Category Archives: Belief

Shifts seen in support for death penalty

Electric chair

Electric chair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By KEVIN JOHNSON
c. 2012 USA Today
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) The campaign to abolish the death penalty has been freshly invigorated this month in a series of actions that supporters say represents increasing evidence that America may be losing its taste for capital punishment.

As early as this week, Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, is poised to sign

a bill repealing the death penalty in Connecticut. A separate proposal

The Gas Chamber at New Mexico Penitentiary, Sa...

The Gas Chamber at New Mexico Penitentiary, Santa Fe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

has qualified for the November ballot in California that would shut down the largest death row in the country and convert inmates’ sentences to life without parole.

Academics, too, have recently taken indirect aim: The National Research Council concluded last week that there have been no reliable studies to show that capital punishment is a deterrent to homicide.

That study, which does not take a position on capital punishment, follows a Gallup Poll last fall that found support for the death penalty had slipped to 61 percent nationally, the lowest level in 39 years.

Even in Texas, which has long projected the harshest face of the U.S. criminal justice system, there has been a marked shift. Last year, the state’s 13 executions marked the lowest number in 15 years. And this year, the state — the perennial national leader in executions — is scheduled to carry out just 10.

Capital punishment proponents say the general decline in death sentences and executions in recent years is merely a reflection of the sustained drop in violent crime, but some lawmakers and legal analysts say the numbers underscore a growing wariness of wrongful convictions.

In Texas, Dallas County alone has uncovered 30 wrongful convictions since 2001, the most of any county in the country. Former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat, said he continues to support the death penalty “only in a select number of cases,” yet he says he believes that a “national reassessment” is now warranted given the stream of recent exonerations.

“I have been a proponent of the death penalty, but convicting people who didn’t commit the crime has to stop,” White said.

“There is an inherent unfairness in the system,” said former Los Angeles County district attorney Gil Garcetti, a Democrat. He added that he was “especially troubled” by mounting numbers of wrongful convictions.

A recent convert to the California anti-death-penalty campaign, Garcetti said the current system has become “obscenely expensive” and forces victims to often wait years for death row appeals to run their course. In the past 34 years in California, just 13 people have been executed as part of a system that costs $184 million per year to maintain.

“Replacing capital punishment will give victims legal finality,” Garcetti said.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, said California’s referendum marks a potentially “historic” moment in the anti-death-penalty movement in a state that houses 22 percent of the nation’s death row prisoners.

“Repeal in California would be a huge development,” Dieter said. “Just getting it on the ballot is big.”

Nationally, Dieter said, fading arguments for capital punishment as a deterrent to homicide and mounting numbers of wrongful convictions are “turning a corner” in the debate.

Democratic state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a sponsor of the bill to repeal Connecticut’s death penalty, said capital punishment’s “promise to victims and taxpayers is hollow.” In Connecticut, only one person has been executed in the past 52 years.

Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, said the country’s system of capital punishment is in need of change, but not elimination. He said there is “strong motivation,” though, to fix a system that can take 20 years for offenders to reach the death chamber following conviction.

“The vast majority of states (33, not counting Connecticut) still have the possibility of the death penalty,” Burns said.

“I don’t see a blowing wind that will dramatically change that,” he added.

(Kevin Johnson writes for USA Today.)

Good Shepherd Center video walks the talk; shows Wilmington’s homeless in new light

Andy Lee

By Blogger Andy Lee
Walk the Talk

This is a great video. Very well done about our local homeless shelter Good Shepherd Center and the work they do.

First person: Breaking the chains of religious tradition

By FRAIDY REISS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Where I come from, girls are married off as teenagers to men they barely know and are expected to spend their lives caring for their husband and children. They are required to cover their hair and nearly every inch of their skin, and to remain behind a curtain at parties and religious events.

Where I come from, if a woman wants to feel her hair blow in the wind or wear jeans or attend college, the courts have the authority to take her children away from her.

Where I come from, you might be surprised to learn, is the United States. Specifically, New York and then New Jersey, in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Recently, two women have brought national attention to the fact that Orthodox Jewish women who leave that insular community risk losing custody of their children: Deborah Feldman of New York, whose memoir about her escape from the Satmar Hasidic sect hit The New York Times best-seller list; and Perry Reich of New Jersey, whose custody battle — which includes accusations from her husband that she sometimes wears pants — earned her an appearance last month on the “Dr. Phil” television show.

