Oct 1: Roy Moore nominated for Senate, Trump issues third travel ban

Legislative Branch

Roy Moore won the Republican nomination for Senate in Alabama, defeating a candidate backed by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. Moore is famous for having twice been removed as a justice of the Alabama Supreme Court over his defiance of federal decisions – one to remove a large granite monument of the Ten Commandments, and the other to recognize gay marriage.

In this campaign, Moore doubled down on his conservative Christian credentials. He said that homosexuality should be illegal, suggested that school shootings and terrorist attacks were the result of secularization and called for the recognition and reintroduction of the religious underpinnings of American law.

Moore also said that Muslims should not serve in public office, going further than Trump, Carson or other Republican politicians in his criticism of Islam. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the administration does not agree with Moore’s comments on Muslims or gay people.

Executive Branch

The Trump Administration issued a new travel ban, nullifying the previous ban that was pending before the Supreme Court. The updated executive order includes countries without a Muslim majority – Venezuela and North Korea – which may allow it to withstand legal challenges based on religious discrimination.

Judicial Branch

Donald Trump nominated Kyle Duncan, a conservative lawyer and law professor specializing in church-state relations, to the 5th Circuit. Duncan has an extensive public record of statements about religious freedom, and served as lead counsel on the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case.

Another judicial nominee, Jeff Mateer, faced opposition after CNN published video of him defending gay conversion therapy and saying that gay marriage will lead to other, “disgusting” forms of marriage like polygamy.

Community

A prison chaplain refusing to carry pepper spray for religious reasons has not been allowed to visit inmates. The Marshall Project published a thorough profile.

A district court ruled that a Pennsylvania County’s use of a cross in its official seal violates the separation of church and state, according to precedent.

Other reads

Get Religion published an interesting compendium of Hugh Hefner obituaries focused on his religious background. It makes that case that his Playboy persona may have been his reaction to a “Puritan” Methodist upbringing after he discovered that while he had saved himself for marriage his fiancée was unfaithful.

Sep 24: States grapple with religious liberty and adoption, reproductive rights and wedding services

50 States

The ACLU filed suit against the state of Michigan on behalf of same-sex couples who were refused adoption services by government-funded faith-based organizations.

California passed legislation preventing employers, including religious organizations, from firing women for reproductive decisions, including abortion, contraception, and pregnancy outside of marriage. It allows a ministerial exception for employees of religious organizations who play a role important for religious instruction or ceremony.

A public university in Oklahoma has requested advice from the state’s Attorney General after Americans United for Separation of Church and State requested that it remove Christian symbolism from the campus chapel, including the cross on the steeple.

Judicial Branch

A district court judge in Minnesota ruled that wedding videographers cannot turn away gay couples.

A federal judge ruled that an apple farmer must be reinstated to the East Lansing farmers market in Michigan. The farmer was originally banned after refusing to host a same-sex wedding at their orchard and writing a Facebook post explaining the family’s opposition to gay marriage.

Other reads

An Australian academic argues that the conflict between science and religion is an artificial construct, and that secularization will not supplant religion.

Only 4% of Americans believe in the Catholic “Consistent Ethic of Life” that opposes abortion, the death penalty and assisted suicide.

Religion News Service profiled a Muslim doctor from Detroit running for Governor of Michigan.

Sep 17: Congress calls for Trump to denounce hate groups, Facebook advertises to anti-Semites

Legislative Branch

Congress passed a unanimous, joint resolution calling on the President to denounce racist and anti-Semitic hate groups.

Community

Until ProPublica broke the story, Facebook allowed advertisers to specifically target anti-Semitic users.

Following Pope Francis’ lead, Catholic leaders in the US started to frame other issues like climate change and immigration in the context of being “pro-life.”

Surveys

Some scholars disputed the PRRI survey that found a decline in the proportion of white evangelicals in America.

New research showed a dramatic turnaround in white evangelical opinions about politicians’ morality. In 2011, 60% said privately immoral politicians could not behave ethically in their public roles; in 2016, only 20% agreed.

ThinkProgress covered a study showing that Christian nationalists are more supportive of Donald Trump. Christian nationalists were identified as people who support policies like declaring the United States a Christian nation and allowing the display of religious symbols in public spaces.

A University of Pennsylvania survey on constitutional rights found that only 15% of Americans listed freedom of religion as a first amendment right. 20% of Americans believe that Muslims don’t share the same rights as other US citizens.

Sep 10: Trump advisory board supports DACA, judicial nominee questioned about Catholicism

Executive Branch

Religion News Service ran an extensive profile of Donald Trump’s informal Christian advisory group. He has given more access to religious leaders than any other modern president, but only includes evangelical Christian pastors. It’s unclear if they have had any effect on policy.

The advisory board is lobbying against the rollback of DACA, which grants legal status to undocumented immigrants who arrived as minors (“Dreamers”). Faith leaders across different traditions oppose deportation of Dreamers.

Churches in Houston sued FEMA because it excludes religious organizations from receiving public disaster assistance. Donald Trump tweeted his support for the churches’ cause.

