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.

Mar 25: Politicians and morality, neo-Nazi Republican candidate, and more

Executive Branch

A Washington Post Op-Ed argues that Donald Trump deserves the loyal support he’s gotten from Christian evangelicals.

Legislative Branch

A Holocaust denier with ties to neo-Nazis won the congressional Republican nomination in an Illinois district after running unopposed. Rather than funding his campaign, the Illinois Republican party will be providing money to an independent candidate.

Judicial Branch

The 7th Circuit ruled that changes to a high school nativity made it compliant with the Constitution.

50 States

Alabama passed a state constitutional amendment to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed on public buildings. Voters will decide whether to ratify it in November.

Other reads

A new YouGov poll finds that more Democrats than Republicans say that they wouldn’t vote for candidates who had cheated on their spouses – the exact inverse of the poll when the Monica Lewinsky scandal occurred.

Mar 18: South Carolina gives religious exemption to foster agencies, the history of evangelical politics, and more

50 States

The governor of South Carolina issued an executive order allowing faith-based foster agencies to only place children with families who meet their religious standards. The impetus was an agency facing the loss of its license because it only placed children with Christian families.

Massachusetts lost a challenge to the newly expanded religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act. The court ruled that the state has no standing for its challenge.

Community

The Mennonite woman who was in jail for refusing to testify in a capital punishment case has been released after agreeing to give testimony. She learned that the defense also wanted her to testify, and that her statement might decrease the chance that the defendant would receive the death penalty.

A New Jersey town approved a permit for a mosque after a multi-year zoning dispute and an investigation by the Justice Department. The city said financial considerations over a potential lawsuit with the federal government forced their hand.

A group of Muslim women filed a class action lawsuit against New York City for a policy requiring them to remove headscarves for mugshots. This comes on the heels of a settlement the city reached to pay three women for their experiences under the policy.

Other reads

The Atlantic published a fascinating, in-depth look at the evolving politics of evangelical Christianity – from abolitionists and social justice crusaders in the 19th century to modern culture warriors and Trump supporters. It is an opinion article, and is not shy about its opinion.

Mar 11: Transsexual civil rights protection overrides religious claims, violent Buddhists, and more

Judicial Branch

The Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of a transgender woman who was fired by a funeral home after transitioning. They held that the action violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, while the funeral home lost its argument that the termination was justified by religious freedom.

Executive Branch

The Justice Department took the case of a woman denied a religious exemption for a work-mandated flu shot. Her employer required written affidavit from clergy, and she did not belong to a specific church or congregation.

50 States

The ACLU and Council on American-Islamic Relations complained that a series of police trainings in Georgia about extremism are anti-Islamic and portray the religion as inherently violent.

Community

A Mennonite woman continued her refusal to give testimony in a court case that could result in capital punishment. She is in jail for contempt of court while she appeals to the Colorado Supreme Court.

New York City settled with three Muslim women who were forced to remove their hijabs for mugshots.

Other reads

With Buddhist riots causing a state of emergency in Sri Lanka this week, and the ongoing genocide of the Muslim Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, a New York Times op-ed proposes answers to a question that’s been on my mind: why are we surprised when Buddhists are violent?

Mar 4: A Peace Cross, Billy Graham at the Capitol, and more

Judicial Branch

A federal appeals court upheld a ruling to remove the Peace Cross, a 40-foot war memorial in Maryland.

Executive Branch

Billy Graham has not evaded controversy in death, as he is one of four civilians to lie in honor at the US Capitol, and the only religious leader. The AP examined the relationship between the Grahams and Trump.

Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, made theological arguments for how he runs the organization and sets its priorities. His approach is in contrast to that taken by the Pope in his encyclical on the environment.

Mike Pence spoke at the 75th Annual Convention of National Religious Broadcasters.

Community

McKinney, Texas, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, has faced criticism over religious activities in the school system.

Other reads

Slate ran an in-depth piece on Newsweek’s ties to a Christian University that prompted legal investigations and the resignations or threatened resignations of multiple employees.

Feb 25: Sexual orientation discrimination suits, the Olympics, Billy Graham and more

Executive Branch

A lesbian couple in Texas filed suit against the federal government after being refused refugee foster child placement by Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities is under contract with the HHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Complaints to the HHS by healthcare providers about restrictions on religious freedom spiked after the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division last month. There have been 300 complaints so far, compared to 34 in November 2016.