My story is similar to theirs. When I was 19, my family arranged for me to marry a man who turned out to be violent. With no education and no job, and a family that refused to help me, I was stuck. By age 20, I was a trapped, abused, stay-at-home mother.

Ten years later, still trapped and unhappy, I finally took what became one of my first steps away from Orthodox Judaism: I stopped wearing a head covering.

The consequences were swift and severe. My family cut off contact with me; one of my five siblings kept in touch long enough to inform me the others were contemplating sitting shiva for me, or mourning as if I had died.

Perhaps most shockingly, several rabbis informed me I should say goodbye to my children because I was going to lose custody of them during my looming divorce proceeding.

They were not bluffing. Numerous family attorneys unaffiliated with any religion advised me to stop publicly flouting Orthodox laws and customs.

As the attorneys noted, and as illustrated by Feldman’s and Reich’s experiences, judges look at religion as one factor in a custody dispute and generally view stability to be in the children’s best interests.

They have been known to award custody to the parent who will continue to raise the children in the same religion as before the family breakup.

Where I come from — that means here in the United States, in 2012 — women fear, legitimately, that they might lose their children if they lose their religion.

Feldman and I each managed to settle and avoid divorce trials, and each of us retained custody of our children. Others have not been as lucky. Reich, for example, remains mired in her custody battle.

Fear in the religious community, therefore, persists. I recently started a nonprofit organization, Unchained At Last, to help women leave arranged marriages, and the most common inquiry I receive is from Orthodox Jewish women who want to leave the religion and are willing to accept ostracism from their family and friends, but are terrified that a judge might remove their children.

For many, their situation seems especially hopeless because they, like Reich, felt pressured to allow a beit din (an Orthodox Jewish court) arbitrate their divorce.

The beit din’s binding decisions and agreements routinely include a provision that the children will be raised within Orthodox Judaism.

Secular courts generally enforce those decisions and agreements, even if a mother later realizes she does not want to raise her children in a religion where men bless God every morning for not making them a non-Jew, a slave or a woman.

Where I come from — the United States — the First Amendment is supposed to empower people to choose whether and how to practice religion, without interference from secular courts. What went wrong?

(Fraidy Reiss is the founder/executive director of Unchained At Last. She lives in Westfield, N.J. A version of this commentary first appeared in The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)

BRIEF: UNCW lecturer to speak about N.C. eugenics and Nazi eugenics Thursday

Anthropometry demonstrated in an exhibit from ...

Anthropometry demonstrated in an exhibit from a 1921 eugenics conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York Times bestselling author and investigative journalist Edwin Black will speak about eugenics programs used against blacks and mentally disabled people in North Carolina as well as the eugenics programs of the Nazis at 7 p.m. Thursday (April 26) in the School of Nursing McNeil Auditorium, Room 1005 on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

His speaking tour is based on his book War Against the Weak and is sponsored by UNCW’s History department, the Block & Rhine Fund for Jewish Studies in association with The American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Details: 910-962-3308.

– Amanda Greene

Belief Bytes: Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

The Rev. Joel Osteen. Photo via RNS.

Here is your Religion News roundup for today:

By David Gibson
c. Religion News Service 2012
Reprinted with permission

“It’s official: Mitt Romney is a Christian. Joel Osteen tells me so.

Osteen is also set to sell out Nationals Park for a prosperity prayer rally this Saturday.

Billy Graham has a different take: “Instead of serving God, we serve money and things – and they end up controlling us.”

The “God gap” persists, and Romney has the “very religious” by 17 points over President Obama and Obama has the “moderately religious” by 14 points and the nonreligious by 31 points.

Joe the Plumber, newly-minted Republican candidate and born-again Christian, puts himself in the first category. He also says he doesn’t question Barack Obama’s faith and says those who do are not being Christian! To which he adds this charitable reading:

“After Barack Hussein Obama suddenly cast-off his Muslim roots, rejected his mother’s disbelief in God, turned tail on the Islam of his early life and converted to Christianity – BLAM – he’s elected President. Anyone who believes the two things are not connected is being disingenuous at best. I don’t know how or when it happened, whether when he was partying at college or five minutes before he first decided to run for office, but it doesn’t matter – he came to Christ and he is my brother.”

