has translated into a heavy religious influence in America’s prominent charities and nonprofits. Take a look at the largest 100 charities in America (out of the over 86,000 foundations in the country), and you’ll notice a smattering of religion-related organizations, including the Catholic Medical Mission Board and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. In the list’s top ten, there are at least two charities–The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities USA–with explicitly religious mission statements.

Religious Americans, it has been found, give a great deal of money to charitable causes, mainly in the form of church tithes–meaning that they donate via their religious congregation.

On the other end of the give-receive charity divide, religious organizations, historically and currently, accept the most donations of any foundation category, accounting for 33 percent of all charitable donations in 2015. This is an often controversial topic in the world of donation and charitable organization–churches and other religious congregations are tax-exempt. In some cases, clergy members are even exempt from paying taxes on common utilities such as cable and property. And, according to the afore-linked article, 71 percent of church expenditures are spent on operational costs instead of actually helping the poor or needy. The red cross, the article reports, spends upwards of 90 percent of the money it receives on the poor and needy.

This, then, is the great divide in religious giving. While religious Americans are more likely to give, and give often, the organizations that they give to most often don’t always spend their money in the way that many believe they do.

I don’t believe it’s wrong for churches to spend large amounts of money on their day-to-day operational costs, as long as they are transparent with their financial allocations. I don’t think that I’m informed enough to offer an opinion on the ethics exempting churches and other religious organizations from taxes, although I believe that these two concepts, money allocation and taxation, are related, and that the taxation stance should be based off of money allocation.

But I am sure that religion plays an important role in the charitable conscience of America, even if it’s just to remind citizens to think of others. Many Americans give to charities as an effect of their religious beliefs or through religious-affiliated charities, and for this reason, religious influence does a lot of good.



“Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby,” Deliberation Report

“Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby,”  Sexual Health and Penn State

Is Penn State Doing Enough? A Deliberation Nation Event.

Post Deliberation Report.

Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University,                                                   3/16/2017


We present this report in an effort to put the findings gleaned from our Deliberation Nation event to practical and progressive use. The conclusions presented are drawn from the research our team conducted over a month-long period as well as the incredibly insightful and detailed commentary provided by those who attended our public deliberation event.

We hope that you, the faculty senate, will heed the suggestions and data included in our report and use our findings to make curricular or organizational changes that would make our campus a sexually safer place.


Jim Davidson, Anthony Colucci, Aaron Hochberg, Marlisa Shaw, Mary Reid, Peyton Woodward, Ryan Cornell, Sofie Lufty, Stefania Tomich, Julia Beerman, Katheryn Facelle and Evan Schuval.

Deliberation Notes—Attendance, Topics Discussed, etc.

Our town-hall style deliberation took place in State College’s municipal building on March 1. The audience was composed of 17 people, and included students, a university police officer and an academic adviser among others. Further information regarding our research, the assignment and the event itself can be found via the following links:

 Assignment Description

 Issue Guide/Research Compilation

 Post-Deliberation Questionnaire

Conclusions: Recurring Themes, Important Comments, and Popular Solutions

Our audience provided several thoughtful ideas regarding the relationship between the State College community, the University and sexual assault. They agreed that Penn State has a great deal of influence over the sexual climate of the State College area, and noted that if an incident involving sexual assault occurs anywhere in the community, it is automatically assumed to be connected with the University. It was also suggested that the constant bombardment of sexual assault-related announcements has desensitized the community to the issue of sexual safety—many now view such crimes as a commonality instead of a tragic problem. And from a broader perspective, some community members in attendance said that they consider Penn State to have a significant problem with rape culture and are not optimistic that sex-related problems will be resolved soon.

The discussion also provided some useful insight regarding the sexual health, knowledge and activism of current Penn State students. Audience feedback and research came to the startling conclusion that many college students—at Penn State and across the country—lack a severe amount of knowledge when it comes to sexual health. Our discussion traced this lack of knowledge to a lack of overall awareness—the audience was adamant that most students simply tune out alerts such as timely warnings and sex-related educational messages because they receive them so often. Stand for State, a sexual safety-promoting activist group composed of students, is visible but foreign to most students according to our own experience and that of the audience. Despite Stand for State’s consistent action, many students are completely unaware of what the organization actually stands for. And most alarmingly, audience and team members agreed that for many students, the definitions of rape, sexual assault and legal terms relating to sexual relations are still unclear, causing many cases of sexual misconduct to go unreported and to continue occurring.

