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.

States

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.

Community

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.

States

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.

States

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.

Community

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.

Local

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.

Community

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.

Aug 19: Muslim congresswomen, General running a Christian website, and more

Executive Branch

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state in the military, formally complained about an Air Force general who runs a Christian website.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has lost its bipartisan support as its focus has changed.

Legislative Branch

Religion News Service profiled two Muslim women who are likely to become the first female Muslim congressional representatives.

Community

A Muslim prisoner sued his prison for violating his religious rights after his strip search was observed by a transgender man.

Deseret News examined both sides of the debate about whether or not to tear down a large cross in Maryland that commemorates fallen soldiers.

 

Aug 12: Religious exemptions for discrimination, student group sues U of Iowa, and more

Executive Branch

The Labor Department announced a new directive designed to provide exemptions to religious organizations that violate non-discrimination policies for federal contractors.

States

Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled that private religious institutions don’t have immunity from discrimination lawsuits and claims against them must be heard by the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

Another student group sued the University of Iowa over policies that deregistered over 40 groups. At issue is if religious organizations can limit leadership positions to students who are of that religion, or profess certain beliefs.

Community

Parents of a 10-month-old who died were charged with murder after not seeking medical treatment for her for religious reasons.

Education Week published a study on hate speech in schools, documenting incidents and the schools’ responses.

Other reads

Across almost every demographic in the past year, Americans became more sympathetic to owners of wedding service businesses who decline to work with a same-sex couple.

Familial religiosity was found to correlate with lower suicide rates for children.

Pew examined the reasons people give for being religiously unaffiliated, or “nones.”

Aug 5: DOJ task force announced at international summit, ACLU sues ICE, and more

Executive Branch

The Justice Department held an international summit (“Ministerial”) to promote religious freedom. The director of the OMB gave a speech suggesting that the US would stop pressuring countries to abandon laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Also at the Ministerial, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new religious liberty task force to be formed at the DOJ. He didn’t give specifics of what the task force would do, beyond implementing the executive order on religious freedom that Donald Trump signed in May.

The ACLU sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over conditions of migrants held in a federal prison in California. The suit alleges that, among other complaints, the prison confiscated all religious items and denied detainees halal and kosher meals.

The New York Times analyzed how the National Prayer Breakfast has turned into a major lobbying event, with power brokers selling tickets and access to the President.

Judicial Branch

An analysis of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s past rulings on cases involving religious freedom indicated that he would likely vote similarly to Anthony Kennedy, who he will replace if confirmed.

An appeals court ruled in favor of the DC Metro transit system, which was sued by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington for rejecting Christmas advertising that it considered religious, violating its advertising policies. Brett Kavanaugh was on the case and looked likely to dissent, but ended his participation after his nomination to the Supreme Court.

The 9th Circuit ruled that a school board’s practice of mid-meeting prayers violated the First Amendment by promoting Christianity and engaging in proselytizing.

Community

PRI covered a conflict between parents in a California school district over how to handle anti-Muslim bullying. Muslim parents wanted sensitivity training specific to Islam, while others objected to collaboration with Islamic organizations.

Other reads

A new study found that Muslim and Protestant scientists at research universities are more likely to report religious discrimination than their peers.

Jul 22: Russian spy attended National Prayer Breakfast, Trump tweets correlated with hate crimes, and more

Executive Branch

Courts unsealed a Justice Department filing accusing a Russian national of being a foreign agent and using, among other things, relationships with Christian Republicans and the National Prayer Breakfast to influence American leaders.

New research found correlations between tweets by Donald Trump about Islam and subsequent spikes in anti-Muslim hate crimes.

Legislative Branch

The House passed a provision preventing the IRS from penalizing churches that endorse political candidates. The provision is in a budget bill funding the IRS for the year.

The AP documented that there are more Muslim candidates for office than ever before, and they face some backlash.

Judicial Branch

A federal judge ruled against Catholic Social Services in finding that Philadelphia was not discriminating on the basis of religion when requiring foster care agencies to follow its nondiscrimination policies regarding prospective parents. CSS does not place children with same-sex couples.

States

A judge ruled Baptist college in Louisiana was racially discriminating when it denied a position to a man because of his Jewish ancestry.