50 States

An appellate court in Hawaii upheld a ruling against a bed and breakfast for refusing service to a lesbian couple because of their sexual orientation. The owner of the B&B argued that her religious views prevented her from letting the room.

The Governor of South Carolina announced he is working to obtain a waiver for a faith-based foster care provider that requires all foster parents to be Christian. The organization was told by the state’s Department of Social Services that it is violating state and federal regulations.

State legislatures began debating bills that would classify same-sex marriages as “parody” marriages.

Community

A football coach in Louisiana filed suit alleging that he was not hired because of his Jewish heritage.

A public school teacher in Detroit filed a lawsuit alleging that she was fired for wearing a hijab.

Other reads

Billy Graham died on Wednesday, drawing tributes from political and religious leaders. His passing also prompted reflection on his involvement in politics, his background and rise to prominence, and his evangelical legacy.

The Religion News Service covered the missionary efforts by different denominations at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

 

Feb 18: #MeToo, Mormonism and the White House, travel ban loses in federal court, and more

Executive Branch

The reports of White House aide Rob Porter’s domestic abuse have prompted soul searching in the Mormon community. Both of Porter’s ex-wives sought counsel from their lay ministers in the faith and received little support, being told to consider their husband’s career before making any accusations. Other women have come forward with similar stories.

Judicial Branch

The 4th Circuit ruled that the travel ban is unconstitutional because Trump’s past statements indicate it is targeting Muslims.

50 States

An Ohio court transferred custody of a teenager from the parents to the grandparents after the parents refused to allow their child, who is transgender, to seek hormone therapy because of their religious beliefs.

Community

The convictions of three people in Florida for a 2015 murder were overturned because a judge had unfairly prevented a Jehovah’s Witness from serving on the jury. The cases will have to be reheard.

Other reads

Religion and Politics explored why female evangelical pastors are wary of commenting on politics.

Feb 11: National Prayer Breakfast, California rules on cake case, and more

Executive Branch

Donald Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, emphasizing stories of Americans who sacrificed for other people. He referenced religious freedom and the role of the United States in the world.

Legislative Branch

The budget bill passed on Friday included language formalizing an executive order to FEMA that prevents the exclusion of religious nonprofits from receiving aid just because they are religious.

The unopposed Republican candidate in an Illinois congressional district denies the Holocaust and has been called a Nazi by other Republicans.

50 States

A judge in California ruled that a baker did not violate non-discrimination laws by refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. He held that the cake is artistry and covered under free speech, in advance of a Supreme Court decision that has yet to be made.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order prohibiting the state government from doing business with any entities that discriminate. He said the order was in response to the Trump administration’s interpretation of religious liberty to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Community

The real estate association of a storied town in Michigan is facing a lawsuit for bylaws preventing non-Christians from purchasing homes.

Other reads

The Guardian covered a long legal battle in New Jersey over the construction of a mosque.

The Atlantic covered Heterodox Academy, a nonprofit advocating for diversity of thought at universities.

Feb 4: Justice department issues religious liberty memo, trains church security, and more

Executive Branch

The Justice Department released a memo instructing local offices to inform the Attorney General of any new cases relating to religious liberty, and to coordinate decisions as cases proceed.

In the wake of church shootings over the last year, US Attorneys’ offices have begun holding workshops on how to maintain security at places of worship.

The Trump Administration announced it will resume immigration from 11 countries that were temporarily banned from sending migrants, with additional security screenings. Critics argued the rules continue to target Muslims.

The New York Times and the National Review ran opposing editorials on the new HHS rules around religious objections by health professionals.

Judicial Branch

A federal appeals court ruled that a sexual orientation discrimination claim can be added on to a sexual discrimination claim to form a “sex-plus” claim. The instant case was a lesbian firefighter who was persistently harassed at work.

The Native American Church of North America settled a lawsuit against the TSA in federal court. TSA agents were accused of mishandling religious objects that should not have been touched by nonchurch members, according to the church’s beliefs. The settlement involves additional training for TSA agents.

Other reads

The Atlantic covered the establishment of the first chaired professorship in the US to study atheism, and examined the history of atheism as an identity and an academic subject.

The New Yorker ran an essay about the laws defining life and death for medically brain dead people, and how religion is or is not accommodated by different states’ laws.

A conversation intensified around Harvard research published in November indicating that intense religion in the US is not in decline, contrary to the “secularization thesis.” Declines in average religiosity appear to be explained by the weakening of moderate religion, not intense religion.