Nov 5: Bears Ears National Monument shrunk, Justice nominee litigated religious freedom, and more

Executive Branch

Donald Trump is shrinking the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. President Obama created the monument after a coalition of native tribes that consider the area sacred petitioned for its protection.

Mother Jones reported that Eric Dreiband, who was nominated as Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, has a record of defending religious discrimination in his private career as an attorney.

Legislative Branch

The Senate approved the appointment of Notre Dame professor Amy Coney Barrett to the 7th Circuit. Her initial nomination hearings drew attention after she was questioned about her Catholic faith and if it would prevent her from being impartial.

Judicial Branch

Hawaii and Massachusetts led a coalition of 20 Attorneys General in filing an amicus brief in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Case. They argue that the First Amendment should not serve as a shield for discrimination on religious grounds.

A large group of religious leaders also filed an amicus brief, saying that ruling in favor of the baker would set a dangerous precedent of allowing discrimination.

50 States

A California court issued a permanent injunction against a state requirement for private pregnancy clinics to post information about contraception and abortion services. Faith-based clinics objected to the requirement on religious grounds.

Community

A new report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations showed a rise in bullying of Muslim high school students in California, reaching record levels.

A study from the Anti-Defamation League revealed a 67% spike in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017.

Secular groups argued that the Iowa City Police Department’s chaplaincy program violates the separation of church and state.

Georgetown’s Student Activities Commission voted to allow Love Saxa, a student organization promoting marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, to keep its student funding. The vote was prompted by complaints that the group violates university tolerance standards by its rhetoric and by inviting homophobic speakers to campus.

A fired bus driver sued her former employer for religious discrimination. She was let go after refusing to take fingerprints for her background check on religious grounds, saying that she believes fingerprinting would leave the mark of the devil on her.

Other reads

An essay in the Atlantic argued that Islam doesn’t need a Martin Luther so much as a John Locke.

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 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.

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. 

Jul 23: States sued for requiring clinics to inform patients about abortion options, budget defunds Johnson Amendment

Judicial Branch

Hawaii was sued by five pro-life health centers because of a new law requiring them to inform women about options for abortion. In the absence of any objective articles on the subject, here is one pro-choice and one pro-life.

A federal court issued an injunction on a new Illinois law requiring health clinics to inform patients about other facilities that perform abortions. The plaintiffs are non-profit pro-life pregnancy centers claiming a conscientious objection to providing the information.

The 4th Circuit ruled against Rowan County, North Carolina in a case over their practice of praying before meetings. The distinguishing features were that the elected officials themselves said the prayers and invited the audience to join them.

An order of Catholic nuns sued federal energy regulators for allowing a gas pipeline to be laid underneath their property. They argued that it violates their practice of religion, as part of the Adorers’ order is to treasure and protect nature.

A federal court in California allowed a lawsuit against the state to proceed. Hindu students argue that the public education system unfairly denigrates Hinduism. A key example was a sixth grade class divided into “castes” as an object lesson.

Legislative Branch

The House Appropriations Committee included a section in the 2018 budget to defund IRS enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment removes tax-exempt status from nonprofits, including churches, that endorse political candidates.

50 States

A Muslim woman running for Senate in Arizona received a barrage of hate comments on her Facebook page. They were prompted by a post she wrote about her gratitude for America’s religious freedom. Her opponent, Republican Jeff Flake, told her “Hang in there…Sorry you have to put up with this.”

The evangelical Noah’s Ark theme park “Ark Encounter” is in a showdown with government regulators over its tax status and whether it can claim religious exemptions.

Oregon passed legislation banning state courts from using Sharia law in issuing rulings.

Other reads

An academic investigation challenged the idea that people with higher educational attainment are less religious.

The Ethicist column in the NY Times Magazine tackled the case of a Muslim man fired as a limo driver for refusing to carry wine.

New research finds additional underpinnings for American religious freedom. The founding fathers used a branch of Christian history that believed Christianity had been corrupted by its affiliation with government in post-Constantine Europe.

Jul 16: Jeff Sessions speaks to Alliance Defending Freedom, more Christian refugees admitted

Executive Branch

Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization that works on religious freedom cases. During the speech he announced that the Justice Department will be issuing “guidance on how to apply federal religious liberty protections.”

Coverage of the speech resurfaced an ongoing conflict between the Southern Poverty Law Center and conservative Christian groups like the ADF, which the SPLC has labeled as “hate groups” alongside the KKK and neo-Nazis because of their disputes with LGBT rights advocates.

Pew demonstrates that Christians represent a growing proportion of refugees admitted to the US since Trump took office.

A group of pastors visiting the White House laid hands on Donald Trump to pray for him.

Judicial Branch

The 2nd Circuit ruled that a Catholic elementary school principal could be fired, despite her claim of discrimination. They held that the role was sufficiently religious to be allowed a ministerial exception, meaning she couldn’t sue the school under the Americans with Disability Act for letting her after she got sick.

Legislative Branch

The House voted against an amendment to a defense appropriation bill that proposed funding the identification of Islamic doctrines used to recruit terrorists.

Community

A Michigan community is trying to remove its village president from office over Facebook posts calling for the use of nuclear weapons to kill “every last Muslim.

May 28: Donald Trump tours world religions, wave of religious freedom legislation in Texas

Executive Branch

Donald Trump visited Riyadh, Jerusalem and Vatican City this week. Despite past controversies around his views on Islam, Judaism and the Pope, the trip was genial and has sparked little criticism.

The Pope gave him some reading material, and he was the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall.

Trump gave an important speech in Saudi Arabia, where he struck a different tone on Islam, calling it “one of the world’s great faiths.” Secretary of State Tillerson explained this rhetorical shift as an evolution in Trump’s views about Islam, while American Muslims remain skeptical that it indicates any change of heart.

