Feb 18: #MeToo, Mormonism and the White House, travel ban loses in federal court, and more

Executive Branch

The reports of White House aide Rob Porter’s domestic abuse have prompted soul searching in the Mormon community. Both of Porter’s ex-wives sought counsel from their lay ministers in the faith and received little support, being told to consider their husband’s career before making any accusations. Other women have come forward with similar stories.

Judicial Branch

The 4th Circuit ruled that the travel ban is unconstitutional because Trump’s past statements indicate it is targeting Muslims.

50 States

An Ohio court transferred custody of a teenager from the parents to the grandparents after the parents refused to allow their child, who is transgender, to seek hormone therapy because of their religious beliefs.

Community

The convictions of three people in Florida for a 2015 murder were overturned because a judge had unfairly prevented a Jehovah’s Witness from serving on the jury. The cases will have to be reheard.

Other reads

Religion and Politics explored why female evangelical pastors are wary of commenting on politics.

Feb 11: National Prayer Breakfast, California rules on cake case, and more

Executive Branch

Donald Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, emphasizing stories of Americans who sacrificed for other people. He referenced religious freedom and the role of the United States in the world.

Legislative Branch

The budget bill passed on Friday included language formalizing an executive order to FEMA that prevents the exclusion of religious nonprofits from receiving aid just because they are religious.

The unopposed Republican candidate in an Illinois congressional district denies the Holocaust and has been called a Nazi by other Republicans.

50 States

A judge in California ruled that a baker did not violate non-discrimination laws by refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. He held that the cake is artistry and covered under free speech, in advance of a Supreme Court decision that has yet to be made.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order prohibiting the state government from doing business with any entities that discriminate. He said the order was in response to the Trump administration’s interpretation of religious liberty to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Community

The real estate association of a storied town in Michigan is facing a lawsuit for bylaws preventing non-Christians from purchasing homes.

Other reads

The Guardian covered a long legal battle in New Jersey over the construction of a mosque.

The Atlantic covered Heterodox Academy, a nonprofit advocating for diversity of thought at universities.

Feb 4: Justice department issues religious liberty memo, trains church security, and more

Executive Branch

The Justice Department released a memo instructing local offices to inform the Attorney General of any new cases relating to religious liberty, and to coordinate decisions as cases proceed.

In the wake of church shootings over the last year, US Attorneys’ offices have begun holding workshops on how to maintain security at places of worship.

The Trump Administration announced it will resume immigration from 11 countries that were temporarily banned from sending migrants, with additional security screenings. Critics argued the rules continue to target Muslims.

The New York Times and the National Review ran opposing editorials on the new HHS rules around religious objections by health professionals.

Judicial Branch

A federal appeals court ruled that a sexual orientation discrimination claim can be added on to a sexual discrimination claim to form a “sex-plus” claim. The instant case was a lesbian firefighter who was persistently harassed at work.

The Native American Church of North America settled a lawsuit against the TSA in federal court. TSA agents were accused of mishandling religious objects that should not have been touched by nonchurch members, according to the church’s beliefs. The settlement involves additional training for TSA agents.

Other reads

The Atlantic covered the establishment of the first chaired professorship in the US to study atheism, and examined the history of atheism as an identity and an academic subject.

The New Yorker ran an essay about the laws defining life and death for medically brain dead people, and how religion is or is not accommodated by different states’ laws.

A conversation intensified around Harvard research published in November indicating that intense religion in the US is not in decline, contrary to the “secularization thesis.” Declines in average religiosity appear to be explained by the weakening of moderate religion, not intense religion.

Jan 28: Brownback confirmed, state court cases and more

Executive Branch

The Senate confirmed Kansas Governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, a post he was nominated for back in July. The Washington Post described what the position entails.

Judicial Branch

A federal judge issued a temporary injunction to the University of Iowa’s dissolution of a Business Leaders in Christ club. She found that the university’s nondiscrimination policies were applied inconsistently against the club for preventing an openly gay student from assuming a leadership position.

