Jan 28: Brownback confirmed, state court cases and more

Executive Branch

The Senate confirmed Kansas Governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, a post he was nominated for back in July. The Washington Post described what the position entails.

Judicial Branch

A federal judge issued a temporary injunction to the University of Iowa’s dissolution of a Business Leaders in Christ club. She found that the university’s nondiscrimination policies were applied inconsistently against the club for preventing an openly gay student from assuming a leadership position.

50 States

The Washington Supreme Court ruled that a local fire department violated a firefighter’s rights to free speech by preventing him from sending emails with religious content over work listservs. If that is found to be the sole cause of his subsequent firing, that will also be considered discriminatory.

The New York Times reported that political candidates in the South are much less focused on “culture wars” issues like abortion, religious freedom, or transgender bathroom assignment than in previous elections cycles.

Other reads

Pew Research released data on Americans’ support for abortion across religious affiliations.

PBS News Hour covered the rise of health care sharing ministries. The ministries have little government oversight, allowing them to reject applicants with preexisting conditions and to offer cheaper plans with limited coverage that appeal to healthy people.

Jan 21: New HHS office for religious health worker complaints, and more

Executive Branch

The Trump administration announced expanded protections for health care workers objecting to perform procedures on the basis of religious beliefs. The Department of Health and Human Services created a new division to investigate complaints.

Applicable scenarios presented by both critics and proponents include pharmacists not filling contraceptive prescriptions, and surgeons not performing gender reassignment surgery.

A Trump-appointed administration official resigned from his position after CNN released 2013 audio of him making inflammatory comments about women and minority groups, including Muslims.

Legislative Branch

Members of Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisory council lent their support to extending the program allowing “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children, to stay in the country.

Judicial Branch

A group of Muslims filed a discrimination lawsuit against the FBI after being placed on a terrorist watch list.


New research indicated that the Trump travel ban has led to more positive views of Muslims.

Other reads

Many religious organizations support net neutrality and petitioned against the FCC’s new rules last month. The Deseret News examined why.

Jan 14: Supreme Court declines to hear LGBT / religious exemption cases, clergy tax breaks ruled unconstitutional, and more

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court declined to hear two cases challenging state laws allowing religious people to decline to serve LGBT people in commercial and government interactions.

A federal judge ruled that tax breaks for clergy’s housing violate the establishment clause by favoring religious workers over secular ones.

Executive Branch

The new US Ambassador to the Netherlands was left speechless at his inaugural press conference in the country. He fell silent after repeated questions from reporters about his 2015 statement that Muslims had burned Dutch politicians. He later seemed to acknowledge that what he said was erroneous.

The Washington Post profiled Johnnie Moore, the “de facto spokesman” of Donald Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisory board. He’s described as a gatekeeper between the White House and pastors.

50 States

Idaho did not pass a 2017 bill proposing to remove protections for parents who fail to seek medical treatment for their children because of religious beliefs. Proponents argue that parents’ negligence has lead to dozens of child deaths, while opponents say the choice to pursue faith healing is a matter of religious liberty.


A Texas school district refused parent requests for a school holiday on Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

A prison chaplain was granted an exemption from a requirement to carry pepper spray, which he objected to because of his religious beliefs. We covered the story in October.

Other reads

PRRI released the results of a survey on Millennial views about culture and religion, including discrimination, gender norms and free speech.

More European countries have banned the ritual slaughtering of animals prescribed by Judaism and Islam out of concerns about animal rights and suffering. The US hasn’t taken a definitive stance on the question.

Jan 7: Churches get FEMA funding, Christian refugees replace Muslims, and more

Executive Branch

The Trump Administration released new rules on FEMA funding to allow churches to receive government assistance.

The Trump administration has admitted Christian refugees at a 6-to-1 ratio over Muslims, a dramatic switch from historical statistics.

Judicial Branch

A federal court ruled that a clergyman’s loss of retirement benefits was an ecclesiastical matter that could not be interfered with by the courts.

50 States

Louisiana’s Attorney General published guidelines for students on religious expression in schools. They state that students have full freedom of expression, and must take the lead in religious activities because school employees may not promote religion.

A New York college canceled its trip to play baseball against a Mississippi college pursuant to a 2016 gubernatorial executive order. The order bans all non-essential state travel to Mississippi as a consequence of its religious freedom law that allows businesses to decline service based on religious beliefs.

California grappled with how to approach the growth of churches that incorporate marijuana in their services.

Other reads

Pew Research indicated that the US Muslim population is growing, and will double by 2050 to reach 2% of the national population.