Finally, and most importantly, the deliberation seemed to answer our guiding question—whether Penn State does enough to educate its students on sexual health and maintain their sexual safety. Unfortunately, the answer to this question seemed to be ‘no.’ A common sentiment among all of those involved in the deliberation was that Penn State is attempting to educate its students on sexual health and safety, but their efforts are not effective in engaging students and forcing them to retain the information provided to them. For example, Penn State’s AWARE module, which educates incoming freshman on sexual safety on campus, was considered by many to be a waste of time and unhelpful. Many students noted that they barely retained the information included in the module, and one sophomore student forgot that she had completed it altogether. In short, the deliberation showed the need for a change in Penn State’s sexual education model. [1]

Through our work as a group and conversation with the audience, we were able to come up with several possible solutions to the sexual health. Some suggested that action taken by other American universities would be effective in solving Penn State’s sex-related problems. For example, some audience members suggested that Penn State launch an app that has been successful in combating sexual assault at Dartmouth College[2]. But overall, the most popular possibility was the addition of an in-person, sexual education seminar class to the freshman curriculum. Audience and team members alike concluded that an actual class would be effective in educating new students on sexual health and safety.

Proposed Solution: A Skeletal Plan for a Sexual Education Course

Our deliberation led us to the conclusion that sexual education in the college curriculum should exist and should be directed towards freshman. We realize, however, that an entirely new course added to the already packed schedule of any student would be an unrealistic proposal. Instead, we suggest that an already required freshman course be modified to include sexual education-related topics.

Enter CAS 100 and RCL 137—two versions of a similar English course framework. Each freshman is required to take one of these year-long courses, which focus on building communicative skills such as persuasive writing and public speaking by encouraging discourse on relevant social and political issues. We propose that these courses be modified to focus their assignments around issues regarding modern sexual relations, and believe that this would be feasible for several reasons.

There is a multitude of literature, news-style writing, nonfiction and historical texts, and multimedia content relating to modern sexual issues including, for example, rape and sexual harassment. Instructors would have no trouble finding every genre of example text needed to properly teach their class.

The basic framework of these classes would remain the same, and can be easily modified to fit this new model. For example, instead of asking students to write a ‘paradigm shift paper’ (RCL) on a topic of their choosing, require them to pick from a list of sexual relations-related topics. An example of an effective approach to this assignment: chart the changing definition of the term rape, and explain why this definition has expanded over the last 20 years. These assignments may even boost student performance, given the general human fascination by sex.

Finally, these new-look, sex-related classes would require no extra resources. The curriculum of each would focus only on broad, societal sex-related issues, making an English professor the perfect overseer of the class and eliminating the hassle of bringing new faculty into the university. The textbooks for these classes, or at least those for RCL—we assume those that are required for CAS are similar—instruct students on styles of writing or speaking and grammar, not particular world-related content. Supplemental material regarding real world issues can be found online or elsewhere, as they currently are provided in the course.

Even if the course is feasible, it must also be effective. We believe that this concept can solve the aforementioned problems for several reasons.

By exposing students to the written experiences of sexual assault victims and others who have faced challenges with sexual health and safety, the university can build an important sense of empathy between students that would likely cause them to be more careful in situations containing possible sexual danger.

A more concrete aspect of this approach is the ability for educators to explicitly outline the definition of important sex-related terms in a familiar classroom setting—many of which are foreign to modern students as our deliberation exhibited.

One of the most prevalent causes of sexual problems is poor communication. If a student learns to write and speak effectively about sex-related issues with their peers as an audience, we believe that they will then find it easier to communicate effectively about sex when it matters most—with a future partner or in a dangerous situation, for example.

We hope that the administration will consider implementing this proposal for the health and safety of the next generation of Penn State students.


[1] Also, it was mentioned by an audience member that transfer students are sometimes not able to receive timely warnings and are not required to complete the SAFE module, which is a problem that needs to be addressed.

[2] See issue guide for more information regarding successful initiatives at other schools, including the aforementioned app.


(Works cited included in Issue guide/research packet)

Islam and America, Important Statistics.


Muslim men praying.