Thanks, bro.”

Read the rest of the article here.

-Samantha Freda, Wilmington Faith and Values news intern

Armenian Genocide International Remembrance Day

Editor’s note: This post did not get posted on Tuesday (April 24) because of edits to this site.

Christine Moughamian

By Blogger Christine Moughamian
One Yogini, Many Paths

Today, April 24, 2012 is the International Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, when the Muslim Ottoman Empire systematically killed an estimated 1-1.5 million Christian Armenians.

The commemoration is marked in the United States by David Godine’s

release of Franz Werfel’s novel ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.’ The new, expanded translation by James Reidel demands recognition as a major literary and cultural event.

Although a work of fiction, the 1933 novel is based on historical events. In his introduction to the book, Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York, writes:

“…I had read ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’ in Armenian, when I was a teenager, and it had made quite an impression on me…I believed – and still do – that ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’ saved the Armenian genocide from being neglect and gave a literary symbol of survival and renewal to the Armenians.”

The novel centers on the struggle of a small Armenian community in a mountainous region of the former Ottoman Empire as they are deported and exterminated by a totalitarian regime. First published in Austria in November 1933, it achieved international success.

Gregorian says:

“To Armenians, Franz Werfel still embodies the conscience of European literature and its commitment to universal justice and the dignity of man.”

Moreover, it foreshadows the Jewish Holocaust by the Nazis during WWII.

Historic Ephesus Junior Academy closer to reopening

Board member Ron Sparks poses with the Ephesus Junior Academy sign. He's trying to get the school started once more. Photo by Amanda Greene

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

Since his days as a Wilmington city councilman, Ron Sparks has been working diligently on a project very close to his heart – the reopening of Ephesus Junior Academy.

The kindergarten through eighth grade school is located on two floors of the brick L-shaped side of Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church at 1002 Castle Street. In its 100 years, the multi-racial school hosted thousands of students before it was closed because of its low class sizes in late 2010.

Because it did not have the required minimum of 12 students enrolled, the school’s accrediting organization, Adventist Education, temporarily closed Ephesus Junior Academy just before its 100th birthday.

“My mother went here, I went here, my aunt when here,” Sparks said. He’s on the school’s board. “The church stands behind the school. To say we were not happy when it closed is not even close to describing it.”

Ephesus alum Carl Newton said his heart broke when he heard the academy had closed.

“Especially now, kids need a school like that. That kind of attention,” he said, now a graduation coach at Hoggard High School. “Everybody can’t go to the same school. At that point in my life, that school met my needs.”

At one time, the church was so dedicated to keeping the school open, it subsidized tuition, sending up to $3,700 each month (the amount due for 12 students) to its parent organization, even though it only had four students enrolled. Tuition at the private school was one of the lowest in Wilmington at $250 per month.

But it wasn’t enough.

Adventist Education challenged Ephesus to boost its enrollment to at least 12 students and raise $60,000 in payroll balances for its teachers before re-opening. There are other Seventh-day schools in the area including Wilmington SDA School, Carolina Adventist Academy in Whiteville and Myrtle Beach SDA Christian School.

Sparks blamed the school’s sagging enrollment on the closing of a daycare linked to the school six years ago and the lack of community recruitment.

But he said the school has had a lasting impact on children in downtown Wilmington. In its history, the school was located in Castle Hayne and off Beasley Road.

The school once held fundraising education banquets with invited speakers talking about the state of American education. In 2002, one banquet theme was “The Role of the Home, the Church and the Community in the Education of the Child.” In 1985, an Ephesus school fundraiser featured Kennedy Center and Crystal Cathedral performer Wintley Phipps.

Sparks hopes the school can return to being a vibrant part of the downtown community again.

To prepare for a re-opening, Ephesus replaced all of the school’s windows, installed a handicapped stair access to its second floor and bought all new laptop computers.

There aren’t any electronic smartboards at Ephesus, as there are in

One of the classrooms at Ephesus Junior Academy. The school hopes to reopen in fall 2012. Photo by Amanda Greene.

many local public schools. But Sparks says the school has something more substantial – small class sizes and one-on-one teacher attention.

