Going on hiatus

Thank you for your support of Religious Freedom Review. I began this newsletter two and a half years ago because I couldn’t find a convenient way to stay current on religious freedom issues. It has been rewarding to create a solution to that problem that others found useful as well.

Due to a multitude of other demands on my time, I will be unable to produce the newsletter for the foreseeable future. If anyone has interest in taking over the project in my absence, please contact me at religiousfreedomreview@gmail.com.


April 2019: Supreme Court changes mind on ministers at executions, Muslim congresswoman receives death threats, and more

Judicial Branch

After not allowing an imam to accompany an Alabama man to his execution, the Supreme Court permitted a Buddhist minister to accompany a Texas man to his execution. NPR and the New York Times reported on the seemingly inconsistent decisions.

Texas ultimately decided not to allow any religious ministers or chaplains to accompany a condemned prisoner to their execution.

A federal court upheld Philadelphia’s 2018 decision to drop Catholic Charities as a foster care agency. The city ended the contract after complaints from a same-sex couple complained that they were denied services by religious foster care agencies.

Legislative Branch

A man was arrested and charged with threatening to kill Muslim House Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

A federal court ruled that the US House Chaplain can prevent atheists from giving the invocation to a house session.

Executive Branch

White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. His remarks made the case that Trump administration policies are faith-based.

The IRS officially designated the Satanic Temple as a tax-exempt religious organization.

Presidential Race

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg spoke out about his Christian faith and criticized Vice President Mike Pence for supporting Donald Trump. Conservatives responded by saying that Buttigieg’s marriage to another man disqualifies him from opining about Christianity.


The Texas GOP is in a “civil war” over some party officials who are Muslim and have faced hate mail and internal opposition to their positions.

A faith-based adoption agency in Michigan has updated its policy to allow children to be placed with same-sex couples after losing its contracts and a legal settlement.

Utah passed a new hate crimes bill that allows more severe sentences for any crimes that expressed hatred of a protected class. Religion is one of over a dozen protected classes included.


Yale Law School implemented new policies preventing students from accessing certain funding sources and loan forgiveness if they work for organizations that have religious hiring policies after graduating. Yale responded to allegations of discrimination after Ted Cruz opened a senatorial investigation into the policy.

Orthodox Jewish Schools in New York City (yeshivas) were ordered to ban students who have not been vaccinated, amid a growing measles outbreak in Brooklyn. Parents said they will sue for discrimination. The Washington Post explains why some Orthodox Jews don’t get vaccinated.

A judge voided an earlier NYC policy requiring the yeshivas to teach secular subjects like English and math.

A man got a $75,000 judgment after being fired for refusing a flu shot on the basis of his religious beliefs.

Other reads

New research visualizes the religious makeup of Republicans and Democrats since 1978. Most striking is the rise to dominance of “nones” in the Democratic party and the decline of mainline Protestants in the Republican party.

March: Donald Trump promotes a Jexodus, West Virginia sues the Catholic Church, and more

Executive Branch

A man espousing white supremacy murdered 50 people at mosques in New Zealand. Donald Trump’s response was criticized for being generic and tepid, in contrast to his responses when a Muslim commits acts of violence.

Trump expressed enthusiasm for a conservative “Jexodus” movement encouraging Jewish voters to leave the Democratic party because of allegations of anti-Semitism.

The term was coined by an Instagram model who has now started a nonprofit to promote it, prompting protests that there’s no evidence of Jews switching political allegiances.

The Department of Education said that it will stop enforcing a law requiring education contractors to be unaffiliated with religious organizations. It stated that the provision is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling on Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.

Legislative Branch

The Democrats’ dispute over Israeli policy and anti-Semitism continued, with closed-door meetings attempting to resolve the issues by speaking about personal histories and experiences.

Fox pundit Jeanine Pirro was taken off the air after questioning Representative Ilhan Omar’s patriotism because she wears a hijab. She drew criticism and support from various camps.

