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.


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.


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.