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Journalists visit ASU to discuss 'Religion in the Civic Sphere'

Experts wonder if evangelical women's support for Trump is waning.
NY Times op-ed columnist skeptical that Kavanaugh won't overturn Roe v. Wade.
October 17, 2018

Rousing discussion about evangelical votes, civil religion and more part of series looking at 'Religion, Journalism and Democracy'

Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict interim director John Carlson warned audience members at an event Tuesday evening on Arizona State University's Tempe campus that they’d better be having a late dinner.

“Many of us grew up being told not to talk about religion and politics at dinner, so I’m going to assume we’re all eating late tonight, because that’s exactly what we’re going to do now,” he said. “Tonight, we’ll be exploring the role religion plays in public life — the good, the bad and the ugly — with a focus on the civic sphere.”

Sponsored by the School for Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership as part of its “Polarization and Civil Disagreement” lecture series, “Religion in the Civic Sphere” featured New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat; editor-at-large for the National Review Kathryn Jean Lopez; and Chicago-based journalist Amy Sullivan, who has covered religion and politics for TIME, Yahoo and the Washington Monthly. Carlson served as moderator, and the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict as a co-sponsor, along with the University of Mary.

The panel discussion was the second of three public talks related to a project spearheaded by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “Religion, Journalism and Democracy” brings together journalists and religious scholars to exchange insights and expertise in a series of workshops, public talks and private luncheons throughout the fall semester.

“What makes this panel — and the center’s yearlong project — so exciting is the opportunity to advance public understanding about the role of religion in public life," Carlson said. "Religion has always been part of democratic life. The question we need to explore are the ways in which it informs or distorts our visions of what it means to be citizens in a republic.”

The third public talk, “A Conversation on Religion, Journalism and Democracy with Daniel Burke,” takes place Monday, Oct. 29, from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Cronkite First Amendment Forum on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

The conversation at Tuesday evening’s event was lively, ranging from religious female voting patterns to abortion to civil religion in the Donald Trump White House.

Much of what was discussed was framed by how it might affect the upcoming midterm elections in November. And the “perennial question,” Sullivan said, “is whether Trump is losing evangelical women or not.”

Panelists were uncertain, but Douthat said it’s likely that many evangelical women who voted for Trump did so while “holding their nose,” and that perhaps some of them regret it — something that will be revealed on Nov. 6.

Regarding concerns about freshly appointed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s stance on abortion rights, Douthat pointed out that while pledging her support for him, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins attempted to reassure the public that Kavanaugh would not overturn Roe v. Wade.

Douthat was skeptical: “Somebody is getting taken for a ride here, and we’ll find out who in the next five years.”

When conversation turned to the state of civil religion in the Trump administration, Sullivan shared an anecdote about her 4-year-old son, who made a comment about the president being mean. She felt it demonstrated how even young children are picking up on public sentiment that the current president is lacking in moral character.

Carlson explained civil religion as the guiding principles of the country that include such notions as freedom and human dignity for all.

“This president is not a real strong voice of civil religion,” Carlson argued, citing Trump’s reluctance to halt a billion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia despite the country’s apparent sanctioning of the alleged murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

What Carlson wanted to know from the panelists was whether we, as a nation, can recover from what he called a seeming moral descent.

“I do think we can recover,” Lopez said. “But it depends on who’s willing to fight for principles and party leadership.”

The discussion concluded with questions from audience members, one of whom posited a question in the same vein, about how a nation so divided can possibly come together again in light of major differences of opinion on political, religious and general life issues.

Lopez’s response was simple but poignant: “We all have something in common.”

Top photo: New York Times columnist Ross Douthat speaks during "Religion in the Civic Sphere: A Panel Discussion," on Tuesday in Old Main. From left, panelists Kathryn Jean Lopez, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute; Douthat; and Chicago-based journalist Amy Sullivan held a lively political discussion moderated by John Carlson, interim director of ASU's Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Ross Douthat was also a featured speaker at the lecture, "One Country, Three Faiths: America's Real Religious Divide," hosted by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership on Wednesday, Oct. 17.

Video by Jamie Ell/ASU Now

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Marijuana on the long road to medicine

October 17, 2018

ASU panel discussion debates benefits and perils of medical cannabis and why doctors want more scientific research

Last year almost 87,000 pounds of marijuana were sold to the nearly 153,000 Arizonans who carry medical cards legally allowing them to buy it (that equates to slightly more than half a pound each per year).

Clearly, it’s a viable solution for their ills. Unlike a pill, however, it’s tough to gauge the strength of a dose with any kind of precision. And serious doctors want to see the science before including marijuana in a treatment plan. For anxiety, no problem. For childhood epilepsy, it’s a minefield.

Two experts debated the issues surrounding medical marijuana Wednesday night at a panel discussion hosted by Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions: “Medical cannabis: What’s real, what's blowing smoke and what’s flat-out dangerous?”

Both agreed that marijuana is effective in treating problems like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, because pot can’t be readily studied (“almost impossible,” one panelist said), for now it’s a blunt hammer more than a scalpel.

Dr. Angus Wilfong, the division chief of pediatric neurology and associate director of Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, said he has concerns with prescribing it because it hasn’t been studied.

“It takes science to know when something is safe and effective,” Wilfong said. “Before we can widely embrace a new therapy, no matter what it is … we need some science, and not just anecdotes.”

Wilfong said he’d never argue with a family of a child whose epileptic seizures are prevented by marijuana. It has been used for health care for 5,000 years, but in those 5,000 years, there has been almost no clinical science.

“That science is what it takes to find out something works,” Wilfong said.

Trials in devastating epilepsy cases led to the FDA approving CBDCannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid constituent of cannabis. for children with the condition.

The problem with marijuana research is the drug is classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA. That means, in the eyes of the government, marijuana is on a par with heroin; it has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Scientists literally rarely get their hands on it to study it, said co-panelist Jason Robert, the director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at ASU and a faculty member in the School of Life Sciences.

“What that amounts to is not quite a clampdown but certainly a restriction in the availability of marijuana for research purposes,” Robert said. “We’ve got a situation in this country where it’s effectively a Catch-22.”

Robert said we might be better off legalizing pot recreationally, as Canada did Wednesday, in conjunction with medical legalisation. “Hopefully we’ll see some changes in the regulatory structure that will allow us to do some research,” he said.

The ethical qualms come from the way medical marijuana is currently prescribed — with a wink and a nod. That’s not doing medicine or science any good, he said.

Wilfong said that although marijuana may help a child with chronic epilepsy, that child may also be on four other drugs in conjunction with brain surgery and an electronic pacemaker. Because marijuana has not been studied, it’s not understood at all how it will interact with those other treatments. And the active chemical in marijuana may not be measured precisely from dispensary to dispensary.

“Any little change in dosing for childhood epilepsy could be deadly,” Wilfong said.

“Anecdotes will not address that,” Robert agreed.

The debate was part of the ASU College of Health Solutions’ yearlong panel discussion series, “We Need to Talk: Tough Conversations About Health,” which examines hot-button health issues. The series is the brainchild of Dr. Joseph Sirven, a physician at Mayo Clinic and an adjunct professor of the college.

Top photo: Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics Director Jason Robert (left) and Dr. Angus Wilfong, the division chief of pediatric neurology and associate director of Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, discuss the anecdotal research on the use of medical marijuana at the "We Need to Talk" series at the A.E. England Building in downtown Phoenix on Wednesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now