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.

Jul 15: Brett Kavanaugh nominated to the Supreme Court

Judicial Branch

Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. A number of articles analyzed his past decisions on religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

A professor at BYU argued that the current Supreme Court nomination process should be overhauled to make it less political.

States

A Hawaii appeals court ruled against bed and breakfast owners who denied a room to a lesbian couple because of religious beliefs.

Deseret News provided in-depth coverage of the court case in Michigan between the ACLU and a faith-based adoption and foster care agency.

Other reads

A professor published about her research indicating that people’s religiosity is partly determined by their political preferences, even though we tend to think causality works in the other direction.

Jul 8: Supreme Court shortlist

Judicial Branch

Religion News Service profiled the three frontrunners for nomination to the Supreme Court: Amy Conet Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Raymond Kethledge. All are devout Christians and have conservative records on the bench. Religious freedom is expected to figure prominently in the selection and confirmation processes.

Executive branch

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against oil company Halliburton for harassment of two Muslim employees.

States

A judge in Indiana dismissed a three-year lawsuit brought by The First Church of Cannabis that contended its religious liberty had been curtailed by not being permitted to use marijuana in its services.

The governor of Maine cited religious liberty when he vetoed legislation banning conversion therapy.

Deseret News analysis of state bills affecting religious freedom showed that fewer than 14% had bipartisan sponsorship.