As a reporter for, it’s my job to write engaging, relevant stories for Penn State students and the state college community as a whole. I sometimes stray from this mission statement–not all of my stories are interesting and it can be very difficult to generate blog-worthy ideas at times. But once in awhile, I stumble upon a story that is begging to be told, that needs to be told for the good of the people involved and the entire community. I was lucky enough to stumble upon one of these situations several weeks before spring break.

You’ve probably eaten at one of Hitham Hiyajneh’s downtown State College restaurants. Pita Cabana, Yallah Taco, Underground Burgers and Crepes, Tazzah and the Melt Shack are the components of his massive fleet of eateries–all of them opening within the last six years and finding great success in the downtown restaurant scene. But what’s even more interesting than the success of the restaurants is the story of Hyajneh himself. He’s a muslim immigrant from Jordan who arrived in America in 1989, worked to open his own businesses, and is now trying to bring the rest of his family across the atlantic from his home country.

You can read my piece on Hiyajneh here:

Hiyajneh takes his religion seriously. He’s an active member of Center County’s muslim community, and all of his restaurants exclusively serve Halal food, meaning that every dish is prepared with ingredients that adhere to muslim dietary restrictions outlined in the Quran.

Talking to Hiyajneh reminded me of the rapid growth of Islam across the world, and the ever-increasing number of muslim Americans. But it also made me aware of the general lack of knowledge Americans exhibit regarding Islam tradition. Hiyajneh agreed with this sentiment, and referenced the often misguided media portrayal of Islam.

After writing about islam in my last post and listening to Hiyajneh, I was curious to find out more about Islam in America and across the world, and did some basic research which I’ll present here in the hopes of providing a greater context for the Islam-related discussions taking place in our society today, a sort of “Islam by the numbers” post that will attempt to provide only basic facts about population and recent events that I find relevant as they relate to modern misconceptions. I will not attempt to define Islam, but will leave this link here for readers who want to know more about its basic tenants.

Islam was founded, according to PBS, some 1400 years ago by the profit Muhammed.

The Pew Research Center estimates that approximately 3.3 million muslims were living in the United States as of 2015. Despite the magnitude of this figure, muslims only make up about 1 percent of the U.S population and are thereby a significant minority when compared with other major religious groups in the country. But according to the same organization and data, it is projected to become the second largest religion in America behind christianity, and by 2050 research suggests that muslim Americans will make up an increased 2.1% of the population. On a global scale, Muslims make up about 23 percent of the worlds population with 1.6 billion adherents, concentrated mostly in the middle east, sub-saharan Africa, Europe, and Asia.

A generally overwhelming majority of muslims across the world disagree with the violent actions of ISIS and other terrorist groups– less than 10 percent in most countries mentioned in the aforementioned Pew Research study.

According to an article from the Daily Beast, “Homicide rates in Muslim-majority countries average about two murders per annum per 100,000 people. In non-Muslim countries, the average rate is about 8 per 100,000. Murder rates fluctuate from year to year, but they are consistently low in Muslim societies.” 68 murders were reported in Jakarta, one of the most muslim-populated cities in the world, in 2014. 390 murders were committed in Chicago over the course of the same year.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s necessary to recognize that “global terrorism is a disproportionally muslim phenomenon.” But at the same time, Americans must realize that most people killed in terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists are other muslims. According to the above-quoted article from the daily beast, an American has a one in 3.5 billion chance of being killed in an act of terrorism every year, and it is unlikely that that attack would be committed by a muslim extremist. Business Insider lists the odds of an American being killed by a foreign-born terrorist over the course of their lifetime to be one in 45,808, which highlights the often overlooked commonality of mass shootings committed by legal American citizens.

I’ve presented these facts in the hope of offering some context to the slew of modern misconceptions about muslims in America. Please feel free to add more or ask questions in the comments section, I’ll do my best to answer given my limited background but interest in researching the subject.




Deliberation Attendance Reflection

Students riot on Beaver Avenue.

I attended a deliberation presented by students in Kate Rosenberg’s RCL II class on Thursday, March 3rd.

The presentation focused on an interesting, timely and relevant topic: riots in downtown state college and how our community can come together to stop them. The team was well prepared and efficiently organized.

Riots after football games and in pursuit of supposedly murderous clowns have become a massive problem in our community and are responsible for massive amounts of damage on Beaver Avenue and other close, off-campus locations. Penn State has made national news several times over the course of this school year because of these riots, and the fact that they have become so common is understandably alarming to many.