“We have a long history of being able to turn children around, children who have been in distress in the public school system,” he added. “When issues break out in the classroom, what the public schools can’t do is pray with the children. Our children can pray together.”

Ephesus Academy’s curriculum includes a bible class at each grade level along with art, computers, language arts, math, music, physical education, science and health and social studies.

But “turning children into Adventists isn’t the mission,” Sparks said. “We want to develop moral children to survive in the modern world.”

Newton took away many life lessons from his time at Ephesus Academy.

“Teachers then were more concerned with you learning the lesson versus preparing for a test,” he said. “And just being honest and always thinking about your fellow man, having integrity, always trying to do what was right and acknowledging the fact that you knew right from wrong. We were taught to acknowledge that.”

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS

The discussion continues – Believe, Behave or Be One?

The Triple Gem. Photo courtesy Steve Lee.

Editor’s Note: Writer Steve Lee liked this week’s Viewpoint’s question so much he decided to write an extended response below.

Steve Lee

By Contributor Steve Lee

Consider the various ways in which a faith may be lived: belief, behavior, or “belonging.”

For some faiths, belief is paramount. I once heard, for example, the evangelist Franklin Graham proclaim, “If you cannot name the day, hour, and minute when you declared your undying belief in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you are doomed to eternal life in Hell.”

Buddhism is popularly seen as an exception to this kind of salvatory faith. Perhaps you’ve seen the refrigerator magnets that market this concept of Buddhism’s supposed devaluation of faith? A popular version, quoting The Buddha, reads:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

I must admit: I have such a magnet on my own fridge…

But the quote, however, is a snippet taken out of context from a much

The Great Buddha statue, Kōtoku Temple, Kamaku...

The Great Buddha statue, Kōtoku Temple, Kamakura, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

longer passage of a sacred text called “The Kalama Sutta.” In this story, the Kalamas of Kesaputta province in northern India—apparently adherents of no particular faith—have been visited by a number of different religious teachers that we might call “missionaries.” Then, Siddharta Gautama comes to town, and the Kalamas decide to check out “Gotama the Contemplative,” the one we label The Buddha. Here’s a portion of the sutta that gives the context:

As they sat there, the Kalamas of Kesaputta said to the Blessed One, “Lord, there are some brahmans and contemplatives who come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. And then other brahmans and contemplatives come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. They leave us absolutely uncertain and in doubt: Which of these venerable brahmans and contemplatives are speaking the truth, and which ones are lying?”

What follows is a teaching conversation between The Buddha and the Kalamas. Without reference to any particular belief system, he skillfully walks them through the logic of his own teachings and concludes with the tenets of his own system. What follows is how the commentator Bhikku Bodhi describes what happened:

The Buddha next explains that a “noble disciple, devoid of covetousness and ill will, undeluded” dwells pervading the world with boundless loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. Thus purified of hate and malice, he enjoys here and now four “solaces”: If there is an afterlife and kammic result, then he will undergo a pleasant rebirth, while if there is none he still lives happily here and now. If evil results befall an evil-doer, then no evil will befall him, and if evil results do not befall an evil-doer, then he is purified anyway. With this the Kalamas express their appreciation of the Buddha’s discourse and go for refuge to the Triple Gem.

Read the entire sutta here.

In other words, The Buddha leads the Kalamas from their doubt to a belief in the power of The Buddha’s approach to salvation. This salvation, at its essence, is a new way of relating to the exigencies of life. The salvation offered by the Buddhist path is a way of relating to whatever life throws at you with openness, equanimity, grace, wisdom and compassion.

As for behavior and belonging, Buddhism does not discount either. Both are integral to the Buddhist path. In the quoted section above, the Kalamas are said to be going for “refuge in the Triple Gem.”

When someone becomes a Buddhist, they go through a ceremony of “Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem.” The Triple Gem is: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Initiates take refuge in The Buddha as a model, exemplar, and archetype of the possibilities of awakening to a new way of living. They take refuge in the Dharma—the teachings of the Buddha that exist in accordance with the natural laws of the universe. And they take refuge in the Sangha—the community of adherents and practitioners who support one another on the path to awakening.

