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 29: Missouri man wins sex discrimination suit, Catholic Charities sued, and more

Executive Branch

With the expiration of 120 days, the Trump administration announced that they will allow entry of refugees from all countries – including the Muslim-majority countries that had been banned – with additional screening.

The Department of Health and Human Services released a memo seeking comment on barriers to faith-based organizations’ participation in programs or reception of grants.

The Trump administration nominated a Brandeis professor who works to combat on-campus anti-Semitism as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education.

Judicial Branch

The Atlantic reported on the Hawaii judge who ruled against Trump’s travel bans, and his legal rationales – including violation of the establishment clause on religion.

50 States

A gay man in Missouri won a discrimination suit on the basis of sex. Although Missouri law does not prohibit discrimination due to sexual orientation, the judge ruled that the plaintiff’s mistreatment for acting “insufficiently masculine” is covered under the sex discrimination portion of the statute.

An Arizona couple lost a bid to remove a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The conservative Christian plaintiffs run a calligraphy business and are concerned about the possibility of being asked to write invitations for a same-sex wedding.

A North Dakota couple filed suit against Catholic Charities for refusing their application for adoption. The couple is lives together but is unmarried.

A Kentucky judge has resigned after announcing he would recuse himself from adoption cases involving gay people because of his religious beliefs. He had issued a general order to attorneys telling them to request a special judge if they were bringing such a case.

An Indiana judge ruled that preventing convicted sex offenders from attending church violates their religious freedom.

Community

The 31st undocumented immigrant to claim sanctuary at a house of worship did so at a Denver church on Thursday.

The Des Moines Register profiled an evangelical millennial working to persuade others that climate change is a real and important issue.

Other reads

A former CEO of NPR wrote a book on his experience immersing himself in Republican evangelical culture. He says he learned about religion, community service, gun control and other issues that often get short shrift in the media.

Former FBI Director James Comey revealed himself as the owner of a Twitter account named after theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The Washington Post explained Niebuhr’s continued impact on American political life.

Jun 25: Mississippi allows denial of services to LGBT people, Ramadan goes unmarked at White House

Judicial Branch

The Fifth Circuit reversed a lower court’s decision and ruled that the State of Mississippi can enforce a law allowing businesses and state employees to cite religious beliefs to deny service to LGBT people.

Two weeks ago, Iraqi Christian immigrants in Michigan who had criminal records were rounded up by ICE for deportation. After bipartisan objections, the ACLU brought a suit that caused a temporary restraining order to halt the deportation.

An undocumented immigrant is using a religious freedom defense to fight his deportation. He argues that splitting up his family would violate tenets of his Seventh-Day Adventist faith.

Executive Branch

Ramadan ended on Saturday without a celebration at the White House, the first time in twenty years that the Muslim month of fasting has gone unmarked.

Beginning July 1, the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitoring office will be unstaffed. It normally has three staffers in addition to an appointed envoy.

Mike Pence spoke at the anniversary of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian advocacy group. He urged the group to return to its political activism of past decades.

Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka was fired as an FBI counterterrorism lecturer due to Islamophobia.

50 States

The Michigan legislature passed a bill to increase the penalties for doctors and parents involved in female genital cutting. Meanwhile, two more mothers were indicted in the female genital cutting case outside Detroit.

An Indiana Christian school drew attention for accepting publicly-funded school vouchers while denying admission to LGBT students.

Other reads

PRRI released a report on Americans’ perceptions of discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity and immigrant status. The responses are broken down by religion and party affiliation.

People who rate as more religious have fewer gambling problems. The Huffington Post reported on a study about the relationship between religion and gambling.

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.

Apr 16: Gorsuch sworn in to Supreme Court, Trinity v Comer may fizzle

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court may not rule on Trinity v Comer, a case about churches receiving public funds for secular purposes (in this case for a kindergarten playground). Missouri’s new governor, a Republican, has altered state policy to allow the funds to be disbursed. The court requested that both parties submit views on how the new policy impacts the case.

Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice on Monday. Gorsuch, a 49-year-old conservative, is expected to have a significant impact on the court for decades.

Upcoming cases he could help decide contest issues around religious freedomgun rights and voting rights.

Executive Branch

Donald Trump’s weekly address focused on the Palm Sunday bombings in Egypt, and the threat posed by terrorism to religious freedom.

Speculation continues about where President Trump will attend church in Washington, DC. He has not yet attended regular services.

President Obama began a tradition of hosting a Passover seder at the White House. Although the seder was held again this week, President Trump did not attend. the highest-level attendee was Secretary of Veteran Affairs David Shulkin.

50 States

Nebraska’s Supreme Court struck down a state policy preventing same-sex couples from becoming foster parents. It found that the rule was equivalent to a business having a “whites only” employment policy.

Indiana passed legislation guaranteeing students’ rights to pray at school, form religious and secular clubs, and to wear religious clothing and jewelry. Critics say the law is redundant with existing legal protections.

Community

Muslims in a Minneapolis suburb are trying to stop a self-described “Religious Policeman” who stops people engaging in behavior contrary to his interpretation of Sharia law.

Other reads

There is a group of conservatives who work to increase religious freedom for Christians but oppose extending the same protections to Muslims. The Atlantic investigates why.

NPR examines the sanctuary movement and how churches address the risk and controversy of hosting people sought by immigration authorities.

Reza Aslan’s CNN show “Believer” is wrapping up this week. The religious scholar explores a different rare faith on each episode, but has drawn criticism from his colleagues for sensationalizing religious practices. The New Yorker argues he is pushing his own brand of spiritual understanding, which discounts scripture and religious authority while emphasizing universalism and individual experience.

President Trump and Republican lawmakers have discussed repealing the Johnson Amendment, which prevents tax-exempt churches from endorsing politicians running for office. New research from Brazil indicates that even if clergy could advise their congregations how to vote, it may not make a very large difference.

The Pew Forum has a new report out about restrictions on religion across the world, which have increased since last year.