May 20: Anti-semitism, adoption via Catholic services, USCIRF appointment and more

Executive Branch

The director of Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships argued that Donald Trump’s most recent executive order on religious freedom actually limits freedom. Among other things, the order eliminated the requirement that an Orthodox Jew be referred to another organization if she objects to her job program being held in a church.

The Washington Post discussed the fine line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, particularly in light of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem and recent state laws prohibiting government contracts with organizations that boycott Israel.

Tony Perkins, the controversial head of the Family Research Council, was appointed to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Trump released a message to mark the beginning of Ramadan, which said that Muslims add to the richness of American religious life.

Judicial Branch

Catholic Social Services sued the city of Philadelphia in federal court over new rules that would stop the city from using their services for foster care, because they don’t place children with same-sex couples.

States

Reports from the Oregon Department of Education showed systemic discrimination and hostility against LGBT students in a high school in North Bend. Punishments for these students included reading passages from the Bible.

The Texas Tribune investigated a former FBI agent who trained law enforcement on the “Jihadi Threat to America,” and who said Islam is evil.

Community

A Catholic therapist sued the hospital that fired her for refusing to counsel a gay couple.

An Oregon high school decided to change its mascot from The Quaker after determining it was offensive to Quakers.

A Louisiana school district settled a federal lawsuit for violations of the establishment clause. The district agreed to stop student-led prayers over the intercom and proselytizing by teachers.

Other reads

The Economics explored atheist “churches” that meet weekly to discuss morality, sometimes holding Sunday School and other events traditionally associated with Christianity.

May 13: UVA stopped public Bible reading, ritual design, and more

States

Oklahoma passed legislation covering places of worship as part of a “stand your ground” law that allows deadly force to be used against violent intruders.

Higher Education

A University of Virginia called the police on an alumnus who deliberately violated the school’s rules on protected speech by reading the bible aloud on campus. UVA designed new rules limiting speech and gatherings by unaffiliated persons after the white nationalist rallies there last year.

A survey of student newspaper editors at Christian Colleges shows a high level of control by administrations over what is printed. 70% reported that their advisor could prevent a story from being printed.

UCLA’s ROTC was criticized for training exercises where cadets were pitted against enemy fighters wearing traditionally Muslim clothing.

Community

Cleveland.com ran an in-depth, balanced article about a legal conflict between Cleveland Clinic doctors who want to treat a 14-year-old for brain cancer and her parents, who religiously identify as Moors and only use natural remedies for healing.

Other reads

The Atlantic covered the growing movement of ritual design, which is mostly secular but has spillover in religious arenas. The Stanford Ritual Design Lab has several ongoing projects, one of which is to create public spaces for prayer.

May 6: Oklahoma and Kansas pass adoption legislation, Trump creates org for faith-based coordination, and more

Executive Branch

May 3 was the National Day of Prayer, celebrated at the White House and across the country.

Donald Trump announced an executive order creating the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative to consult with religious leaders and make recommendations to the President. It is similar to offices in the Bush and Obama administrations.

Trump also declared May as Jewish American Heritage Month.

Legislative Branch

The US House chaplain was reinstated. House Speaker Paul Ryan asked for and received his resignation last month, but after strong bipartisan objections were voiced Reverend Patrick Conroy rescinded his resignation and Ryan acquiesced. The Washington Post explains the history of the House Chaplain.

Four congressional representatives formed the Congressional Freethought Caucus to advocate for the interests of citizens who don’t believe in God. It is the first of its kind in Congress.

Judicial Branch

A federal court granted three Muslim men standing to sue the FBI for placing them on a no-fly list after they refused to become informants. They are making a religious freedom claim.

States

Kansas passed legislation to allow faith-based adoption agencies to continue receiving state funding if they decline to place children with families who don’t meet religious requirements, like same-sex couples. The two state-designated contractors that handle most adoptions, however, are required to serve all prospective parents.

Oklahoma passed similar legislation, preventing sanctions of religious adoption agencies for avoiding activities that would contradict their espoused beliefs. Proponents say it allows faith-based organizations to consider serving children without violating their moral convictions, while opponents say it legalizes discrimination against same-sex couples.

Oklahoma also approved a bill allowing government buildings to display historically significant documents, in particular the 10 Commandments.

Community

An official in the DC city government is under fire for statements alleging global Jewish conspiracies.

Other reads

The Christian Science Monitor reported on new models of higher education being designed for political and religiously conservative students, who often feel alienated or threatened at mainstream colleges.

A PRRI survey showed growing support for same-sex marriage across American demographic groups, including across religious affiliations. It also asked about support for religiously-based service refusal, which is only supported by a majority of white evangelical Protestants and Mormons. Other questions covered protections of LGBT people from housing and employment discrimination.