50 States

The Washington Supreme Court ruled that a local fire department violated a firefighter’s rights to free speech by preventing him from sending emails with religious content over work listservs. If that is found to be the sole cause of his subsequent firing, that will also be considered discriminatory.

The New York Times reported that political candidates in the South are much less focused on “culture wars” issues like abortion, religious freedom, or transgender bathroom assignment than in previous elections cycles.

Other reads

Pew Research released data on Americans’ support for abortion across religious affiliations.

PBS News Hour covered the rise of health care sharing ministries. The ministries have little government oversight, allowing them to reject applicants with preexisting conditions and to offer cheaper plans with limited coverage that appeal to healthy people.

Jan 21: New HHS office for religious health worker complaints, and more

Executive Branch

The Trump administration announced expanded protections for health care workers objecting to perform procedures on the basis of religious beliefs. The Department of Health and Human Services created a new division to investigate complaints.

Applicable scenarios presented by both critics and proponents include pharmacists not filling contraceptive prescriptions, and surgeons not performing gender reassignment surgery.

A Trump-appointed administration official resigned from his position after CNN released 2013 audio of him making inflammatory comments about women and minority groups, including Muslims.

Legislative Branch

Members of Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisory council lent their support to extending the program allowing “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children, to stay in the country.

Judicial Branch

A group of Muslims filed a discrimination lawsuit against the FBI after being placed on a terrorist watch list.

Community

New research indicated that the Trump travel ban has led to more positive views of Muslims.

Other reads

Many religious organizations support net neutrality and petitioned against the FCC’s new rules last month. The Deseret News examined why.

Jan 14: Supreme Court declines to hear LGBT / religious exemption cases, clergy tax breaks ruled unconstitutional, and more

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court declined to hear two cases challenging state laws allowing religious people to decline to serve LGBT people in commercial and government interactions.

A federal judge ruled that tax breaks for clergy’s housing violate the establishment clause by favoring religious workers over secular ones.

Executive Branch

The new US Ambassador to the Netherlands was left speechless at his inaugural press conference in the country. He fell silent after repeated questions from reporters about his 2015 statement that Muslims had burned Dutch politicians. He later seemed to acknowledge that what he said was erroneous.

The Washington Post profiled Johnnie Moore, the “de facto spokesman” of Donald Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisory board. He’s described as a gatekeeper between the White House and pastors.

50 States

Idaho did not pass a 2017 bill proposing to remove protections for parents who fail to seek medical treatment for their children because of religious beliefs. Proponents argue that parents’ negligence has lead to dozens of child deaths, while opponents say the choice to pursue faith healing is a matter of religious liberty.

Community

A Texas school district refused parent requests for a school holiday on Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

A prison chaplain was granted an exemption from a requirement to carry pepper spray, which he objected to because of his religious beliefs. We covered the story in October.

Other reads

PRRI released the results of a survey on Millennial views about culture and religion, including discrimination, gender norms and free speech.

More European countries have banned the ritual slaughtering of animals prescribed by Judaism and Islam out of concerns about animal rights and suffering. The US hasn’t taken a definitive stance on the question.

Jan 7: Churches get FEMA funding, Christian refugees replace Muslims, and more

Executive Branch

The Trump Administration released new rules on FEMA funding to allow churches to receive government assistance.

The Trump administration has admitted Christian refugees at a 6-to-1 ratio over Muslims, a dramatic switch from historical statistics.

Judicial Branch

A federal court ruled that a clergyman’s loss of retirement benefits was an ecclesiastical matter that could not be interfered with by the courts.

50 States

Louisiana’s Attorney General published guidelines for students on religious expression in schools. They state that students have full freedom of expression, and must take the lead in religious activities because school employees may not promote religion.

A New York college canceled its trip to play baseball against a Mississippi college pursuant to a 2016 gubernatorial executive order. The order bans all non-essential state travel to Mississippi as a consequence of its religious freedom law that allows businesses to decline service based on religious beliefs.

