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.

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.