Legislative Branch

A Catholic nominee for a federal judgeship was intensely questioned by the Senate over how judges should handle conflict between the law and their religious beliefs. She said that Democratic Senators misinterpreted an article she wrote as a law student about when Catholic judges should recuse themselves from cases involving moral questions.

Judicial Branch

Donald Trump nominated five judges in Texas, two of which spent part of their careers at the First Liberty Institute. First Liberty Institute is a conservative non-profit law firm that litigates religious liberty cases, and has been criticized by liberal groups and LGBT rights organizations.

Justice Department lawyers filed an amicus brief supporting the Denver baker who is being sued for refusing to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple. They ask the Supreme Court to carve out a narrow exception to discrimination laws for expressive professions.

The 6th Circuit ruled that a Michigan county’s board meetings can continue to begin with prayers led by a commissioner.

Community

The National Cathedral removed stained glass windows picturing Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Surveys

PRRI published a report based on the largest ever survey of American religious identity. It found that white evangelical Protestants are beginning to experience the same membership decline that other denominations began to see decades ago. Overall, white Christians are declining as a proportion of the population, down to 43% from 81% in 1976. The full report is here.

FiveThirtyEight analyzed what the survey data might mean for the future of political parties.

The Atlantic wrote about the people who report being religiously unaffiliated.

The 2017 Baylor Religion Survey results were also released. They focus on the intersection of Trump support with religion, the use of technology, and the role of faith in mental health.

Other reads

An interesting article discussed the Doctrine of Christian Discovery underpinning the legal justification of land seizure from Native Americans.

JSTOR examined the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and what religious authenticity means.

Sep 3: Day of Prayer for Houston, Travel Ban Affects Hajj

Executive Branch

Donald Trump declared September 3rd as a National Day of Prayer for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Muslims in Saudi Arabia for the hajj expressed concern about reentering the US under the Trump travel ban. Many Muslims chose to delay their pilgrimage until the situation is more certain.

The State Department announced a consolidation of positions and offices related to religion and religious freedom. The special envoy on anti-Semitism will remain, but the envoys to Muslim communities and the Organization of Islamic Countries will be discontinued.

Judicial Branch

The 8th Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling that Lincoln, Nebraska, can ban the distribution of religious literature outside of a sports arena.

50 States

Illinois passed a law creating a Muslim American Advisory Council.

Community

The New York Times ran a profile of an Arkansas man who helped vandalize a Mosque and the Muslim community leaders who forgave him.

Other reads

The Wheatley Institution at BYU posted about social science research that indicates a positive relationship between religiosity and family life, including quality of fatherhood and outcomes for children.

A Pew survey found that Protestants have started to believe some of the same Catholic theological tenets that prompted the Reformation. Key among these is the role of works in salvation and the doctrinal validity of extra-scriptural church teachings.

Aug 27: SPLC sued by Christian ministry over hate group label, Justice Department downplays religious freedom EO

Judicial Branch

The Southern Poverty Law Center is well known for its documentation of hate groups. Its profiles of white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups have been widely cited in coverage of the Charlottesville violence.

The SPLC created a controversy this last year by including Christian organizations in its list of hate groups because of their opposition to same-sex relationships. This last week the SPLC was sued by a Presbyterian ministries company in a federal court for defamation because it listed the company as a hate group.

The SPLC lists are used by other companies, like Amazon and charity tracker Guidestar, to blacklist organizations that support causes of hate.

The 9th Circuit ruled against a public high school football coach who lost his position after continuing to pray on the field after games.

A federal judge granted a pipeline company access to land owned by an order of Catholic nuns. The nuns had argued that as part of their order of Adorers of Christ, they must preserve the sacredness of the earth. The judge ruled that they failed to demonstrate how the pipeline would disrupt the practice of their religion.

Executive Branch

The Justice Department defended Donald Trump’s executive order on religious freedom by saying it actually didn’t change anything.

The Justice Department also filed briefs defending the ACA birth control mandate and the Johnson Amendment prohibiting religious endorsement of political candidates, despite Trump’s executive orders not to enforce those same laws.

A group of Jewish leaders decided to cancel an annual call with the White House because of Donald Trump’s statements about the conservative rallies and violence in Charlottesville, which included public demonstrations of anti-Semitism.

Members of Trump’s evangelical advisory council resisted strong pressure to resign in the wake of his comments about Charlottesville.

50 States

A Wisconsin court ruled that a Christian photographer who does not work at same-sex weddings did not violate anti-discrimination laws because she does not have a physical storefront.

A devil-worshipping couple filed suit against an Oklahoma school district for religious discrimination against their children. The couple follows Anramainyu, a form of Zoroastrian devil worship.

Community

Muslim groups are turning to Jewish organizations to learn how to protect themselves from hate crimes. Mosque and Islamic center security is a particular focus. 

Aug 20: Faith leaders react to Charlottesville and Trump’s response

Executive Branch

Company executives resigned from Donald Trump’s business councils, leading to the dissolution of three advisory bodies, over his response to the Charlottesville protests last week. The evangelical advisory council, on the other hand, has seen relatively little turmoil. Only one pastor, of a New York megachurch, resigned.

