Photos, cartoons (August 2020)

Supreme Court neo-voucher ruling blasted by FFRF

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down an alarming decision June 30 on school voucher programs that imperils true religious liberty, asserts the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“The ruling eviscerates a founding principle of our secular republic — that citizens must not be taxed to support religion, including religious schools,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. She adds that the ruling would appear to severely undercut specific safeguards in state constitutions prohibiting the union of state and church.

In Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court, which held that a neo-voucher school funding scheme violates the “No Aid” to religion clause of the state Constitution. The state court struck down the entire neo-voucher scheme as it applied to all private education, religious and secular. Nearly 90 percent of Montana’s private schools are affiliated with religion. Christian parents, represented by the pro-voucher Institute of Justice, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to declare that No Aid clauses violate the federal Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In The New York Times, reporter Adam Liptak wrote: “Montana’s Constitution, like those of many other states, restricts government aid to religious groups. Those provisions, often called Blaine amendments, were initially adopted in the 19th century and often had the goal of restricting funding for Catholic schools. Of the 37 states with Blaine amendments, 14 have strict prohibitions on the participation of religious schools in state programs.”

But, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, illogically ruled that religious schools were indeed being singled out.

“A state need not subsidize private education,” the majority judgment states. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

The absurdity of the majority decision is laid bare in a dissenting opinion. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, points out that the Montana Supreme Court had made no distinction between religious and nonreligious schools in a previous ruling.

“Because Montana’s Supreme Court did not make such a decision — its judgment put all private school parents in the same boat — this court had no occasion to address the matter,” the dissent states. It adds: “The state court struck the program in full. In doing so, the court never made religious schools ineligible for an otherwise available benefit, and it never decided that the Free Exercise Clause would allow that outcome.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has a stinging dissent of her own.

“Today’s ruling is perverse,” she writes. “Without any need or power to do so, the court appears to require a state to reinstate a tax-credit program that the Constitution did not demand in the first place. [The court] rejects the Religion Clauses’ balanced values in favor of a new theory of free exercise, and it does so only by setting aside well-established judicial constraints.”

FFRF had filed an 18-page friend-of-the-court brief in November cogently arguing that true religious liberty would be endangered if the court strikes down the provision of Montana’s Constitution that prohibits funding religious education.

“Religious liberty is imperiled in this case,” its brief asserted. “This case is not about discrimination [against religion]; it is about government-compelled support of religion. Every Montana citizen has the right not to be taxed to fund religion. If this court abandons this basic principle, we will have reached a disastrous moment in American history: the era of government-compelled tithing.”

Also in her dissent, Sotomayor added that the decision by the court “weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”

FFRF agrees with Sotomayor, as this misguided decision deals a great blow to the separation of state and church, as well as the sovereignty of states to govern according to the will of their citizens. It virtually guarantees that citizens of the more than 30 states whose constitutions included No Aid to religion clauses may be taxed in order to support religious schools at some point in the near future, regardless of their own views on religion or which religious denomination they may belong to. The 26 percent of nonreligious taxpayers will be injured the most.

James Madison, later the architect of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, famously defeated a Virginia proposal in 1785 to pay the salary of Christian teachers, calling even a three-penny tax on citizens supremely immoral. The No Aid language in many state constitutions dates to the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty of 1786, written by Thomas Jefferson, who deemed it “sinful and tyrannical” to tax citizens to support ministries or religious schools.

The Supreme Court’s decision does not address whether some restrictions placed on funds going to religious schools would pass constitutional muster. States may still be able to restrict funding on the basis of “religious use.” For example, a restriction on direct funding of religious education classes may be permissible.

An ironic additional consequence of such a ruling may be to bring down regulation on churches and religious schools due to the flow of public money into religious schools. In short, the judgment in favor of the plaintiffs will negatively and fundamentally alter the state-church relationship in place since the nation’s founding.

FFRF decries the high court’s blow to our secular public school system in order to fund religious institutions.

Abortion rights upheld by court

FFRF applauds the U.S. Supreme Court for striking down an unconstitutional Louisiana provision that would have effectively outlawed abortion in the state.

In a 5-4 decision in June Medical Services v. Russo issued June 29, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s more liberal justices to overturn an onerous Louisiana law (Act 620) intended to shut down clinics. The law, part of a series of anti-abortion legal attacks known as TRAP (targeted restrictions on abortion providers) laws, required physicians who provide abortions to unnecessarily hold “active admitting privileges” at a hospital located within 30 miles of the clinic. The law was virtually identical to a Texas provision quashed by the high court only four years ago in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the court had decided the restriction constituted a medically “undue burden” on abortion access.

After continuing to enforce this law in defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health, the state was counting on a change in the composition of the court yielding an overturning of settled law.

“Thankfully, the court today did not bend to the political whims of the Religious Right and honored its own precedent to preserve reproductive freedom,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Justice Stephen Breyer’s opinion, joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reads:

“Given the facts found, we must also uphold the district court’s related factual and legal determinations. These include its determination that Louisiana’s law poses a ‘substantial obstacle’ to women seeking an abortion; its determination that the law offers no significant health-related benefits; and its determination that the law consequently imposes an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion. We also agree with its ultimate legal conclusion that, in light of these findings and our precedents, Act 620 violates the Constitution.”