Rex Tillerson himself made Islam-related news this week. He is breaking with an 18-year tradition by not hosting a public event to mark the end of Ramadan in late June.

As expected, Castilla Gingrich was nominated as the US Ambassador to the Vatican.

50 States

The Texas governor signed legislation into law protecting religious sermons from government subpoena. The bill was prompted by 2014 subpoenas for the sermons of pastors opposing an anti-discrimination ordinance in Houston.

Texas also passed legislation allowing religious organizations that do adoption and foster care matching to refuse to place children with non-Christian, unmarried or gay prospective parents.

Finally, Texas passed a bill requiring its Supreme Court to establish rules about the application of foreign laws to family law cases. This appears to be part of a national conservative campaign to “ban Sharia law.”

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled against a man using religious freedom as a justification for not paying taxes.

Judicial Branch

The 4th Circuit ruled against the Trump Administration’s travel ban, finding that it appeared to target Muslims.

Community

A white supremacist killed two people on an Oregon train who were trying to stop his verbal abuse of two Muslim women.

Two religious discrimination suits have been filed about accommodation of the wearing of long skirts – in a gym and in a hospital.

Other reads

Last Sunday’s 60 Minutes was about the 800+ religious institutions offering sanctuary to immigrants being sought by ICE.

The Guardian argues that the US is only a few decades behind Europe in secularization.

May 21: Samuel Alito on religious freedom, Clock Boy loses discrimination case

Judicial Branch

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito spoke at a seminary graduation on Wednesday, touching on religion and the first amendment. The Catholic school’s blog also interviewed him about his perspective on religious freedom.

A District Court dismissed Ahmed Mohamed’s discrimination lawsuit. Mohamed gained attention as “Clock Boy” when he was arrested at his high school after his homemade clock was mistaken for a bomb. The judge dismissed the lawsuit saying that religious and ethnic discrimination was not proved by the plaintiffs.

A District Court in California ruled against animal rights advocates suing a Jewish group. The group practices Kapparot, a ritual where a chicken is swung around the head while alive, then slaughtered and donated to the needy.  The advocates unsuccessfully argued against animal sacrifice for solely religious purposes.

Executive Branch

President Trump is on an ambitious trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Vatican City, where he will meet with religious leaders from three major world religions.

The White House plans to nominate Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as ambassador to the Vatican. The Gingriches are devout Catholics

A legacy court case over FBI surveillance of Mosques may impact the ongoing challenge to President Trump’s travel ban. If a ruling comes down soon, it will set precedent that may guide the 9th Circuit in deciding if the travel ban was discriminatory.

50 States + territories

The Kansas Court of Appeals ruled against a mother who claimed that the state’s use of a religious organization for child placement services violated the separation of church and state.

A new law in Puerto Rico will take effect on May 25th. For the first time, employers in the territory will be required to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious practices, including participation in religious services.

Community

Two California men who attacked a Sikh man, cutting his hair and causing the amputation of a finger, were convicted of hate crimes.

A New Jersey teacher was reinstated after his 2013 firing for giving a Bible to a curious student.

Other reads

Gallup shows Americans’ views of the Bible over last 40 years. In the latest survey, a record low of 24% believe it is the “actual word of God to be taken literally.”

The Wichita Eagle has an interesting analysis of the relationship between mental illness and religion.

The New York Times asks if Muslims have to be Democrats. Muslims face a dilemma between a Trump-led Republican party with Islamophobic overtones or a socially liberal Democratic party.

Mar 12: New immigration ban calls for data on honor killings, Senators request White House aid against Jewish hate crimes

Executive

Donald Trump signed a new executive order denying new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. Unlike the previous order, it excludes Iraq and sets out a process for people to apply for exceptions. In addition, it says the government will collect and publish data on violence against women by foreign nationals in the US, including “honor killings,” a term many see as referring to Muslims.

Hawaii filed a lawsuit against the new ban, maintaining that it violates religious freedom by targeting Muslims and that it damages Hawaii’s economic interests. Five other states are planning legal action.

The Marine Corps is considering criminal charges against a drill instructor whose harassment of a Muslim recruit allegedly led to the soldier’s death.

Legislative Branch

Responding to the threats of bombs and shooters at Jewish community centers that continued last week around the country, all 100 Senators signed a letter to the Attorney General, FBI Director and Secretary of Homeland Security calling for federal assistance in solving the growing problem.

As part of an announced religious freedom campaign after being detained in an airport last month, Muhammad Ali, Jr. spoke to House representatives who sit on a border security subcommittee. On his flight out of Washington, DC, he encountered delays at the airport again.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court declined to hear the landmark case on transgender restroom use that prompted numerous amicus briefs from religious groups. They sent the case back to the lower court.

The court denied a bid to block the Dakota Access Pipeline on religious grounds. The judge ruled that the religious freedom objection was brought up too late.

50 States

The Kentucky legislature passed a bill guaranteeing the rights of students at public education institutions to express religious and political views, including through school newspapers and PA systems. The bill was prompted by a dispute over a school production of Charlie Brown’s Christmas, which includes a passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Muslim students visiting the office of Oklahoma state representative John Bennett were asked to fill out a form asking questions purportedly about their religion such as “Do you beat your wife?”

South Dakota’s governor signed the legislation passed last week protecting religious adoption agencies that do not place children with same-sex couples.

Other reads

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s record on religion, abortion and reproductive rights leans conservative, and has generally been upheld by the higher court.

Contemporary attempts by some critics to dismiss Islam as a religion have their roots in older anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon movements in America.