The protests, which included KKK members and neo-Nazis, have alarmed Jewish groups. Some who have not previously criticized Trump, like Ivanka’s rabbi and Republican Jewish organizations, spoke out against his response to the protests and subsequent attack.

The Atlantic ran a piece analyzing the connection between white nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism. It tries to explain why people protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue would chant “Jews will not replace us!

The State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2016.

Judicial Branch

A federal court upheld Nebraska laws preventing picketing at funerals. The issue was raised by the Westboro Baptist Church, which pickets the funerals of military personnel with signs saying the deaths were caused by the legalization of gay marriage.

22 states filed an amicus brief supporting a New Mexico city’s appeal to the Supreme Court. The case is over a display of the Ten Commandments, which a lower court ruled must be removed.

Legislative Branch

4,000 religious leaders signed a letter asking Congress to maintain the Johnson Amendment, which revokes tax-exemptions for non-profits that endorse political candidates.

50 States

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state welfare agency can’t vaccinate children in their custody over their parents’ religious objections.

Pew Research documented every reference to God in US state constitutions. The divine is referred to in all 50, most frequently in the Massachusetts constitution with 12 mentions.

The Guardian profiled the controversial Church of Cannabis in Denver.

Other reads

The Washington Post described what different faith traditions say their adherents should do when an eclipse occurs.

Aug 13: Trump still silent on mosque bombing, threatens “fire and fury” against North Korea

Executive Branch

Donald Trump faced criticism for his silence on the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota last week.

Trump’s threat to meet North Korea with “fire and fury” was seen by some as a religious invocation. It speaks to a larger split between the right and the left on reading the Biblical God as benevolent or authoritarian.

Judicial Branch

Both a meatpacking plant and the Teamsters union representing its employees were charged with civil rights violations for discrimination against Muslim workers. The workers were told to choose between their religion and their jobs.

50 States

Long Beach, California, settled a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by a Muslim woman whose hijab was removed by a male police office after she was arrested.

Native American tribes in Oregon filed a federal lawsuit over a highway-widening project that destroyed a sacred site. The tribes argue that the construction was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Rastafarian and Native religious groups in California continue to use cannabis in religious ceremonies without a license, attracting the attention of law enforcement.

Other reads

Forbes covered the research on religion’s impact on a company’s bottom line. Firms that are located in more religious counties, or have more religious executives, perform better.

ProPublica profiled Sikhs in America, who have been targeted for astonishing hate crimes since 1907.

New research investigated the relationship between religious conservatism and economic conservatism.

Aug 6: Hillary to preach, the rise of Christian litigation

(Not-quite) Executive Branch

Hillary Clinton is planning to become more public about her Methodist faith. There are hints that she may do some preaching as well.

Judicial Branch

The Third Circuit ruled that individuals who object to contraceptives on religious grounds do not need to be given the option to purchase insurance that doesn’t cover contraceptives.

50 States

An Alabama appellate court refused to order that a judge recuse himself from a case because of his religion. The judge is also a preacher at a fundamentalist Christian church, and is hearing a case over child custody where the mother is lesbian.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice said that Islam is a false religion, and is in opposition to the First Amendment. He is running for the Senate.

Community

An undocumented Connecticut mother who sought asylum from her native Guatemala twenty years ago left the church where she sought sanctuary. She was there for more than two weeks, until a court granted a stay on her deportation.

Although few undocumented immigrants seek refuge at churches, the number of congregations offering sanctuary has dramatically increased under the Trump administration.

Other reads

The Deseret News reported on conservative organizations that litigate religious freedom cases on behalf of Christians. They have attracted both praise and criticism, with some fellow conservatives maintaining that some aggressive public relations and legal tactics damage the image of religious freedom.

Christians are more than twice as likely as others to say that a person is poor because of a lack of effort.

The Deseret News reported on a new survey of millennials showing that they are more secular and less concerned about religious freedom.

Jul 30: No transgender military after evangelical visit; Brownback for Ambassador

Executive Branch

Donald Trump tweeted that transgender Americans will not be allowed to serve in the military. The tweet may have been designed for his conservative Christian base, which had expressed concern about using public funds to pay for transgender medical treatments. Indeed, he apparently discussed the policy with a group of evangelical leaders who visited the White House two weeks ago.

Donald Trump nominated Kansas governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom. Brownback leaves a controversial legacy in Kansas, with massive tax cuts designed to provide an economic boost that never materialized. He was known there as a strong social conservative, which concerns some in the LGBT community as he takes his new appointment.

Community

An Imam in California apologized for statements in a sermon that criticized Israel’s actions in the ongoing dispute over Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. He appeared to call for the destruction of Jewish people who were limiting access to the Mosque.

A KFC franchisee filed suit against the company for forbidding him from advertising that the chicken he sells is halal.

Other reads

Pew released a new survey of Muslims in America, showing they feel marginalized and discriminated against, but are proud to be American and believe they can succeed in the US. They also appear to be growing more politically, culturally and religiously liberal.

The New York Times highlighted research showing that less religious people are more likely to believe in alien encounters, ghosts and the paranormal. The author postulates that people seek spiritual meaning whether they are religious or not.