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.”

Community

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 19: FBI stats show rise in hate crimes, profile of Trump’s pastor, and more

Executive Branch

The FBI released hate crime statistics for 2016. The total number increased by 4.6%, with 21% of hate crimes targeting religion – mostly against Jews. The number of anti-Muslim assaults exceeded even 2001 to reach a historic high. Crimes targeting Jews and LGBT people also rose. Advocates point out that many hate crimes go unreported, meaning the true numbers are likely much higher.

The Washington Post published an extensive profile of Paula White, a televangelist who appears to be Donald Trump’s pastor and who leads his unofficial evangelical advisory council. White has been associated with the prosperity gospel, a strain of Christian theology that believes that faith is rewarded with wealth.

The Department of Homeland Security’s head of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships resigned after past comments deriding Islam and black people surfaced on CNN.

Legislative Branch

Evangelicals remain divided over Roy Moore, the Alabama senator accused of sexual assault against minors.

50 States

The Jehovah’s Witnesses incurred heavier penalties for refusing to give documents on child abusers to a California court. They will now pay $4,000 per day that they continue to withhold the evidence.

Community

Muslim employees fired from UPS filed a religious discrimination lawsuit, saying they were let go after a new manager refused to allow them to pray during work hours.

A Connecticut middle school rescinded an invitation to a Muslim woman to speak to a social studies class after receiving threats.

Other reads

The Washington Post reviewed the new Museum of the Bible. The piece discusses what assumptions the museum makes and how it deals with controversial topics.

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.

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.

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. 

Aug 20: Faith leaders react to Charlottesville and Trump’s response

Executive Branch

Company executives resigned from Donald Trump’s business councils, leading to the dissolution of three advisory bodies, over his response to the Charlottesville protests last week. The evangelical advisory council, on the other hand, has seen relatively little turmoil. Only one pastor, of a New York megachurch, resigned.

The protests, which included KKK members and neo-Nazis, have alarmed Jewish groups. Some who have not previously criticized Trump, like Ivanka’s rabbi and Republican Jewish organizations, spoke out against his response to the protests and subsequent attack.

The Atlantic ran a piece analyzing the connection between white nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism. It tries to explain why people protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue would chant “Jews will not replace us!

The State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2016.

Judicial Branch

A federal court upheld Nebraska laws preventing picketing at funerals. The issue was raised by the Westboro Baptist Church, which pickets the funerals of military personnel with signs saying the deaths were caused by the legalization of gay marriage.

22 states filed an amicus brief supporting a New Mexico city’s appeal to the Supreme Court. The case is over a display of the Ten Commandments, which a lower court ruled must be removed.

Legislative Branch

4,000 religious leaders signed a letter asking Congress to maintain the Johnson Amendment, which revokes tax-exemptions for non-profits that endorse political candidates.

50 States

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state welfare agency can’t vaccinate children in their custody over their parents’ religious objections.

Pew Research documented every reference to God in US state constitutions. The divine is referred to in all 50, most frequently in the Massachusetts constitution with 12 mentions.

The Guardian profiled the controversial Church of Cannabis in Denver.

Other reads

The Washington Post described what different faith traditions say their adherents should do when an eclipse occurs.

Jul 30: No transgender military after evangelical visit; Brownback for Ambassador

Executive Branch

Donald Trump tweeted that transgender Americans will not be allowed to serve in the military. The tweet may have been designed for his conservative Christian base, which had expressed concern about using public funds to pay for transgender medical treatments. Indeed, he apparently discussed the policy with a group of evangelical leaders who visited the White House two weeks ago.

Donald Trump nominated Kansas governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom. Brownback leaves a controversial legacy in Kansas, with massive tax cuts designed to provide an economic boost that never materialized. He was known there as a strong social conservative, which concerns some in the LGBT community as he takes his new appointment.

Community

An Imam in California apologized for statements in a sermon that criticized Israel’s actions in the ongoing dispute over Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. He appeared to call for the destruction of Jewish people who were limiting access to the Mosque.

A KFC franchisee filed suit against the company for forbidding him from advertising that the chicken he sells is halal.

Other reads

Pew released a new survey of Muslims in America, showing they feel marginalized and discriminated against, but are proud to be American and believe they can succeed in the US. They also appear to be growing more politically, culturally and religiously liberal.

The New York Times highlighted research showing that less religious people are more likely to believe in alien encounters, ghosts and the paranormal. The author postulates that people seek spiritual meaning whether they are religious or not.

Jul 2: Supreme Court rules churches are eligible for government funds, agrees to hear case of cake for gay wedding

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church in a case over a church’s eligibility for grants from the state for secular purposes. The issue at hand was a state grant to resurface playgrounds. The case could have significant implications for other instances of government funds ending up with religious organizations.

The Supreme Court vacated rulings of lower courts in New Mexico and Colorado on the provision of public vouchers and textbook lending to religious schools. The cases were sent back to the lower courts.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a Denver baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

The Supreme Court significantly narrowed the injunctions on Donald Trump’s travel ban, allowing the executive order to block the entry of foreigners from the six listed countries who have no “bona fide” relationship with persons in the US. It also agreed to hear the challenges to the ban, accepting appeals from the 5th and 9th Circuit Courts.

Executive Branch

A new Justice Department report found that only 54% of hate crimes from 2011-2015 were reported.

50 States

A Ten Commandments monument was installed at the Arkansas State Capitol. The ACLU announced plans to sue for its removal. The monument was destroyed by a vandal less than 24 hours after installation.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution is not violated when donors get tax credit for donating money that ends up at religious schools. Under Georgia law, taxpayers who owe taxes can get credit for paying what they owe by instead donating to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to students. Some of those students attend religious schools.

A Florida court held that religious schools can require all students to be immunized, even if they have religious objections.

Community

Jewish marchers were asked to leave a parade the day before Pride Day in Chicago because they carried “Jewish Pride” flags, which incorporated the Star of David. The organizers interpreted the flags as symbols of Palestinian oppression.

Other reads

A new survey was released on the tension between religious freedom and sexual freedom, and which Americans think should be preferred. 48% said religious freedom is more important, while 24% said sexual freedom is. 20% said that religious believers are motivated by hate in disputes over sexuality.

Are CrossFit gyms and yoga studios filling the church gap for non-religious people?

BuzzFeed looks at what clothes people from different faiths wear to worship.

 

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.