While Roberts’ concurrence officially made him the deciding swing vote striking down this unconstitutional law, his reasoning signals a troubling future for the landscape of abortion rights in states across the country. He writes: “I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided. The question today, however, is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case.”

This opinion, along with the dissents of Justices Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito (with Neil Gorsuch joining) and Clarence Thomas, acts as a chilling reminder that while today’s victory is cause for celebration, there remains a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that wants to restrict access to legal abortion.

FFRF joined 71 other groups in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, which argued that the court must take into account the economic and social circumstances of the women who will suffer the negative consequences of denial of abortion access.

While U.S. women’s reproductive rights dodged a bullet with this ruling, there is no question that the religiously motivated “antis” will continue their legal war to overturn Roe v. Wade, as demonstrated by the fact that eight states passed laws to ban the procedure in 2019 alone.

The legal battles over abortion are far from over.

2020 convention canceled: FFRF sets sights on 2021 Boston gathering

Gloria Steinem
Margaret Atwood

Gloria Steinem, Margaret Atwood, others from 2020 have agreed to speak at next year’s event

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and related safety concerns, FFRF’s 2020 national convention scheduled for San Antonio in November has been canceled.

FFRF’s annual meetings of the membership and state representatives will take place online.

We plan to hold a fabulous post-pandemic celebration — including the lineup advertised for this year — at the Boston Plaza Hotel over the weekend of Nov. 19-21, 2021.

We are pleased to confirm that headliners Gloria Steinem and Margaret Atwood are expected to speak at the 2021 convention.

Also, others who had planned to speak in 2020 have let us know they will be joining the convention in 2021, including author and journalist Katherine Stewart, secular studies professor Phil Zuckerman, and author and advocate Megan Phelps-Roper.  We will be updating information on next year’s gathering, although it’s still too early to register.

If you reserved a room at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio using the FFRF room bloc, your reservation has been automatically canceled. You should receive a notification from the hotel. (If you reserved a room through other means, on dates not included in the room block or at another area hotel, please be sure to double-check or cancel directly.)

All registration fees have been refunded by FFRF. Thanks to the many members who donated it as a gift!

We are now working on the challenges of conducting our first online annual membership meeting this fall, followed by an online state representatives meeting. The membership meeting will include some fun items, highlights of the year and legal accomplishments.

Private Line, our twice-a-year newsletter, will be mailed in the fall with full details on how to register for the online annual membership meeting. We look forward to “meeting” with you later this year.

We appreciate your patience. Stay tuned for details! Stay safe, and we’ll see you Nov. 19-21 next year at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.

Take FFRF’s membership survey!

It’s been five years since the Freedom From Religion Foundation last surveyed its members.

FFRF, with over 32,000 members, is the largest freethought group in North America and the third-largest in the world. You are a vital part of an influential organization, and we want to hear from you. By taking this survey, you will also help FFRF lobby more effectively on your behalf on Capitol Hill and at your state level, and convey your views to the media.

We emailed every member a comprehensive membership survey on July 15. If FFRF does not have an email address in our database for you, we have mailed you a hard copy. Please participate!

If you haven’t seen the emailed survey invitation, please double-check your inbox or spam folder. If you can’t find our emailed invitation, please contact the FFRF office requesting the survey link. Please email [email protected] with your request and include your full name and full mailing address so we can check or update our records.

If you do not use email and have not received your mailed survey by early August, please phone our office at 608/256-8900. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our office phone calls are not directly answered. Please leave a clear voice message slowly providing your full name (spell your last name), mailing address and phone number, and indicating that you need a membership survey mailed to you. We’ll be glad to get that out to you.

To help us learn more about you, update our membership profile and find out how we can better serve or represent you, please take 10 minutes to fill out the FFRF membership survey at your earliest convenience.

Kevin Welner: Shotgun wedding between state and church

This article was excerpted from a Washington Post column and is reprinted with permission.

By Kevin Welner

On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that was once unthinkable. It required the state of Montana to set aside its own Constitution’s ban on direct or indirect funding of religious private schools: “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

The principles underlying the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, while not yet dead, are now in exceedingly poor health.

To be fair, the wall of separation between church and state never really existed. But for a while, there was a fairly high fence. It protected religious institutions from entanglements with the government, and vice versa. In countries without such separation, state institutions can become instruments of the state’s preferred religion — as the writers of the U.S. Constitution observed in England and other European countries.

In the United States, that high fence of separation between church and state transformed our essentially Protestant public schools into secular institutions attended by a cross-section of the population, including strongly religious families. That seeming contradiction of religious upbringing plus nonreligious schooling was, in fact, entirely consistent with Thomas Jefferson’s reasons for embracing a “wall of separation” to avoid government involvement that could corrupt free religious practice, while also protecting the government against church influence.

