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.

Jun 11: Marches against Sharia, Supreme Court upholds pension exception for religious hospitals

National

ACT for America, a conservative national security grassroots organization, staged Marches Against Sharia across the US on Saturday. The group was protesting the supposed infiltration of Islamic law into American jurisprudence.

That claim – along with others touted by marchers, such as wild accusations of bestiality – is refuted by experts.

Most cities with marches saw counter-protests calling for tolerance and condemning ACT as Islamophobic.  A number of protests got physical and arrests were made in several states.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in favor of religious hospital systems claiming exemptions from federal pension fund requirements. They were being sued by former employees who argued that the hospital networks should have complied with the ERISA law protecting employees with pension plans.

The Supreme Court declined to hear a religious freedom suit filed by a Marine. After being court-martialed on several offenses, she appealed over her conviction for disobeying orders to remove bible verses from her desk. Lower courts ruled against her.

Executive Branch

President Trump spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative evangelical political organization. He said that he and evangelicals are under siege, and touted his Supreme Court nomination and executive orders on religion as steps in the right direction.

The Atlantic ran a profile of the man running the Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights. He is religious, conservative, and the son of Colombian immigrants. His office oversees language, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation cases related to healthcare.

Secretary Ben Carson spoke at the Religious Liberty Dinner at the Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center. He discussed the rights of private citizens and businesses to act according to their beliefs.

Congress

Bernie Sanders drew attention for his intense questioning at a senate confirmation hearing. He argued that the belief that members of other religions are condemned before God makes a nominee unable to serve all Americans fairly.

50 States

A District Court in Florida ruled against a Christian school that was denied the use of a stadium loudspeaker to broadcast prayers at a football championship game. The school claimed that freedoms of speech and religion were violated, while the court held that allowing use of the loudspeaker would have been state endorsement of religion.

A Montana court struck down a state rule eliminating tax credits for donations to religious school scholarships.

Other reads

Number of megachurches by state.

Apr 23: Justices favoring church in Trinity v Comer, may strike down Blaine Amendment

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Trinity v Comer. At issue is Missouri’s Blaine Amendment, a rule disqualifying religious groups from receiving publicly available funds that other organizations can receive. Missouri has a program to provide recycled tires for playground flooring, but denied Trinity Lutheran church’s application for the material.

Although the new Republican governor has allowed Trinity’s application to proceed, both sides urged the court to continue with the case to address future policy changes. In oral arguments the justices appeared to favor the plaintiff. A decision is expected in June.

Executive Branch

The Defense Department nearly doubled its list of recognized religions. It includes humanism and earth-based religions for the first time.

Federal Courts

Judge John Noonan of the 9th Circuit passed away, opening up an opportunity for Donald Trump to make another influential judicial appointment. Noonan was appointed by Ronald Reagan. The 9th Circuit stopped Trump’s first executive order on immigration.

US Steel Tubular Products was ordered to pay $150,000 for religious discrimination. It refused to hire a Nazirite applicant whose religious beliefs prevented a lock of his hair being cut off for a mandatory drug test. (*Note – I’ve been unable to uncover exactly what his religion is/was, but it seems related to Rastafarianism).

A gay man fired from his position as music director in a Catholic church lost his suit to be reinstated. A district court ruled that the position falls under the ministerial exception.

A federal judge issued policing and housing injunctions against two FLDS-dominated towns. Due to a majority of residents being members of the polygamist Mormon sect, they have been able to control law enforcement and housing regulations to the detriment of outsiders. The judge denied the Justice Department’s bid to disband the police force, instead mandating an independent mentor to advise on policy revision.

50 States

An atheist lawmaker sparked debate in Arizona for giving a legislative invocation that focused on nature, not God, as a higher power.

Idaho is one of four states that allow religious exceptions for the requirement to seek medical treatment for children. A local sheriff is concerned about the minors that die from preventable causes because of their parents’ faith healing beliefs.

Community

There are two cases of female Muslim athletes whose wearing of the hijab could have prevented them from competing. High school basketball player Je’Nan Hayes will be able to participate in playoff games after a rule that kept her on the bench for regionals was changed to allow her headscarf. Boxer Amaiya Zafar is expected to receive a waiver for her next fight, but must continue to request waivers before each match.

A transgender man sued a Catholic hospital in California for denying him a hysterectomy as part of his gender transition.

A Jewish woman sued a white nationalist for online harassment and inciting threats against her and her family.

Charges were dismissed against a faith healing pastor in Pennsylvania whose granddaughter died from a preventable illness.

Other reads

A compelling editorial argues that there is a double standard for violence linked to religion. Muslims are called terrorists, but Christians are just criminals. The author asserts that toxic masculinity is more to blame for mass shootings than religion is.

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.

 

 

Jan 10: Confirmation hearings, the Army accommodates religious dress

Executive Branch

Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing for Attorney General is ongoing, with some questions about religion. Sessions stated that protecting religious freedom will be a “very high priority,” but agreed that the AG is required to follow and enforce court decisions such as Roe v. Wade and Oberfell v. Hodges. He also said that Muslims as a religious group should not be denied admission to the US.

Betsy DeVos’ (NYT profile here) confirmation hearing has been delayed until next week. As a prominent school voucher activist, questions have been raised about the use of government funds for religious schools.

The US Army has issued a new regulation allowing US military personnel to wear beards, turbans and hijabs as required by their religious beliefs.

The Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, will leave his post after the Inauguration. There is concern that his replacement will not be appointed for a year or more, as happened with both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Judicial Branch

A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction on an executive extension of the Affordable Care Act that defines sex bias to include discrimination based on abortions and gender identification. Proponents of the ruling argue it is protecting doctors’ rights to refuse to perform medical procedures like abortions if they are morally opposed. Opponents fear it will allow discrimination of healthcare provision to those who have had abortions or identify as transgender.

A Marine who was court-martialed for several counts of disobeying a lawful order, including a refusal to remove provocative Bible verses from her desk, has petitioned to be heard by the Supreme Court after losing her appeal at the US Court of Appeals for Armed Forces.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case about an exemption for religious organizations from minimum funding and other requirements in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Most affected organizations are hospitals.

Legislative Branch

The International Religious Freedom Act has been amended to include the right to not practice a religion and to protect nontheistic beliefs.

One of the first bills of the 115th Congress is HR 172 to repeal the Johnson Amendment, the law preventing tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing political candidates or participating in campaigns. President-elect Trump promised multiple times in his campaign to repeal the amendment.

50 States (and the District)

Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) plans to invoke congressional authority to block Washington, DC’s new physician-assisted suicide law.

“Bathroom bills” about transgender use of gender- or sex-designated bathrooms are being introduced in states across the country.

Local

A federal court ruled that Bernards Township in New Jersey (NYT profile of case here) discriminated in its application of city parking ordinances to a mosque. The legal dispute has been running for 5 years.

What we’re monitoring

The Atlantic has an excellent piece identifying what we can expect in 2017 under the Trump administration, particularly with a Supreme Court vacancy and over 100 other federal judicial appointees to come. National trends to watch are government-Muslim relations and questions of religious exemptions around medical treatment and procedures.