Apr 29: Pro-Christian legislation network “Project Blitz,” Muslim conspiracy theories, and more

Executive Branch

Politico examined the politicization of Christian TV and its relationship with the Trump administration. Donald Trump has given more interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network than any other network, a pattern of exposure for Christian TV that has continued in the White House press corps and with other leading administration officials.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement saying that Donald Trump is responsible for a spike in hate crimes and discrimination against Muslims last year.

The Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State.

NBC investigated the ties between John Bolton, the new National Security Advisor, and a nonprofit he chaired that promoted anti-Muslim news such as a “jihadist takeover” and a ”Great White Death.”

Legislative Branch

House of Congress Chaplain Father Pat Conroy resigned from his position at the request of Speaker Paul Ryan. Both Democrats and Republicans have vocally objected to the unprecedented request. It’s possible the cause was a prayer Conroy gave before a debate on immigration.

Judicial Branch

Kyle Duncan was confirmed to a seat on the Fifth Circuit after contentious Senate hearings. Duncan was the top attorney at the Becket Fund, which litigates religious liberty cases including the Hobby Lobby challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

A federal jury in New York awarded $5.1 million in damages to former employees of an insurance plan for being forced to engage in spiritual practices called “Onionhead” on the job.

States

Religion Dispatches discovered that many of the conservative Christian bills being proposed in state legislatures are modeled on a packet produced by “Project Blitz,” a pro-Christian network of lawmakers and advocates that also organizes Prayer Caucuses in state houses across the country.

Suggested bills include a “Religion in Legal History Act,” a “Student Prayer Certification Act,” and a “Resolution Establishing Public Policy Favoring Intimate Sexual Relations Only Between Married, Heterosexual Couples.”

A Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan presented conspiracy theories about the Democratic candidate, who is Muslim-American. He claimed that the Democrat is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and part of a Muslim plan to infiltrate local governments.

Other news

The Religion News Service, a nonprofit dedicated to non-sectarian coverage of religious news around the world (which I often link to), saw an internal shakeup (implosion?) this week. Newsroom dissatisfaction, publisher involvement in editorial decisions, and allegations of pro-Catholic bias resulted in the firing of the editor-in-chief and subsequent resignations of several staff in protest.

The Washington Post ran a lengthy piece about evolving religious perspectives on in-vitro fertilization, and the looming discussions about more complex editing of embryos’ genomes.

Apr 22: New Jersey church repair unconstitutional, Nebraska nuns lose Medicaid, and more

Executive Branch

Inquiry into Mike Pompeo’s religious background continued as he faces an uphill road to nomination as Secretary of State. Religion News Service summarized the most pertinent points.

Military officials are investigating a discrimination claim against a chaplain for not allowing a same-sex couple to join a retreat.

Judicial Branch

A federal appeals court overturned a previous ruling in favor of a for-profit church restaurant staffed by unpaid church members. It found that the volunteers had no expectation of being paid, and could not sue for wages.

States

The Supreme Court of New Jersey found that the state government has been in violation of its constitution by granting money to repair and restore historic churches. The constitution specifically forbids the use of tax funds to build or repair a church.

Nebraska nuns appealed a state decision to disqualify them for Medicaid on the basis of their “patrimony,” an individual fund in the name of a nun that is posthumously disbursed to charity. A nun has to renounce her vow of poverty to access the fund.

Community

A California “marijuana church” began a legal dispute with its municipality about whether it is really a religious establishment or just a pot dispensary masquerading as a church.

Other reads

A NYT op-ed questioned if the conservative group Focus on the Family should be allowed to file as a church to avoid tax obligations.

A new paper indicated that fewer people turn to religion when the government provides more services.

Apr 15: Pompeo hearings, Cabinet Bible study, academic religious bias, and more

Legislative Branch

Confirmation hearings began for Mike Pompeo’s appointment as Secretary of State to replace Rex Tillerson. Muslim and Jewish groups have criticized his nomination due to his past statements about Islam and affiliation with anti-Muslim pundits. He faced questions about those issues as well as his continued opposition to same-sex marriage based on his religious beliefs.

Executive Branch

The BBC covered the man who leads Bible study for Donald Trump’s cabinet secretaries, and the political stances he promotes based on his reading of the Bible.

Donald Trump declared April 12-19 as Days of Remembrance for Victims of the Holocaust.

States

Buzzfeed News aggregated and analyzed anti-Muslim statements from state politicians since 2015, finding that elected officials had criticized the religion, explicitly and implicitly, in 49 states.

Washington State passed legislation enacting restrictions on the sharing of individuals’ religious affiliations with employers, law enforcement and the federal government.

Other reads

Some discussion this week on academic philosophy blogs and Christian blogs about bias in university hiring led me to the original data, which was compiled by George Yancey in his 2011 book, Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education.

