Jul 1: Supreme Court rules on travel ban, Justice Kennedy to retire, and more

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration ban on travelers from 7 countries, 5 with majority-Muslim populations. The majority opinion focused on the President’s power to make administrative decisions for national security, while the dissent argued that it was inconsistent with the court’s recent ruling in the Cakeshop Masterpiece case, because it treated statements with religious bias differently.

The Atlantic assessed how both sides of the travel ban case used families in their arguments. The Washington Post asked why religious liberty groups didn’t criticize the decision.

A New York Times analysis makes the case that recent Supreme Court decisions reflect a successful shift in conservative argumentation. It says that conservatives stopped appealing to common morality and maintaining order and are now taking the same approach liberals have in appealing to rights. The author opines that these new tactics may backfire.

Supreme Court swing voter Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. Trump is expected to nominate a conservative appointee who will appeal to a religious, conservative voting base – particularly evangelicals. Two religious power brokers in DC are likely to significantly affect who is nominated.

Executive Branch

Over 600 members of the United Methodist Church lodged a formal complaint against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is a member, arguing that the policies of separating immigrant children from their parents violates basic tenets of the church’s rules. The complaint could theoretically lead to his excommunication, but experts say that’s unlikely.


The New York City Commission on Human Rights released data on religious discrimination. They reported, among other statistics, that 25% of New Yorkers who wear religious garb have experienced multiple occasions of verbal harassment or taunting.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued a New Mexico diner that refused to allow a Muslim employee to wear a headscarf. The employee was later fired, and is suing for back wages.

Jun 17: New Justice Department initiative, Sessions quotes Bible on immigration, and more

Executive Branch

The Justice Department announced a new initiative to protect religious institutions from discrimination in city zoning. It will work to enforce the 2000 RLUIPA law on religious land use.

The first complaint under the initiative was brought this week, against a New Jersey town that allegedly designed zoning rules to hamper Orthodox Jews’ religious observance.

Religious commenters and the media had much to say about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ use of Romans 13 to justify Trump administration immigration policies that separate parents and children at the border.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court declined to take a case adjudicating a property dispute between the Episcopal Church and a conservative breakaway group over properties worth $500 million. It left the last ruling in place, which found in favor of the parent church.

A Florida city and county were sued in federal court over their bans of gay conversion therapy. The plaintiffs argue that the statutes violate ministers’ religious freedom to counsel church members.

A federal judge ruled against Northwest tribal members who sued the government for destroying sacred grounds during a highway expansion.


The Deseret News compiled a list of 139 bills in state legislatures that affect religious freedom. It misses much of the legislation on my own list, but has solid coverage of particular topics.

An Arizona court cited the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling in its decision upholding a city ordinance that bars a Christian calligraphy business from refusing service to gay customers. Reporting on the story was all partial, either for the ruling or against it.

A court in Florida ruled that a priest does not have to give testimony on statements made to him during confession, even if the confessee wants him to. The ruling was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and contradicted Florida Evidence Code.


14 Muslim women filed suit against the Newark airport after being detained and searched. Most of the women were unrelated, but were wearing headscarves.

Other reads

Pew survey data showed that the gap between the religiosity of generations is growing – in almost every country, younger people are less religious than older people.

The Washington Post described how the phrase “Under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance.


Jun 10: Baker wins at Supreme Court, Trump holds iftar, and more

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court made a narrow ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who declined to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple due to his Christian beliefs. The court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that penalized the baker originally were prejudiced against him, but the opinions did not take a stance on issues of free speech or freedom of religion.

A federal court ruled that the “In God We Trust” motto on US currency does not violate the establishment clause by forcing users to espouse religious ideals they don’t believe in.

Executive Branch

Donald Trump hosted an iftar dinner in honor of Ramadan, a customary presidential event that was skipped last year.


North Carolina passed legislation requiring public schools to display the national motto, “In God We Trust.”

An Arizona appeals court upheld an anti-discrimination law in Phoenix that makes it illegal for same-sex couples to be refused service on the basis of religion.

Religious leaders took opposing stands on marijuana legalization in Oklahoma.

The first Muslim congressional representative filed to run for Attorney General in Minnesota so that he can challenge Trump administration policies.


A high school teacher in Indiana was fired after refusing to use transgender students’ preferred gender pronouns, which he said violated his religious beliefs.

A Virginia health worker filed suit after being fired for not removing her hijab, which her manager said was a safety risk for being grabbed.

Other reads

The New York Times ran an opinion piece on the future of sex and gender on Christian college campuses.

The New York Times examined the experience of Muslim-American gun owners in depth.

Jun 3: Irreligious Americans are more religious than religious Europeans, and more

Executive Branch

The new executive secretary and chief of staff at the National Security Council worked on think tank reports warning of a global jihad movement run by “shariah-adherent” Muslims, and arguing that their citizenship should be revoked.

Judicial Branch

A federal court upheld the constitutionality of a law that prohibits obstruction of access to houses of worship.


The New York Times covered Franklin Graham’s campaign to turn California to a red state by mobilizing evangelical voters.

A Kentucky judge invalidated a settlement between the state and plaintiffs that would have required the government to monitor faith-based foster homes. Without the settlement, the lawsuit over the constitutionality of Kentucky contracting with religious childcare organizations will continue.


The Atlantic published a profile of Gregory Stevens, a young pastor who drew controversy for his sharp criticisms of Silicon Valley inequality and Palo Alto city policies.

Other reads

New research indicated that religiously unaffiliated Americans may be more religious than many Christian Europeans. It included additional data on religiosity in the US and Europe.

An LA Times op-ed argued that although the number of evangelicals may be eclipsed by religiously unaffiliated people, their cohesion and institutional structures give them outsized political influence.