USC’s Religion Dispatches interviewed a historian about the origins of religious freedom in the United States.

Dec 31: Masterpiece Cakeshop – Oregon version, and more

Judicial Branch

An Oregon appellate court upheld a decision against two bakers that refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

A Georgia man filed suit in federal court after being prevented from preaching on the sidewalk outside a large park and event venue originally created for the Olympics. He argues his freedom of speech was violated.

A federal court in Idaho ruled against a Mormon college student alleging religious discrimination by his tennis coach. The court agreed the student had been harassed, but said the behavior was insufficiently coercive to qualify as a curtailment of the free exercise of his religion.

Legislative Branch

The Senate failed to move forward on confirming Donald Trump’s nominee for Ambassador for International Religious Freedom this year. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback accepted the nomination in July, but will now have to be re-nominated in 2018. The position has been unfilled since Trump took office, and the uncertainty has hampered the running of Kansas’ executive branch.

50 States

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that a lower court had contravened the First Amendment by disfavoring religion in its determination about where a child should attend school. The issue arose during divorce and custody proceedings, and one parent objected to the child attending a Lutheran private school, which the court privileged over the other parent’s preferences.

Other reads

The Washington Post profiled a dozen fascinating American religious figures who died in 2017.

Dec 24: Christmas Facts, Cardinal Bernard Law Dies


Pew Research published five interesting statistical facts about Christmas in America. Included were that 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas, and 66% believe that Jesus was born from a virgin (down from 73% in 2014).


Cardinal Bernard Law died this week. He gained notoriety for covering up sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area, and for being subsequently promoted. Despite continued scandals, the structure of the church makes solutions challenging.

Judicial Branch

A federal court ruled against a religious discrimination lawsuit by a former fire chief in Atlanta. He was fired after publishing a religious book that said people in same-sex relationships are “vile.” He distributed the book at work.


Bishop William Barber and the Kairos Center at the Union Theological Seminary announced a partnership to revive Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. They plan to work through grassroots movements, especially with religious groups.

Other Reads

An LGBT rights think tank and Columbia Law School released a report about the challenges faced by LGBT seniors in seeking retirement care when most care facilities are religiously affiliated.

The Guardian profiled Nora Nash, a nun who uses her order’s stock ownership to push companies to act more socially responsibly.

Dec 17: Religious controversies at universities, and more

Judicial Branch

A federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the religious exceptions the Trump administration carved out of the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

A Third Circuit court upheld a ruling against a man fired from a hospital for refusing vaccinations after he was unable to produce substantiation that his refusal was based on religious beliefs.

A federal district court in South Carolina found that a school holding graduation ceremonies in the chapel of a local university violated the Establishment Clause.

50 States

A Christian student organization filed suit against the University of Iowa. The organization was de-registered after barring a gay student from serving in a leadership position.

The University of Minnesota attracted criticism after it issued guidance to faculty and staff to avoid holiday decorations with iconography indicative of a specific religion. The list of images to avoid included wrapped gifts, red and green or blue and white, bells and Santa Claus.

The first Sikh Attorney General in the US was elected in New Jersey.


A Satanic Temple filed suit against a Minnesota town for refusing to let them erect a Satanic memorial to soldiers opposite a similar monument with a cross.

A consortium of Christian media organizations announced an initiative to document suppression of conservative and Christian content by Google, Facebook, Apple and other tech companies.

Other reads

The New Yorker ran a fascinating investigation of the fraught relationship between Roy Moore and Alabama evangelicals. Moore lost the senate race to Doug Jones.

The Atlantic reviewed a new translation of the New Testament that strives to be as literal as possible, preserving bad grammar and awkward phrasing from the Greek.

Dec 10: Masterpiece Cakeshop case begins, and more

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case this week. Baker Jack Phillips says his rights to freedom of religion and speech were violated by a Colorado law preventing discrimination by retailers. Phillips declined to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding.

Key questions included what counts as an artist and artistic expression that should be protected, and what types of activities a religious person can avoid in business. Justice Anthony Kennedy is widely speculated to be the swing vote that will decide the case.

A federal district court ruled that a prisoner’s humanist belief system does not qualify as a religion.

A federal judge upheld the Washington DC metro system’s decision to refuse Christmas ads from the local Catholic archdiocese. The metro system claims it is following an impartial policy, while the archdiocese says the decision is discriminatory.

Executive Branch

The Supreme Court allowed the Trump travel ban to be implemented in its latest form. The ACLU said they still consider it a Muslim ban and are committed to fighting it in court.