Each of the deliberation team’s approaches focused on a different solution to the problem, from the University itself taking action and creating strict policies to combat rioters, to the local police and county being prepared to prevent riots in the first place, to both organizations working together to build trust and understanding between borough citizens and students. Questions were posed to the audience at the end of each approach, and thoughtful discussion followed each bout of information.

The team did an excellent job of inviting high-profile local figures to the event, with Mayor Goreham and several police department administrators in attendance.The law enforcement officials were adamant that the rioters be treated as criminals and that students learn to obey police orders in riot situations, and I thought it was incredibly professional of the group to invite them and encourage them to offer their own input with regard to the issue because they’ve experienced the riots first hand.

Several State College residents attended the event as well, and offered their own opinions and perspective regarding the riots and what they think should be done to combat them. Hearing from people who have been directly affected by the riots tell their own stories and voice their concerns about property damage helped me to understand the true extent of the damage caused by the riots and why it is so important that they must be stopped.

The deliberation was run smoothly and, at times, grew passionate. The local residents were obviously angered by the riots and it was good to see that the forum was serving as an actual outlet where they could voice their concerns.

The group did an excellent job of presenting relevant information concisely. But I think they could’ve improved the discussion portion of their presentation by allowing the conversation to flow without constantly trying to divert it back to the discussion questions they had prepared prior to the event. The team cut off several meaning conversations that were relevant to the whole deliberation for the sake of  sticking to their plan, and I think this was detrimental with regard to proposing the maximum number of solutions to the problem.

I was most impressed by the group’s topic. Downtown riots are timely, local and affect lots of state college residents, and for this reason the conversation was informative and productive. I hope that the group will present its findings to policy makers who will make the most of the information, because the deliberation participants proposed several thoughtful and practical solutions to State College’s riot problem.

Religion in Politics

An excellent and timely article from Boston University’s magazine ( tells a little-mentioned story about Hillary Clinton that I found interesting.

Clinton, unlike other recent presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum, is not known for being religious or using religion as a way to attract voters despite her methodist heritage. But while stopping at a South Carolina bakery May 2015, Clinton struck up a conversation about the bible with a local patron, and won his support through religious discussion.

I admittedly didn’t read the rest of the article because I didn’t want it to influence or overtake the ideas I had for this post. But in short, it argues that Religion, despite not being as visible as it was at one time in America, is still a dominant and persuasive force in American politics, and every major politicians–especially those running for president–need to express some sort of faith in order to convince candidates of their legitimacy.

I agree. Although the culture of America has been increasingly secular as the years roll by, I think religion still plays a large roll in our government. An examination of recent campaign strategies, political candidates and voter demographics prove that this is the case.

The most recent and powerful religiously-related political act to take place in America’s governmental agenda was Donald Trump’s travel ban on several majority-islam countries in the middle east. Although the ban wasn’t specifically labelled as a ban on muslims, the media branded it as such because it was enacted in an effort to prevent extremist terrorist attacks committed by citizens of the nations in question. The ban caused a massive pushback and protests erupted across the nation.

But a certain group of American citizens, I’m sure, were celebrating. Trump’s list of campaign promises included a proposal to extensively screen all muslims entering the country and, in some cases, muslims that have lived in the U.S. for years. Trump instilled a fear of Islam in voters, and then catered to that fear by promising to eliminate it. Many of those who voted for him were driven to do so by this fear.

In this way, a fear of terrorism grew until it encompassed an entire religion. And this difference/fear between religious groups gave trump extra momentum in pursuit of the presidency.

On the other hand, if you take a look at the republican party’s roster of candidates from the past year, you’ll find several religious men who are vocal about their faith.

Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and, a little further back, Mitt Romney all mentioned faith in their campaign speeches and used it to appeal to crowds on the campaign trail.


Here’s Ted talking about atheists and why they shouldn’t be president:

These candidates used religion to garner support of other religious people, indicating that there is a smaller but politically important demographic of religious (christian) voters in America.

Religion is not as prevalent in political policy and campaigning in the same way as it used to be, but it is still influential nonetheless. Candidates use it to create an emotional appeal–be it one of fear (Trump’s campaign promises) or support and comfort (Ted Cruz’s christian identification)

These campaign strategies appeal to a certain type of voter. Despite their decline among the general population and headlines like this one: ( White, evangelical christians still represent an important voting demographic and hold a large stake in the American political scene. They’re consistently among the most courted groups on the campaign trail, and they voted in record numbers for Donald Trump in last fall’s election (81% of them voted for him, a record  majority among their demographic according to this article: Trump and other candidates often spoke at churches during every stage of the campaign.