May 27: Muslim immigrants denied waivers, congressman endorses housing discrimination, and more

Executive Branch

The Washington Post investigated potential Muslim immigrants who have been denied waivers to the travel ban.

Legislative Branch

A Republican congressman running for reelection in California faced criticism after telling a realtor’s association that Christians have the right to not sell their homes to same-sex couples.

Paul Ryan and Sam Brownback, among others, spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this week.


Louisiana passed a bill on school prayer that was a less significant version than the original legislation. The final language merely allows teachers to bow their heads during student-led prayer.


Santa Fe, Texas, has responded to the school shooting there with increased displays of religiosity. The school lost a Texas Supreme Court case decades ago that restricted prayers at school facilities.

The New York Times reported on custody decisions when one parent leaves Orthodox Judaism and no longer follows the faith’s behavior code when with their children.

Other reads

The sons of Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon have connected the religion to the second amendment, with doctrine now saying every member should own an AR-15.

Provocative number-crunching indicated that across almost every stratum, frequent church attendees more were more likely to vote for Donald Trump.

May 20: Anti-semitism, adoption via Catholic services, USCIRF appointment and more

Executive Branch

The director of Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships argued that Donald Trump’s most recent executive order on religious freedom actually limits freedom. Among other things, the order eliminated the requirement that an Orthodox Jew be referred to another organization if she objects to her job program being held in a church.

The Washington Post discussed the fine line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, particularly in light of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem and recent state laws prohibiting government contracts with organizations that boycott Israel.

Tony Perkins, the controversial head of the Family Research Council, was appointed to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Trump released a message to mark the beginning of Ramadan, which said that Muslims add to the richness of American religious life.

Judicial Branch

Catholic Social Services sued the city of Philadelphia in federal court over new rules that would stop the city from using their services for foster care, because they don’t place children with same-sex couples.


Reports from the Oregon Department of Education showed systemic discrimination and hostility against LGBT students in a high school in North Bend. Punishments for these students included reading passages from the Bible.

The Texas Tribune investigated a former FBI agent who trained law enforcement on the “Jihadi Threat to America,” and who said Islam is evil.


A Catholic therapist sued the hospital that fired her for refusing to counsel a gay couple.

An Oregon high school decided to change its mascot from The Quaker after determining it was offensive to Quakers.

A Louisiana school district settled a federal lawsuit for violations of the establishment clause. The district agreed to stop student-led prayers over the intercom and proselytizing by teachers.

Other reads

The Economics explored atheist “churches” that meet weekly to discuss morality, sometimes holding Sunday School and other events traditionally associated with Christianity.

May 13: UVA stopped public Bible reading, ritual design, and more


Oklahoma passed legislation covering places of worship as part of a “stand your ground” law that allows deadly force to be used against violent intruders.

Higher Education

A University of Virginia called the police on an alumnus who deliberately violated the school’s rules on protected speech by reading the bible aloud on campus. UVA designed new rules limiting speech and gatherings by unaffiliated persons after the white nationalist rallies there last year.

A survey of student newspaper editors at Christian Colleges shows a high level of control by administrations over what is printed. 70% reported that their advisor could prevent a story from being printed.

UCLA’s ROTC was criticized for training exercises where cadets were pitted against enemy fighters wearing traditionally Muslim clothing.


Cleveland.com ran an in-depth, balanced article about a legal conflict between Cleveland Clinic doctors who want to treat a 14-year-old for brain cancer and her parents, who religiously identify as Moors and only use natural remedies for healing.

Other reads

The Atlantic covered the growing movement of ritual design, which is mostly secular but has spillover in religious arenas. The Stanford Ritual Design Lab has several ongoing projects, one of which is to create public spaces for prayer.

May 6: Oklahoma and Kansas pass adoption legislation, Trump creates org for faith-based coordination, and more

Executive Branch

May 3 was the National Day of Prayer, celebrated at the White House and across the country.

Donald Trump announced an executive order creating the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative to consult with religious leaders and make recommendations to the President. It is similar to offices in the Bush and Obama administrations.

Trump also declared May as Jewish American Heritage Month.

Legislative Branch

The US House chaplain was reinstated. House Speaker Paul Ryan asked for and received his resignation last month, but after strong bipartisan objections were voiced Reverend Patrick Conroy rescinded his resignation and Ryan acquiesced. The Washington Post explains the history of the House Chaplain.

Four congressional representatives formed the Congressional Freethought Caucus to advocate for the interests of citizens who don’t believe in God. It is the first of its kind in Congress.

Judicial Branch

A federal court granted three Muslim men standing to sue the FBI for placing them on a no-fly list after they refused to become informants. They are making a religious freedom claim.


Kansas passed legislation to allow faith-based adoption agencies to continue receiving state funding if they decline to place children with families who don’t meet religious requirements, like same-sex couples. The two state-designated contractors that handle most adoptions, however, are required to serve all prospective parents.

Oklahoma passed similar legislation, preventing sanctions of religious adoption agencies for avoiding activities that would contradict their espoused beliefs. Proponents say it allows faith-based organizations to consider serving children without violating their moral convictions, while opponents say it legalizes discrimination against same-sex couples.

Oklahoma also approved a bill allowing government buildings to display historically significant documents, in particular the 10 Commandments.


An official in the DC city government is under fire for statements alleging global Jewish conspiracies.

Other reads

The Christian Science Monitor reported on new models of higher education being designed for political and religiously conservative students, who often feel alienated or threatened at mainstream colleges.

A PRRI survey showed growing support for same-sex marriage across American demographic groups, including across religious affiliations. It also asked about support for religiously-based service refusal, which is only supported by a majority of white evangelical Protestants and Mormons. Other questions covered protections of LGBT people from housing and employment discrimination.

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.


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.


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.


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.