Nov 12: Worst church shooting in US history, churches battle zoning laws

Executive Branch

A marine drill instructor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for abusive hazing of recruits. He particularly targeted Muslim marines, leading to the suicide of one.

The US Department of Agriculture released a memo giving broad permission for employers to express religious views at work. The policy clarification was ostensibly in response to a Michigan meatpacking plant, where leaflets opposing same-sex marriage in the break room were identified as sexual harassment by USDA inspectors.

Legislative Branch

A debate sprung up among Christians over whether there would be any biblical justification for Alabama Senator Roy Moore molesting a 14 year old girl, as he is alleged to have done.

The House Judiciary Committee saw a spirited debate over the definition of anti-Semitism, and if language that “demonizes Israel” should be included.

50 States

An Indiana court ruled against a professor suing for wrongful termination on the grounds of free speech. He was fired for making anti-Muslim statements in and out of the classroom.

Community

Hoboken elected the first turbaned Sikh mayor in the US.

PRRI released new survey data on Americans’ self-identification as religious, spiritual, both or neither. Among its extensive findings was that most spiritual but unreligious Americans are affiliated with a religion.

Community: Houses of Worship

The worst shooting at a house of worship in American history was perpetrated last week in Texas, killing twenty-six worshipers.

The Atlantic covered the ongoing disputes in communities across the country over zoning for houses of worship. It argued that this may be the most important, and overlooked, legal fight for religious freedom in America.

NYPD surveillance broke down community bonds at a mosque where Sayfullo Saipov worshipped for three months. Saipov drove a truck into a bike lane in New York City on October 31st, killing eight people.

Community: Education

The Stanford College Republicans were criticized for inviting the controversial co-founder of “Stop Islamization of America” to speak on campus. They defend the invitation on the grounds of free speech, while other students have called for the university not to provide funds to the event.

Notre Dame changed its policy to allow faculty, students, and staff to get contraception through the university’s insurance plans. No clear explanation was given for the change.

A Georgia school district instructed its staff, including sports coaches, that they may not participate in student-led prayers. The prayers are common before and after high school football games.

Other reads

The inaugural event of the Robert P. George initiative brought faith leaders together to discuss religious freedom. They maintained that religion contributes enormously to American civic life, and expressed concern that secularism is beginning to play the role of official religion in the US.

In a speech at Brigham Young University, political science professor David Campbell argued that the close association of religion with the Republican party has caused secularization, as people who oppose the Republican party often disaffiliate from their faiths as well, or extend that opposition to religion generally.

An Emory professor discussed the role that Islamic or Sharia Courts can play in American life, similar to Jewish rabbinical courts that arbitrate disputes within their communities.

Oct 22: Sports and religion, travel ban blocked for Muslim discrimination, and more

Executive Branch

The Justice Department settled legal cases with a group of colleges who sought religious exemptions to the ACA’s contraception mandate.

A man was convicted of a federal hate crime for leaving a voicemail at a mosque threatening to shoot its members.

Politico published a piece contending that Trump represents an alliance between evangelical and nationalist conservatives.

Judicial Branch

A judge in Maryland blocked the new travel ban. He was preceded by a judge in Hawaii, but the new ruling is distinct for insisting that the policy changes in the ban have not eliminated religious discrimination against Muslims.

The Supreme Court confirmed a lower court’s ruling that a New Mexico town must remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from outside its city hall.

50 States

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation to prevent employers from punishing employees based on their reproductive health decisions. There was no religious exemption in the bill. Brown argued that these issues are already covered by state policies.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation began an effort to stop Oklahoma courts from ordering defendants to serve time at religious work camps. The camps are purportedly drug rehabilitation centers that involve unpaid labor at chicken processing plants and mandatory church attendance.

Sports

Religion and Politics explored the relationship between NFL religious ministries and the ongoing protests of racial inequality where players kneel during the national anthem.

A roundtable of basketball players discussed what it’s like to be Muslim in the NBA.