Senate Republicans took up the cause in trying to take advantage of Democrats internal divisions by passing resolutions condemning anti-Semitism.

Judicial Branch

The Senate confirmed a federal judicial nominee who interned for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious freedom litigation group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has controversially labeled as a hate group. Other critics argue that, at 37 and with no judicial background, she’s too inexperienced. The National Review took up her defense.

A federal appeals court ruled that tax-deductible clergy housing allowances are constitutional.

A group of Muslim men sued ICE after being detained and not given religious accommodations.


West Virginia’s Attorney General took a novel approach to litigating Catholic clergy sex abuse coverups by arguing their knowing employment of pedophiles constituted a violation of consumer protection laws.

Michigan stopped funding adoption agencies that don’t work with prospective parents who are LGBT.

Virginia passed a bill requiring clergy to report suspected child abuse or neglect. It has exceptions for religions that doctrinally require such information to remain confidential or if it is exempted from court testimony (like in a confession).

North Dakota legalized the sale of goods on Sunday mornings.


A New Jersey firefighter filed a lawsuit after he was told he had to shave his beard or be suspended. His beard is part of his born-again Christianity, but the department says it is a safety risk.

Other reads

Politico profiled the founders of Telos, a “pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian” group trying to change American evangelicals’ minds about unconditional support for Israel.

The Washington Post analyzed the argument the Islam is not a religion.

A new study reported that a third of Catholic hospitals in the US don’t clarify what religious restrictions they place on patient care (for example, procedures related to family planning or gender expression).

February: Executed Muslim denied Imam, congressional accusations of anti-Semitism, and more

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow a Muslim inmate to be executed without a religious spiritual advisor with him in the execution chamber. Only a Christian chaplain is employed by the Alabama Department of Corrections. The Court ruled on the grounds that his request for an Imam to be present was filed late.

The Washington Post reported on the large number of court cases challenging Roe v. Wade that could make their way to the Supreme Court.

Legislative Branch

A Muslim and a Jewish member of Congress accused each other of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in an ongoing debate about boycotts of Israel and the influence of pro-Israel lobby groups. Vox’s explanation is very thorough, if a bit partial.

A Louisiana representative accused congressional Democrats of omitting “so help you God” from the swearing-in of witnesses.

Executive Branch

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule that will effectively decrease funding to Planned Parenthood. Some of the funds will be diverted to faith-based groups focused on reducing abortion.

Donald Trump and others spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast.

After two years of vacancy, the Trump administration appointed Elan Carr as US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Carr was most recently deputy district attorney for Los Angeles.


After a series of measles outbreaks, state legislators around the country introduced bills to curtail religious exemptions to vaccination.

Many states also began deliberation on bills that would permit or promote studying the Bible in schools. The legislation is part of “Project Blitz,” a movement coordinating among conservative state lawmakers.

The Missouri Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit by a member of the Satanic Temple who said the state’s abortion restrictions violated her religious beliefs.

A tax preparer in Indiana declined to do the taxes of a married same-sex couple. Indiana has no laws preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

January: Supreme Court won’t hear football prayer case, Congress allows hijabs and debates the Knights of Columbus

Executive Branch

Donald Trump declared January 15 as National Religious Freedom Day, following a presidential tradition begun in 1993. Virginia passed Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16th.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a waiver for a federal foster care contractor that only works with Protestant families. That policy violates an Obama-era regulation about discrimination on the basis of religion.

Legislative Branch

Congressional rules were amended to allow head coverings on the House floor for the first time in 181 years, to accommodate Representative Ilhan Omar’s hijab.

A debate broke out among congressional representatives after a judicial confirmation hearing where the candidate was asked about his membership in the Knights of Columbus.

The Senate subsequently passed a resolution stating that disqualifying a nominee to Federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates the Constitution.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court decided not to take the case of a high school football coach who was fired after praying on the field. The court said the coach hadn’t yet proved that he was fired because of his praying, which should be determined by the district court first.