After the Trump administration shrunk the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, a coalition of five native tribes filed suit. The tribes argue that the land is sacred and the Trump does not have the authority to remove the monument designation.


A Colorado County ended a school voucher program to end legal battles that have stretched on for years. The issue was the use of public money to pay tuition at private, religious schools.

Other reads

NCAA Magazine ran an in-depth article about the Coalition on Common Ground, an organization that brings LGBTQ activists and religious leaders together to talk about how to respect students of faith and LGBTQ students at public and private universities.

The Atlantic profiled Mike Pence’s political career, focusing on his faith and how his challenges and successes have mirrored those of the religious right as a whole. It makes a fascinating lens through which to view the Trump-evangelical political alliance.

Vice investigated the use of religious exemptions as a loophole by organizations running abusive reform schools without oversight.

Dec 3: Donald Trump tweets misleading videos about Muslims and violence, and more

Executive Branch

Donald Trump retweeted three videos with captions indicating they depict violence by Muslims.

Two videos are clearly misleading: one of a Dutch boy kicking another boy, neither of whom are Muslims or migrants. Another depicts a struggle between factions supporting and opposing Egyptian ex-President Mohamed Morsi in which a boy is pushed off a roof. Both factions are Muslim.

The third shows the destruction of a Virgin Mary statue in Syria by a radical cleric in Jubhat al-Nusra, a Syrian militia linked with ISIS. The actions have been decried by Christians as well as Muslims, who mutually revere Mary.

The original tweets came from the leader of a far-right anti-Muslim group in the UK, Jayda Fransen. Fransen was convicted in 2016 of abusing a woman in a hijab, and is currently on bail over threatening language in a speech in August.

The organization, called Britain First, identifies itself as a party but is considered by some to be an extremist group, has gained notoriety for sensationalist mosque invasions.

Muslim leaders in the US have spoken out against the tweets, which they consider Islamophobic.

Melania Trump decorated the White House for the Christmas season, emphasizing the Christian holiday to comport with the administration’s “end to the war on Christmas.”


A Pennsylvania woman won her bid to be exempted from fingerprinting for religious reasons. An appellate court overturned the ruling of a lower court that her beliefs were personal, rather than religious.

An in-depth article in Forward covered the dispute between a New Jersey town and a Hasidic Jewish community.

A New York City mother sued for full custody of her son, accusing her ex-husband of radicalizing the boy. The family is Muslim, but the mother contends the father adopted extremist ideas that have begun to rub off on his son.

Other reads

NPR reported on Christian nationalism exemplified by Roy Moore. Its proponents argue that rather than just guiding individuals’ decisions, Christianity should guide American laws and institutions.

Politico argued that a lack of Imams may result in more radicalization, as young Muslims turn to the Internet for religious guidance. Both Islamophobia and the difficulty of travel from Muslim countries have contributed to the shortage.

A Seton Hall Law Review article examined what happened to the number of religious freedom cases after Hobby Lobby. Belying the decision’s critics, there has not been a spike in claims related to religious protections.

Ross Douthat asked if the connection between Donald Trump and evangelicals will cause an evangelical crisis, particularly among younger adherents.

A new book examines legal and philosophic approaches to religious freedom around the world, in an attempt to identify a system that can balance the rights of religious and non-religious people.

An interesting article reviewed religious freedom cases during US history.

Nov 26: Research on family values, Democrats, Republicans and the prosperity gospel

Judicial Branch

The Washington Post argued that the embattled Peace Cross east of Washington, DC, should be allowed to stand. A federal court ruled last month that the monument to World War I casualties must be taken down because it is shaped like a religious icon.


The Atlantic argued that Democrats need to reach out to religious voters in order to succeed, which includes moderating some positions on religious freedom and social issues.

Brigham Young University and Deseret News released a survey on American families. One of the most interesting finds is that people who are less connected to their families are significantly more likely to have voted for Trump.

David Brooks explained how the “siege mentality” may be responsible for conservative and liberal retrenchment over social and political issues.

50 States 

Nicholas Kristof wrote about the family values that red states espouse but that are actually practiced by blue states (on average).

The Virginia Pilot ran a piece investigating the use of religious exemptions by daycares in the state to avoid oversight and regulations.


Attendance has increased at liberal churches since the 2016 election, with a lot of activists seeking like-minded faith communities.

Other reads

A panel at Harvard discussed the link between the prosperity gospel and the election of Donald Trump.

Analysis of survey data provided interesting information about who believes in prosperity theology – mostly the poor, and more Democrats than Republicans.