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.