Apr 29: Pro-Christian legislation network “Project Blitz,” Muslim conspiracy theories, and more

Executive Branch

Politico examined the politicization of Christian TV and its relationship with the Trump administration. Donald Trump has given more interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network than any other network, a pattern of exposure for Christian TV that has continued in the White House press corps and with other leading administration officials.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement saying that Donald Trump is responsible for a spike in hate crimes and discrimination against Muslims last year.

The Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State.

NBC investigated the ties between John Bolton, the new National Security Advisor, and a nonprofit he chaired that promoted anti-Muslim news such as a “jihadist takeover” and a ”Great White Death.”

Legislative Branch

House of Congress Chaplain Father Pat Conroy resigned from his position at the request of Speaker Paul Ryan. Both Democrats and Republicans have vocally objected to the unprecedented request. It’s possible the cause was a prayer Conroy gave before a debate on immigration.

Judicial Branch

Kyle Duncan was confirmed to a seat on the Fifth Circuit after contentious Senate hearings. Duncan was the top attorney at the Becket Fund, which litigates religious liberty cases including the Hobby Lobby challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

A federal jury in New York awarded $5.1 million in damages to former employees of an insurance plan for being forced to engage in spiritual practices called “Onionhead” on the job.

States

Religion Dispatches discovered that many of the conservative Christian bills being proposed in state legislatures are modeled on a packet produced by “Project Blitz,” a pro-Christian network of lawmakers and advocates that also organizes Prayer Caucuses in state houses across the country.

Suggested bills include a “Religion in Legal History Act,” a “Student Prayer Certification Act,” and a “Resolution Establishing Public Policy Favoring Intimate Sexual Relations Only Between Married, Heterosexual Couples.”

A Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan presented conspiracy theories about the Democratic candidate, who is Muslim-American. He claimed that the Democrat is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and part of a Muslim plan to infiltrate local governments.

Other news

The Religion News Service, a nonprofit dedicated to non-sectarian coverage of religious news around the world (which I often link to), saw an internal shakeup (implosion?) this week. Newsroom dissatisfaction, publisher involvement in editorial decisions, and allegations of pro-Catholic bias resulted in the firing of the editor-in-chief and subsequent resignations of several staff in protest.

The Washington Post ran a lengthy piece about evolving religious perspectives on in-vitro fertilization, and the looming discussions about more complex editing of embryos’ genomes.

Apr 22: New Jersey church repair unconstitutional, Nebraska nuns lose Medicaid, and more

Executive Branch

Inquiry into Mike Pompeo’s religious background continued as he faces an uphill road to nomination as Secretary of State. Religion News Service summarized the most pertinent points.

Military officials are investigating a discrimination claim against a chaplain for not allowing a same-sex couple to join a retreat.

Judicial Branch

A federal appeals court overturned a previous ruling in favor of a for-profit church restaurant staffed by unpaid church members. It found that the volunteers had no expectation of being paid, and could not sue for wages.

States

The Supreme Court of New Jersey found that the state government has been in violation of its constitution by granting money to repair and restore historic churches. The constitution specifically forbids the use of tax funds to build or repair a church.

Nebraska nuns appealed a state decision to disqualify them for Medicaid on the basis of their “patrimony,” an individual fund in the name of a nun that is posthumously disbursed to charity. A nun has to renounce her vow of poverty to access the fund.

Community

A California “marijuana church” began a legal dispute with its municipality about whether it is really a religious establishment or just a pot dispensary masquerading as a church.

Other reads

A NYT op-ed questioned if the conservative group Focus on the Family should be allowed to file as a church to avoid tax obligations.

A new paper indicated that fewer people turn to religion when the government provides more services.

Apr 15: Pompeo hearings, Cabinet Bible study, academic religious bias, and more

Legislative Branch

Confirmation hearings began for Mike Pompeo’s appointment as Secretary of State to replace Rex Tillerson. Muslim and Jewish groups have criticized his nomination due to his past statements about Islam and affiliation with anti-Muslim pundits. He faced questions about those issues as well as his continued opposition to same-sex marriage based on his religious beliefs.

Executive Branch

The BBC covered the man who leads Bible study for Donald Trump’s cabinet secretaries, and the political stances he promotes based on his reading of the Bible.

Donald Trump declared April 12-19 as Days of Remembrance for Victims of the Holocaust.

States

Buzzfeed News aggregated and analyzed anti-Muslim statements from state politicians since 2015, finding that elected officials had criticized the religion, explicitly and implicitly, in 49 states.

Washington State passed legislation enacting restrictions on the sharing of individuals’ religious affiliations with employers, law enforcement and the federal government.

Other reads

Some discussion this week on academic philosophy blogs and Christian blogs about bias in university hiring led me to the original data, which was compiled by George Yancey in his 2011 book, Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education.

He surveyed over 1,000 academics about attributes of a job candidate that would enhance or damage the respondents’ support for hiring that candidate. A table of some of his data is below:

The book also gives survey response averages, which are slightly less informative, for other attributes from “Hunter” to “Bisexual.” This data is available broken out by academic department, but I aggregated it for simplicity.

Apr 8: Air Force penalty reversed, NYPD settlement with Muslim groups, and more

Executive Branch

The Secretary of the Air Force reversed a decision to penalize a commander for declining to sign a certificate of appreciation for an airman’s same-sex spouse because of his religious beliefs.

The Ant-Defamation League wrote to Donald Trump again, urging him to appoint a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the State Department. The position, which is mandated by Congress, has gone unfilled since Trump’s inauguration.

50 States

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that a hospital’s use of a court hotline to authorize blood transfusions was not allowed under state law. The hospital was sued by Jehovah’s Witnesses, who objected to transfusions for their 14-year-old son with bone cancer on religious grounds.

The New York legislature sent its 2019 budget to the governor, with a provision insisted on by a representative with a swing vote. The provision allows Orthodox Jewish schools (yeshivas) to meet lower standards for education than currently. Yeshivas have been criticized for not teaching English, math, history and science.

The Arizona legislature passed a bill allowing the English translation of its motto Ditat Deus, “God enriches,” to be posted in public schools.

Apr 1: Adoption bills across the country, explaining support for Trump, and more

Executive Branch

New academic research asked why Donald Trump’s religious supporters would turn a blind eye to his extramarital affairs. The authors argue that support for Trump isn’t actually correlated with an individual’s religiosity, but with support for Christian nationalism and disapproval of Islam.

Health providers criticized the vagueness of the new HHS rules allowing physicians to decline service for religious reasons and requiring healthcare organizations to have policies on handling complaints of religious discrimination or coercion.

Judicial Branch

A federal judge ruled in favor of the Catholic Benefits Association, allowing them to not provide contraceptive coverage.

50 States

Last year’s religious freedom and culture wars legislation was focused on transgender bathroom use and Sharia law. This year, state houses are overwhelmingly focused on bills about adoption and foster care – whether religious agencies can decline to place children with families who don’t follow the tenets of their religion. The Kansas legislature just rejected one such bill.

Community

Parents of a Pennsylvania girl were convicted of manslaughter for not seeking medical care for their daughter’s ultimately fatal case of pneumonia. They objected to medicine on religious grounds.

Other reads

Vox investigated how Christmas and Easter diverged in popularity and secularization – the one becoming a national holiday regardless of religious affiliation, and the other remaining distinctly Christian.