There you have it—belief, behavior, and belonging: belief in Buddha and the example of his awakening; clarity of thought and behavior in and through the Dharma; and “being one—a “Buddhist”, that is—through refuge in the Sangha. In short, Buddhist practice values all three: belief, behavior, and belonging.

Court says non-Jewish man can sue for anti-Semitic remarks

By STACY JONES and BEN HOROWITZ
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS)A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that a man who alleges he

endured anti-Semitic slurs can sue his former supervisors — even though he is not Jewish.

Myron Cowher, a former truck driver for Carson & Roberts Site Construction & Engineering Inc., in Lafayette, N.J., sued the company and three supervisors after he allegedly was the target of anti-Semitic remarks for more than a year.

Cowher, of Dingmans Ferry, Pa., produced DVDs that appear to show supervisors Jay Unangst and Nick Gingerelli making such comments in his presence as “Only a Jew would argue over his hours” and “If you were a German, we would burn you in the oven,” according to a state appeals court ruling handed down April 18.

The appeals court did not consider the merits of Cowher’s case, only whether he has standing to pursue it. The suit, alleging discrimination that created a hostile work environment, had been dismissed by a Superior Court judge who ruled that because Cowher was not a Jew, he could not sue.

However, the appeals court reversed the judge in its 3-0 decision, saying that if Cowher can prove the discrimination “would not have occurred but for the perception that he was Jewish,” his claim is covered by New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

The “proper question” in this case, the court said, is what effect the supervisors’ allegedly derogatory comments would have on “a reasonable Jew,” rather than on a person of Cowher’s actual background, which is German-Irish and Lutheran.

Employment attorneys say the ruling is significant in that it expands the scope of who can bring discrimination suits under the state law by allowing a person who is not actually a member of a protected class to pursue a claim.

The law has typically been used to protect people based on their actual age, race, religion or sexuality. Judges, like the one who initially ruled on the validity of Cowher’s suit, have sometimes dismissed cases when there’s a discrepancy between the alleged remarks and a person’s actual characteristics.

The alleged slurs occurred from January 2007 until May 2008, when Cowher left the company due to an unrelated disability, according to his attorney, Robert Scirocco.

Gingerelli, who still works for the company, and Unangst, who does not, could not be reached for comment. Both men denied that they perceived Cowher to be Jewish, the court said.

Unangst also said that “perhaps” he had commented to Cowher about “Jew money,” that he had called him a “bagel meister” and that he had used the Hebrew folk song “Hava Nagila” as the ring tone for calls on his cell phone from Cowher, the appeals court said.

Cowher testified he had told both men to stop the comments, but they had not, the court said. Cowher’s attorney said Cowher is pleased with the ruling and intends to go forward with the case.

Cowher stayed on the job for more than a year after the alleged comments began because “he needed the work,” Scirocco said. He added that Cowher is now working as a truck driver for another company.

(Stacy Jones and Ben Horowitz write for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.

Nixon felon and evangelical icon Charles Colson dies at 80

Chuck Colson in prison. Photo via Religion News Service archives.

By DAVID MARK and ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Charles W. Colson, the Watergate felon who became an evangelical icon and born-again advocate for prisoners, died Saturday (April 21) after a brief illness. He was 80.

Despite an early reputation as a cutthroat “hatchet man” for President Richard M. Nixon, Colson later built a legacy of repentance, based on his work with

Prison Fellowship, a ministry he designed to bring Bible study and a Christian message to prison inmates and their families.

Colson founded the group in 1976 upon release from federal prison on Watergate-related charges. Prison reform and advocating for inmates became his life’s work, and his lasting legacy.

Colson had undergone surgery on March 31 to remove a pool of clotted blood on his brain. On Wednesday (April 18), Prison Fellowship Ministries CEO Jim Liske told staff and supporters that Colson’s health had taken a “decided turn” and he would soon be “home with the Lord.”

Due to his illness, for the first time in 34 years, he did not spend Easter Sunday preaching to prisoners, his ministry said.

”For more than 35 years, Chuck Colson, a former prisoner himself, has had a tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said evangelist Billy Graham in a statement. “When I get to Heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will also see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them.

He will be greatly missed by many, including me. I count it a privilege to have called him friend.”

