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


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).


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.


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.


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.

Dec 10: Masterpiece Cakeshop case begins, and more

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case this week. Baker Jack Phillips says his rights to freedom of religion and speech were violated by a Colorado law preventing discrimination by retailers. Phillips declined to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding.

Key questions included what counts as an artist and artistic expression that should be protected, and what types of activities a religious person can avoid in business. Justice Anthony Kennedy is widely speculated to be the swing vote that will decide the case.

A federal district court ruled that a prisoner’s humanist belief system does not qualify as a religion.

A federal judge upheld the Washington DC metro system’s decision to refuse Christmas ads from the local Catholic archdiocese. The metro system claims it is following an impartial policy, while the archdiocese says the decision is discriminatory.

Executive Branch

The Supreme Court allowed the Trump travel ban to be implemented in its latest form. The ACLU said they still consider it a Muslim ban and are committed to fighting it in court.

After the Trump administration shrunk the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, a coalition of five native tribes filed suit. The tribes argue that the land is sacred and the Trump does not have the authority to remove the monument designation.


A Colorado County ended a school voucher program to end legal battles that have stretched on for years. The issue was the use of public money to pay tuition at private, religious schools.

Other reads

NCAA Magazine ran an in-depth article about the Coalition on Common Ground, an organization that brings LGBTQ activists and religious leaders together to talk about how to respect students of faith and LGBTQ students at public and private universities.

The Atlantic profiled Mike Pence’s political career, focusing on his faith and how his challenges and successes have mirrored those of the religious right as a whole. It makes a fascinating lens through which to view the Trump-evangelical political alliance.

Vice investigated the use of religious exemptions as a loophole by organizations running abusive reform schools without oversight.

Dec 3: Donald Trump tweets misleading videos about Muslims and violence, and more

Executive Branch

Donald Trump retweeted three videos with captions indicating they depict violence by Muslims.

Two videos are clearly misleading: one of a Dutch boy kicking another boy, neither of whom are Muslims or migrants. Another depicts a struggle between factions supporting and opposing Egyptian ex-President Mohamed Morsi in which a boy is pushed off a roof. Both factions are Muslim.

The third shows the destruction of a Virgin Mary statue in Syria by a radical cleric in Jubhat al-Nusra, a Syrian militia linked with ISIS. The actions have been decried by Christians as well as Muslims, who mutually revere Mary.

The original tweets came from the leader of a far-right anti-Muslim group in the UK, Jayda Fransen. Fransen was convicted in 2016 of abusing a woman in a hijab, and is currently on bail over threatening language in a speech in August.

The organization, called Britain First, identifies itself as a party but is considered by some to be an extremist group, has gained notoriety for sensationalist mosque invasions.

Muslim leaders in the US have spoken out against the tweets, which they consider Islamophobic.

Melania Trump decorated the White House for the Christmas season, emphasizing the Christian holiday to comport with the administration’s “end to the war on Christmas.”


A Pennsylvania woman won her bid to be exempted from fingerprinting for religious reasons. An appellate court overturned the ruling of a lower court that her beliefs were personal, rather than religious.

An in-depth article in Forward covered the dispute between a New Jersey town and a Hasidic Jewish community.

A New York City mother sued for full custody of her son, accusing her ex-husband of radicalizing the boy. The family is Muslim, but the mother contends the father adopted extremist ideas that have begun to rub off on his son.

Other reads

NPR reported on Christian nationalism exemplified by Roy Moore. Its proponents argue that rather than just guiding individuals’ decisions, Christianity should guide American laws and institutions.

Politico argued that a lack of Imams may result in more radicalization, as young Muslims turn to the Internet for religious guidance. Both Islamophobia and the difficulty of travel from Muslim countries have contributed to the shortage.

A Seton Hall Law Review article examined what happened to the number of religious freedom cases after Hobby Lobby. Belying the decision’s critics, there has not been a spike in claims related to religious protections.

Ross Douthat asked if the connection between Donald Trump and evangelicals will cause an evangelical crisis, particularly among younger adherents.

A new book examines legal and philosophic approaches to religious freedom around the world, in an attempt to identify a system that can balance the rights of religious and non-religious people.

An interesting article reviewed religious freedom cases during US history.