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.

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.

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.

Sep 17: Congress calls for Trump to denounce hate groups, Facebook advertises to anti-Semites

Legislative Branch

Congress passed a unanimous, joint resolution calling on the President to denounce racist and anti-Semitic hate groups.

Community

Until ProPublica broke the story, Facebook allowed advertisers to specifically target anti-Semitic users.

Following Pope Francis’ lead, Catholic leaders in the US started to frame other issues like climate change and immigration in the context of being “pro-life.”

Surveys

Some scholars disputed the PRRI survey that found a decline in the proportion of white evangelicals in America.

New research showed a dramatic turnaround in white evangelical opinions about politicians’ morality. In 2011, 60% said privately immoral politicians could not behave ethically in their public roles; in 2016, only 20% agreed.

ThinkProgress covered a study showing that Christian nationalists are more supportive of Donald Trump. Christian nationalists were identified as people who support policies like declaring the United States a Christian nation and allowing the display of religious symbols in public spaces.

A University of Pennsylvania survey on constitutional rights found that only 15% of Americans listed freedom of religion as a first amendment right. 20% of Americans believe that Muslims don’t share the same rights as other US citizens.

Sep 3: Day of Prayer for Houston, Travel Ban Affects Hajj

Executive Branch

Donald Trump declared September 3rd as a National Day of Prayer for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Muslims in Saudi Arabia for the hajj expressed concern about reentering the US under the Trump travel ban. Many Muslims chose to delay their pilgrimage until the situation is more certain.

The State Department announced a consolidation of positions and offices related to religion and religious freedom. The special envoy on anti-Semitism will remain, but the envoys to Muslim communities and the Organization of Islamic Countries will be discontinued.

Judicial Branch

The 8th Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling that Lincoln, Nebraska, can ban the distribution of religious literature outside of a sports arena.

50 States

Illinois passed a law creating a Muslim American Advisory Council.

Community

The New York Times ran a profile of an Arkansas man who helped vandalize a Mosque and the Muslim community leaders who forgave him.

Other reads

The Wheatley Institution at BYU posted about social science research that indicates a positive relationship between religiosity and family life, including quality of fatherhood and outcomes for children.

A Pew survey found that Protestants have started to believe some of the same Catholic theological tenets that prompted the Reformation. Key among these is the role of works in salvation and the doctrinal validity of extra-scriptural church teachings.

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 13: Trump still silent on mosque bombing, threatens “fire and fury” against North Korea

Executive Branch

Donald Trump faced criticism for his silence on the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota last week.

Trump’s threat to meet North Korea with “fire and fury” was seen by some as a religious invocation. It speaks to a larger split between the right and the left on reading the Biblical God as benevolent or authoritarian.

Judicial Branch

Both a meatpacking plant and the Teamsters union representing its employees were charged with civil rights violations for discrimination against Muslim workers. The workers were told to choose between their religion and their jobs.

50 States

Long Beach, California, settled a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by a Muslim woman whose hijab was removed by a male police office after she was arrested.

Native American tribes in Oregon filed a federal lawsuit over a highway-widening project that destroyed a sacred site. The tribes argue that the construction was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Rastafarian and Native religious groups in California continue to use cannabis in religious ceremonies without a license, attracting the attention of law enforcement.

Other reads

Forbes covered the research on religion’s impact on a company’s bottom line. Firms that are located in more religious counties, or have more religious executives, perform better.

ProPublica profiled Sikhs in America, who have been targeted for astonishing hate crimes since 1907.

New research investigated the relationship between religious conservatism and economic conservatism.