In their statement, the justices did signal that they might want to overturn an older court decision, Employment Divison vs. Smith, that narrowed the scope of the religious freedom clause of the constitution. Because of that decision, the football coach filed his suit as a freedom of speech rather than freedom of religion issue.


State legislators across the country introduced bills to encourage Bible literacy in schools.

New York passed legislation banning gay conversion therapy. A therapist in Maryland filed a federal lawsuit to overturn its ban on gay conversion therapy for minors on the basis of free speech and religious practice.


The Ark Encounter museum in Kentucky offered free admission to any public school groups attending on a field trip after a litigation fund sent letters to schools arguing that any trips would be unconstitutional.

A Texas GOP county vice-chairman kept his position in the party after a 139-49 vote prompted by his Muslim faith. Some party officials had argued his practice of Islam disqualified him from representing Texas Republicans.

A Louisiana school board agreed to change practices that were alleged in a lawsuit to promote Christianity.

A Florida dishwasher won a lawsuit against her former employer that consistently scheduled her to work on Sundays, which she couldn’t do because of her religious beliefs.

A New York judge ruled that a hospital incorrectly issued a death certificate for an Orthodox Jewish man. Although he was brain dead at the time, according to the family’s beliefs about life and death he actually died three weeks later.

Other reads

A LifeWay Research survey looked at declining church attendance among young Protestants. Common reasons for “dropping out” of church included moving to another city for college, judgmental or hypocritical congregants, and not feeling connected.

The New York Times editorial board produced a lengthy series about woman’s rights and fetal rights, concluding that if fetuses are granted the same personhood as adults, then almost all decisions by pregnant women will be subject to regulation by the state.

An article in the Yale Law & Policy Review argued that most scholars have misunderstood the history of sex-separated bathrooms. It said that bathrooms have long been separated by sex, and that the nineteenth century labor movement’s advocacy for separation resulted in some of the first anti-sexual harassment laws in the US.

Dec 23: Fight over fetal tissue, GOP officials try to oust one of their own for being Muslim, and more

Executive & Legislative Branches

The Trump administration shut down research using human fetal tissue implanted into mice to search for a cure to HIV. The House also held hearings to contend that fetal tissue is unnecessary for research to proceed.

The Atlantic discussed the role that evangelical supporters of Donald Trump played in pushing for criminal justice reform legislation.

Foreign Policy looked at how both far-right groups in the US and the Arab Gulf media have focused on incoming Muslim congresswomen in their commentary, accusing them of links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Judicial Branch

A federal court ruled against a Catholic congregation along the US-Mexico border that attempted to bar federal surveyors from surveying their land for a border wall.


The Texas Republican party is in an internal dispute over whether to remove a party official from his post because he is Muslim.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled against the Hopi Tribe’s complaint that a ski resort was damaging sacred mountains by using treated wastewater to generate fake snow.

The Montana Supreme Court struck down a tax credit for scholarships because it allowed state funds to go to religious schools, which is not allowed under the state constitution.

New York stepped up its investigation of yeshivas, traditional Jewish schools that activists say teach almost no basic knowledge and leave some students illiterate.

The former mayor of Salt Lake City sued to overturn a bill the Utah legislature just passed on medical marijuana, arguing that it abridged the rights of voters to appease The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The Illinois state house put up displays celebrating Christmas and Hanukkaha, and a Satanic display entitled “Snaketivity.”

Other reads

Faith leaders and advocates discussed what they expect during 2019 for religious freedom and the separation of church and state.


Nov 25: Attorney General transition, the SPLC, and more

Executive Branch

Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at Donald Trump’s request. Sessions was hotly criticized by religious conservatives, despite being one himself. Sessions’ replacement, acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, has previously said he would only support federal judges if they had a biblical and not a secular view of justice.

Several members of Donald Trump’s informal evangelical advisory board met with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The international community has criticized the prince for the execution of Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules allowing private companies not to cover birth control for their employees if they have a religious objection. HHS is looking into providing government-funded birth control for those whose employers decline to cover it.