This is only one example of religious appeals in political strategy. But the fact that this specific religious demographic was singled out by campaign managers and played such a crucial role in the election shows that religion still guides many people’s decisions and is taken into consideration/used by the political elite.

Politics focuses on persuasion, and persuasion works best when conducted between two people that trust each other. By identifying and appealing to religion in their campaign speeches and policy, Candidates build trust and establish command ground with voters. As is indicated by the prevalence and one-sidedness of one religious demographic in America, these appeals can be effective. Overall, religion continues to play an important, albeit smaller role in the political influence and trends in America.

America and the Second Rennaissance

Ancient Renaissance scholar Petrarch of Italy.

One of the oldest, most divided and captivating human phenomena is religion. For many, it’s a way of justifying existence and inspiring creation. Religion drove the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, plunged Europe into the middle ages, spurred the colonization of the new world and caused countless wars that drew the boundary lines of the world as we know them.

Religion has always been present in the conscience of America. A historically Christian country that revered church on Sunday, uses the word “God” in legal proceedings and swears its president into office with one hand on the Bible, America’s traditions and decision making have always included religion.

But recently, America has drifted away from its hyper-Christian roots. Recent supreme court decisions such as 2015’s ruling on gay marriage and Roe vs. Wade from the 1970s as well as broad pop-culture trends suggest that Americans are personally becoming less religious and that religion is not as involved as it used to be in making major governmental decisions.

My purpose in writing this blog is to explore religion/spirituality in America by examining its history, charting its decline, researching its influence and, most importantly and extensively, finding out what it means to the modern American or why it is relevant in our country today. Religious issues are more prevalent in national politics and daily life than ever, and I believe it’s time to focus specifically on the role religion plays in our daily life.

But first, I’d like to use my first post to describe a fairly controversial theory. I believe that America is in the midst of a second Renaissance, and that its movement away from religion in favor of secularism indicates that this is true.

The first, world-changing Renaissance occurred primarily between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Ancient scholars such as Italy’s Petrarch rediscovered and translated classical texts from ancient Greece and Rome, providing a ‘rebirth of classical learning’ and exploration and breaking the feudal, progressive-stalling traditions of the middle ages. These findings and the subsequent scientific and academic advancement they inspired led to an increased awareness of the self and secular human individuality known as Humanism.

Humanism and religion didn’t mix well, and as the Catholic church lost power, secular pursuits such as art and science flourished. Brilliant minds such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci worked in the same epoch as world shakers like Galileo and Copernicus. Knowledge was accumulated gradually, the quality of life improved, and massive scientific advancements were made in medicine, astronomy, physics, biology and other fields. Martin Luther and his followers created an entirely new religion via the protestant reformation in the early 1500’s. And as peasants were released from their feudal bonds, new political systems emerged. More Renaissance info can be found here: ( )

But this progress would’ve been unattainable if the religious establishment that controlled Europe throughout the middle ages hadn’t been toppled through skepticism and the formation of new ideas. When religious influence declined, progress in the sciences and arts skyrocketed. Freedom from religious binding allowed the Renaissance to happen.

Theoretically, America now sits in a similar position to late-middle-ages Europe. We are in the process of political upheaval, religion is declining in importance for most Americans and the technological revolution is in full swing. Companies and brands like Google, Apple, Twitter and Amazon are changing our daily lives almost as drastically as the scholars and scientists of the Renaissance. Connectivity is constant and life is incredibly convenient.

The convenience-concerned aspects of these companies—two-day shipping, faster smartphones—have created a new sort of selfish Humanism. We are more focused on our own comfort and individuality than ever, and depend on technology more than any other society in history.

What allows us to do this? A shift in spirituality. These studies conducted by the Pew Research Center ( )

( ) indicate that though a feeling of “spiritual peace” and universal curiosity is on the rise among Americans, traditional religious practice and adherence is declining. Theories abound as to why this is the case, from the selfishness of the modern youth to a larger demographic that considers themselves spiritual but not specifically religious.

What the decline in traditional religion may indicate is that our country is currently or about to undergo massive change through technological and cultural advancements, much like ancient Europe during the first Renaissance. If history is any indication, the decline in religious strictness indicates a period of growth.