In many ways, Colson’s life personified the evangelical ethos of a sinner

in search of redemption after a dramatic personal encounter with Jesus. He also embodied the evangelical movement’s embrace of conservative social issues, although often as a happy warrior.

Today, Prison Fellowship has more than 14,000 volunteers working in

President George W. Bush listens to Robert Sut...

President George W. Bush listens to Robert Sutton, left, a graduate of the Prison Fellowship Ministries InnerChange Freedom Initiative, during a roundtable discussion in the Roosevelt Room Wednesday, June 18, 2003. The initiative is is part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System and the new prisoner reentry and treatment program proposed by the Department of Justice. White House photo by Tina Hager (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

more than 1,300 prisons across the country. More than 150,000 prisoners participate in its Bible studies and seminars every year.

The organization founded by Colson also provides post-release pastoring for thousands of ex-convicts, and supplies Christmas gifts to more than 300,000 kids with a locked-up parent through its Angel Tree program.

Colson also founded Justice Fellowship, to develop what he called Bible-based criminal justice, and advocate for prison reform. In 1993, Colson won the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and donated the money to his ministry.

As recently as February, Colson was still contributing to political debates, writing an open letter with fellow evangelical leader Timothy George that criticized the Obama administration’s health care contraception mandate.

”We do not exaggerate when we say that this is the greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime,” he wrote with George, comparing the mandate to policies of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

In 2009, Colson was a chief architect of the “Manhattan Declaration,” which advocated grass-roots resistance to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. He called the manifesto “one of the most important documents produced by the American church, at least in my lifetime.”

”The Christian’s primary concern is bringing people to Christ,” Colson told Christianity Today magazine in 2001. “But then they’ve got to take their cultural mandate seriously. We are to redeem the fallen structures of society.”

Colson also was a key figure in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a network of religious leaders who found common ground supporting a “culture of life” and reaffirmed their stance in 2006 when they called abortion “murder.”

Religion was far from Colson’s mind during his early adult life, when his main passion was politics. A Boston native, Colson showed early signs of political acumen as a star debater in high school.

After graduating from Brown University, Colson enlisted in the Marines and rose to the rank of captain. Following law school and a stint in the Pentagon, Colson worked on Capitol Hill as a top aide to Sen. Leverett Saltonstall, R-Mass.

After serving on Nixon’s 1968 election team, Colson was appointed by the newly elected president as special counsel to the president. During Nixon’s first term, he was known as Nixon’s feared but respected “hatchet man.”

Colson once bragged of a willingness to “walk over my grandmother if necessary to assure the President’s reelection,” and was roundly known within the Nixon administration as the “evil genius.”

”I was known as the toughest of the Nixon tough guys,” he said in 1995.

Nixon himself described Colson as one of his most loyal aides. “When I complained to Colson I felt confident that something would be done, and I was rarely disappointed,” the former president wrote in his memoirs.

Among other activities, Colson helped set up the “Plumbers” to plug news leaks. The Plumbers engaged in illegal wiretapping of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex, triggering the scandal that took down the Nixon White House.

Colson was also involved in the creation of the Special Investigations Unit, whose members broke into the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist of Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, who had given copies of the Pentagon Papers, a secret account of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, to newspapers.

Nixon aides justified the break-in on the grounds of national security, but

Colson later admitted that the agents were trying to dig up damaging information about Ellsberg before his espionage trial.

As the Watergate scandal mushroomed, Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in 1974, and the felony led him to serve seven months of a one- to three-year sentence at Alabama’s Maxwell Prison as Prisoner 23226.

Colson later said he became a Christian before going to jail, and his time behind bars cemented his faith.

”There was more than a little skepticism in Washington, D.C., when I announced that I had become a Christian,” he said in 1995. “But I wasn’t bitter. I knew my task wasn’t to convince my former political cronies of my sincerity.”

In addition to his work with Prison Fellowship, Colson authored more than 30 books that sold more than 5 million copies, including his seminal 1976 autobiography, “Born Again.”

Colson became an evangelist for better prison conditions and championed what he called “restorative justice,” in which nonviolent criminals should stay out of jail, remain in the community where they committed their crime, and work to support their families and pay restitution to the victim.

Colson also forcefully advocated President Clinton’s impeachment and removal from office in 1998 over what he called perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the Monica Lewinsky affair.