California grappled with how to approach the growth of churches that incorporate marijuana in their services.

Other reads

Pew Research indicated that the US Muslim population is growing, and will double by 2050 to reach 2% of the national population.

USC’s Religion Dispatches interviewed a historian about the origins of religious freedom in the United States.

Dec 31: Masterpiece Cakeshop – Oregon version, and more

Judicial Branch

An Oregon appellate court upheld a decision against two bakers that refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

A Georgia man filed suit in federal court after being prevented from preaching on the sidewalk outside a large park and event venue originally created for the Olympics. He argues his freedom of speech was violated.

A federal court in Idaho ruled against a Mormon college student alleging religious discrimination by his tennis coach. The court agreed the student had been harassed, but said the behavior was insufficiently coercive to qualify as a curtailment of the free exercise of his religion.

Legislative Branch

The Senate failed to move forward on confirming Donald Trump’s nominee for Ambassador for International Religious Freedom this year. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback accepted the nomination in July, but will now have to be re-nominated in 2018. The position has been unfilled since Trump took office, and the uncertainty has hampered the running of Kansas’ executive branch.

50 States

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that a lower court had contravened the First Amendment by disfavoring religion in its determination about where a child should attend school. The issue arose during divorce and custody proceedings, and one parent objected to the child attending a Lutheran private school, which the court privileged over the other parent’s preferences.

Other reads

The Washington Post profiled a dozen fascinating American religious figures who died in 2017.

Dec 24: Christmas Facts, Cardinal Bernard Law Dies

Holidays

Pew Research published five interesting statistical facts about Christmas in America. Included were that 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas, and 66% believe that Jesus was born from a virgin (down from 73% in 2014).

Obituaries

Cardinal Bernard Law died this week. He gained notoriety for covering up sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area, and for being subsequently promoted. Despite continued scandals, the structure of the church makes solutions challenging.

Judicial Branch

A federal court ruled against a religious discrimination lawsuit by a former fire chief in Atlanta. He was fired after publishing a religious book that said people in same-sex relationships are “vile.” He distributed the book at work.

Community

Bishop William Barber and the Kairos Center at the Union Theological Seminary announced a partnership to revive Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. They plan to work through grassroots movements, especially with religious groups.

Other Reads

An LGBT rights think tank and Columbia Law School released a report about the challenges faced by LGBT seniors in seeking retirement care when most care facilities are religiously affiliated.

The Guardian profiled Nora Nash, a nun who uses her order’s stock ownership to push companies to act more socially responsibly.

Dec 17: Religious controversies at universities, and more

Judicial Branch

A federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the religious exceptions the Trump administration carved out of the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

A Third Circuit court upheld a ruling against a man fired from a hospital for refusing vaccinations after he was unable to produce substantiation that his refusal was based on religious beliefs.

A federal district court in South Carolina found that a school holding graduation ceremonies in the chapel of a local university violated the Establishment Clause.

50 States

A Christian student organization filed suit against the University of Iowa. The organization was de-registered after barring a gay student from serving in a leadership position.

The University of Minnesota attracted criticism after it issued guidance to faculty and staff to avoid holiday decorations with iconography indicative of a specific religion. The list of images to avoid included wrapped gifts, red and green or blue and white, bells and Santa Claus.

The first Sikh Attorney General in the US was elected in New Jersey.

Community

A Satanic Temple filed suit against a Minnesota town for refusing to let them erect a Satanic memorial to soldiers opposite a similar monument with a cross.

A consortium of Christian media organizations announced an initiative to document suppression of conservative and Christian content by Google, Facebook, Apple and other tech companies.

Other reads

The New Yorker ran a fascinating investigation of the fraught relationship between Roy Moore and Alabama evangelicals. Moore lost the senate race to Doug Jones.

The Atlantic reviewed a new translation of the New Testament that strives to be as literal as possible, preserving bad grammar and awkward phrasing from the Greek.