He surveyed over 1,000 academics about attributes of a job candidate that would enhance or damage the respondents’ support for hiring that candidate. A table of some of his data is below:

The book also gives survey response averages, which are slightly less informative, for other attributes from “Hunter” to “Bisexual.” This data is available broken out by academic department, but I aggregated it for simplicity.

Apr 8: Air Force penalty reversed, NYPD settlement with Muslim groups, and more

Executive Branch

The Secretary of the Air Force reversed a decision to penalize a commander for declining to sign a certificate of appreciation for an airman’s same-sex spouse because of his religious beliefs.

The Ant-Defamation League wrote to Donald Trump again, urging him to appoint a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the State Department. The position, which is mandated by Congress, has gone unfilled since Trump’s inauguration.

50 States

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that a hospital’s use of a court hotline to authorize blood transfusions was not allowed under state law. The hospital was sued by Jehovah’s Witnesses, who objected to transfusions for their 14-year-old son with bone cancer on religious grounds.

The New York legislature sent its 2019 budget to the governor, with a provision insisted on by a representative with a swing vote. The provision allows Orthodox Jewish schools (yeshivas) to meet lower standards for education than currently. Yeshivas have been criticized for not teaching English, math, history and science.

The Arizona legislature passed a bill allowing the English translation of its motto Ditat Deus, “God enriches,” to be posted in public schools.

Apr 1: Adoption bills across the country, explaining support for Trump, and more

Executive Branch

New academic research asked why Donald Trump’s religious supporters would turn a blind eye to his extramarital affairs. The authors argue that support for Trump isn’t actually correlated with an individual’s religiosity, but with support for Christian nationalism and disapproval of Islam.

Health providers criticized the vagueness of the new HHS rules allowing physicians to decline service for religious reasons and requiring healthcare organizations to have policies on handling complaints of religious discrimination or coercion.

Judicial Branch

A federal judge ruled in favor of the Catholic Benefits Association, allowing them to not provide contraceptive coverage.

50 States

Last year’s religious freedom and culture wars legislation was focused on transgender bathroom use and Sharia law. This year, state houses are overwhelmingly focused on bills about adoption and foster care – whether religious agencies can decline to place children with families who don’t follow the tenets of their religion. The Kansas legislature just rejected one such bill.

Community

Parents of a Pennsylvania girl were convicted of manslaughter for not seeking medical care for their daughter’s ultimately fatal case of pneumonia. They objected to medicine on religious grounds.

Other reads

Vox investigated how Christmas and Easter diverged in popularity and secularization – the one becoming a national holiday regardless of religious affiliation, and the other remaining distinctly Christian.

Mar 25: Politicians and morality, neo-Nazi Republican candidate, and more

Executive Branch

A Washington Post Op-Ed argues that Donald Trump deserves the loyal support he’s gotten from Christian evangelicals.

Legislative Branch

A Holocaust denier with ties to neo-Nazis won the congressional Republican nomination in an Illinois district after running unopposed. Rather than funding his campaign, the Illinois Republican party will be providing money to an independent candidate.

Judicial Branch

The 7th Circuit ruled that changes to a high school nativity made it compliant with the Constitution.

50 States

Alabama passed a state constitutional amendment to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed on public buildings. Voters will decide whether to ratify it in November.

Other reads

A new YouGov poll finds that more Democrats than Republicans say that they wouldn’t vote for candidates who had cheated on their spouses – the exact inverse of the poll when the Monica Lewinsky scandal occurred.

Mar 18: South Carolina gives religious exemption to foster agencies, the history of evangelical politics, and more

50 States

The governor of South Carolina issued an executive order allowing faith-based foster agencies to only place children with families who meet their religious standards. The impetus was an agency facing the loss of its license because it only placed children with Christian families.

Massachusetts lost a challenge to the newly expanded religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act. The court ruled that the state has no standing for its challenge.

Community

The Mennonite woman who was in jail for refusing to testify in a capital punishment case has been released after agreeing to give testimony. She learned that the defense also wanted her to testify, and that her statement might decrease the chance that the defendant would receive the death penalty.

A New Jersey town approved a permit for a mosque after a multi-year zoning dispute and an investigation by the Justice Department. The city said financial considerations over a potential lawsuit with the federal government forced their hand.

A group of Muslim women filed a class action lawsuit against New York City for a policy requiring them to remove headscarves for mugshots. This comes on the heels of a settlement the city reached to pay three women for their experiences under the policy.

Other reads

The Atlantic published a fascinating, in-depth look at the evolving politics of evangelical Christianity – from abolitionists and social justice crusaders in the 19th century to modern culture warriors and Trump supporters. It is an opinion article, and is not shy about its opinion.