Community

A Museum of the Bible is set to open in November in Washington, DC. It is officially nonpartisan, but has drawn criticism from conservatives for omitting Jesus and from liberals for promoting a literalist evangelical interpretation of the Bible.

Other reads

The Atlantic discussed the use of the term “evil” as a framework to understand how conservative and liberal commentators understand morality differently.

Pew Research found that a majority of American adults now say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral.

Oct 8: Sessions issues memo on religious freedom, “thoughts and prayers” for Las Vegas

Executive Branch

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a 25-page memo instructing the government to give the greatest possible deference to religious liberty claims. The most controversial implication of the memo is that religious freedom will receive preference when it conflicts with LGBT non-discrimination or contraception access. It clarifies that religious exemptions can apply to for-profit companies as well as explicitly religious institutions such as churches.

As a result of the memo, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new policy that allows any employer to exclude contraception from its health insurance coverage if it expresses a religious or moral objection. This widens the religious exception to the Affordable Care Act mandate that companies provide birth control to female employees.

Judicial Branch

The Red Mass sermon ushering in the new Supreme Court term focused on immigration and religious freedom. Five justices attended the service, given by LA Archbishop Jose Gomez.

Legislative Branch

The Judiciary Committee narrowly recommended the nomination of a judicial appointee who was questioned at length about her religion and if it would impair her impartiality.

50 States

The Mississippi law that allows denial of commercial services to LGBT people for religious reasons went into effect.

Community

After the Las Vegas shootings, there was a backlash against the tweets and political statements about sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims. The primary complaint was that thinking and praying may make people feel better, but action is required to solve the problem.

A series of articles responded to the critique by explaining how prayer and action are linked, what neuroscience says about prayer, and who tends to use the phrase most often.

A conference of scientists and theologians discussed the moral implications of rapidly advancing gene editing technology.

Other reads

Pew analyzed national religions across the globe – from official state religions to governments that are formally hostile to religions. It found that 20% of countries have no official religion, but have policies that unofficially favor one or more religions over others.

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.

May 7: Executive Order on religious freedom changes little

Executive Branch

On National Prayer Day, Thursday of last week, Donald Trump signed an executive order on religious freedom. It instructed the IRS not to pursue churches that endorsed candidates, and allows religious exemptions under the Affordable Care Act requirements around contraception.

In practice, the order changes little – the IRS has never really enforced the Johnson Amendment preventing church endorsement of politicians, and the Hobby Lobby case already established a precedent for a religious exemption to the ACA contraception mandate.

The executive order drew swift support and criticism from the usual sides, although after reading the actual text some reversed their criticism and said the EO doesn’t really matter.

The President’s remarks at the signing caused some consternation among the military after he claimed, incorrectly, that service members were prevented from receiving religious items in a hospital that they had requested.

Legislative Branch

The Republican healthcare bill may draw logic from the “Prosperity Gospel,” which believes that good people are blessed with prosperity. The bill would allow insurance companies to price discriminate between sicker and healthier people, perhaps under the assumption that they are responsible for their health outcomes and should pay accordingly.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the recent spike in religious hate crimes. The panel of witnesses addressed hate against Jewish, Sikh and other communities, but was criticized for the absence of Muslim witnesses.

Judicial Branch

The 8th Circuit upheld a ruling against a heroin dealer who claimed his religion involved the distribution of narcotics. The court pointed out that, unlike other religions that incorporate drug use, the defendant made no argument that his buyers were also believers.

50 States

The Muslim doctors charged in the female genital mutilation case in Michigan intend to mount a religious freedom defense.

A Kentucky judge permanently recused himself from any adoption cases involving gay couples, citing a conscientious objection to adoptions by same-sex couples. Critics contend that an inability to be impartial on this question may mean he is unfit to hear any cases.

A Charlotte lawsuit examines if religious freedom can protect a pastor against defamation suits for things he said over the pulpit.

Other reads

The Washington Post asks if the Democratic party can include candidates who oppose abortion.

Esquire has a profile on Reverend William Barber, the activist preacher opposing Trump who has been called “the closest person we have to Martin Luther King Jr.”