The FBI released its hate crime statistics for 2017. The number of reported hate crimes overall increased, but so did the number of law enforcement agencies that report these statistics.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case from Maryland that asks if a 40-foot cross in commemoration of World War I casualties is a government endorsement of religion.


This election saw a national pattern of attack ads where Jewish candidates were pictured holding large quantities of cash, which some observers deemed anti-Semitic.

Alabama passed a constitutional amendment as a ballot initiative that allows the government to display the Ten Commandments on public property.

New York state issued new requirements for schools that receive public funding, which may restrict the money that goes to ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools called yeshivas.


A North Carolina county with an unusually high number of students claiming religious exemptions to vaccination requirements was hit with a serious chickenpox outbreak.

A Muslim man in California won his wrongful termination suit against a hospital and was awarded $3.2 million in damages for religious harassment.

A Catholic school teacher who was fired for getting pregnant while not married won $3.5 million for wrongful termination.

Other reads

A growing number of black millennial women are leaving Christianity to practice witchcraft.

The Washington Post investigated the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups, which includes some conservative think tanks and Christian legal funds focused on religious freedom.

28 Oct: DOJ investigates Catholic church, contraceptive mandate rollback, and more

Executive Branch

The Department of Justice and several states have launched investigations into sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests, subpoenaing church documents.

The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration plans to roll back the ACA contraceptive coverage requirement for employers and insurance companies.

Religion News Service reported that ICE detainees have limited or no access to clergy.

Legislative Branch

Congress passed legislation broadening the scope of federal penal codes against threatening or performing vandalism to include religious property.

Judicial Branch

An activist arrested while helping immigrants crossing the border illegally appealed to religious freedom as his defense, arguing that his faith requires him to help those in dire need, including immigrants.


A Catholic pharmacist in Michigan refused to fill a prescription for medication that can be used to abort a pregnancy. The ACLU filed a complaint.

The Shreveport, Louisiana, police department announced that it will no longer host prayer vigils after complaints by activist groups advocating for the separation of church and state.

A Houston judge denied a suit to stop a drag queen story hour at a public library on the grounds of promoting secular humanistic religion.

Other reads

Vox looks at how religion provides space away from work.

Sept 16: Kavanaugh hearings, discrimination lawsuit at Amazon and more

Judicial Branch

The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings continued, with a number of sections focused on religion and the law. The Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty compiled the key clips from CSPAN.

A federal judge ruled that a Syrian Muslim man’s case against Amazon for discrimination may proceed, indicating that evidence of a workplace that encourages criticism might have fostered discrimination.

Other reads

The Conversation gave a historical explanation of how the evolution and origin of Catholic church canon law make it difficult to hold priests accountable for sex abuse.

A new poll from AP showed that voters may be open to voting for irreligious presidential candidates.

Sept 9: Donald Trump asks for evangelical support and is charged with breaking the law

Executive Branch

Donald Trump asked evangelical leaders to get evangelicals out to vote in a closed-door meeting at the White House. He emphasized that the Johnson Amendment, which strips churches of their tax-exempt status for endorsing candidates, is not being enforced under his administration.

An advocacy group for the separation of church and state charged the Trump Administration with violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act by giving evangelicals privileged access to the president through the evangelical advisory board.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court declined to take the case of a Catholic foster care agency in Philadelphia that was barred from taking new applicants to its program because it does not accept same-sex couples as foster parents. The lower court’s ruling against the agency stands.


Ball State University in Indiana settled a lawsuit with a pro-life student organization that had been denied funding.

A student at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College sued the school for violating her right to free speech after she was stopped from handing out Valentine’s cards with Bible verses on them.

A construction worker sued his former employer for wrongful termination after he refused to participate in mandatory Bible study sessions.

Other reads

The Guardian listed the recent movies featuring sinister fundamentalist churches, including Lady Bird, First Reformed, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post.