Churches and related religious institutions benefit from this arrangement in three key ways. First, the government stays away from the internal affairs of churches. While this can lead to fraud and abuse, it also protects religious liberty. Second, the government grants churches freedoms denied to other institutions, including the freedom to discriminate. Third, because “the power to tax involves the power to destroy,” churches are given an extraordinary number of tax benefits.

As part of this exceedingly hands-off approach, church-affiliated institutions were not, in the past, eligible to participate in some government programs. For instance, while private religious colleges could receive aid to help students fund their education, the court prohibited state aid directly to religious K-12 schools.

Today’s Supreme Court does not share Jefferson’s vision. In fact, the court has been sawing away at the high fence for decades. In cases posing challenges to state funding of religious institutions, the court has steadily permitted greater and greater financial entanglements.

In fact, in a case three years ago called Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the court pronounced that states can, under some circumstances, be constitutionally required to fund religious institutions, pursuant to the Free Eercise Clause of the First Amendment.

When providing a public benefit (in that case, state grants for playground resurfacing), the state cannot make religious status an impediment to receipt of that benefit — at least where the benefit is not directly supporting religious practice.

Even from this conservative court, the Trinity Lutheran decision was a bit of a surprise. Earlier, in 2004, in a case called Locke v. Davey, the court found no constitutional impediment to a state prohibiting a college scholarship from being used directly to support religious practice, by excluding students pursuing a “degree in devotional theology.”

With those key precedents, the court decided a case involving a neo-voucher law that had been adopted in Montana. The law used tax credits to create a funding mechanism for small vouchers to help pay for private school tuition. Because the Montana Constitution includes a “No Aid” clause that prohibits direct or indirect state support for church-controlled schools, the Montana Department of Revenue only allowed the law to go forward on the condition that religious schools be excluded.

A lawsuit called Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue challenged that ruling and made its way to that state’s Supreme Court. That court struck down the entire neo-voucher law, thus avoiding the possibility of anti-religious discrimination raised in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, while also avoiding a violation of the Montana Constitution.

That should have ended the matter, but the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in.

Before discussing the court’s decision in the Espinoza case, it’s important to step back and consider the unusual ideological extremity of the current Supreme Court.

The court is designed to be somewhat insulated from political pressures, with justices appointed for life. But the Supreme Court has now become almost as ideologically predictable as the Congress. The court has moved further and further to the right. There’s now a reliable five-justice majority on issues ranging from school vouchers and affirmative action to border control and deregulation.

I would be remiss if I did not mention here the most momentous and egregious event in this process of building the current ultraconservative court: the unprecedented obstruction of President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland.

Antonin Scalia died unexpected in February 2016, and Obama put forward Garland’s nomination in March. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow any confirmation hearings, citing the presidential election to take place eight months later. President Trump eventually appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to the seat, maintaining the conservative five-justice majority (which was soon strengthened with Justice Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy).

Let’s return to that high fence mentioned earlier. Once the Supreme Court decided to hear the Espinoza case, we were left to hope that it would at least leave in place a speed bump of separation between church and state.

What we got instead is a shotgun marriage between church and state.

The court’s decision held that application of the “no aid” provision in the Montana Constitution was barred by the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause. The Montana provision prohibited any direct or indirect aid to a school controlled by a “church, sect, or denomination.” But the court’s Espinoza majority opinion also minimizes that distinction, which was important in Locke and potentially crucial to the decision in Trinity Lutheran:

“None of this is meant to suggest that we agree with the Department [of Revenue] that some lesser degree of scrutiny applies to discrimination against religious uses of government aid. Some members of the court, moreover, have questioned whether there is a meaningful distinction between discrimination based on use or conduct and that based on status. We acknowledge the point but need not examine it here. It is enough in this case to conclude that strict scrutiny applies under Trinity Lutheran because Montana’s No Aid provision discriminates based on religious status.”

Here’s more critical language:

Locke differs from this case in two critical ways. First, Locke explained that Washington had ‘merely chosen not to fund a distinct category of instruction’: the ‘essentially religious endeavor’ of training a minister ‘to lead a congregation.’ Thus, Davey ‘was denied a scholarship because of what he proposed to do — use the funds to prepare for the ministry.’ Apart from that narrow restriction, Washington’s program allowed scholarships to be used at ‘pervasively religious schools’ that incorporated religious instruction throughout their classes.

By contrast, Montana’s Constitution does not zero in on any particular ‘essentially religious’ course of instruction at a religious school. Rather, as we have explained, the No-Aid provision bars all aid to a religious school ‘simply because of what it is,’ putting the school to a choice between being religious or receiving government benefits.

“At the same time, the provision puts families to a choice between sending their children to a religious school or receiving such benefits. Second, Locke invoked a ‘historic and substantial’ state interest in not funding the training of clergy, explaining that ‘opposition to . . . funding ‘to support church leaders’ lay at the historic core of the Religion Clauses.’ . . .  But no comparable ‘historic and substantial’ tradition supports Montana’s decision to disqualify religious schools from government aid.”

The court concludes: “It is clear that there is no ‘historic and substantial’ tradition against aiding such schools comparable to the tradition against state-supported clergy invoked by Locke.” But this historical focus was a side note in the court’s earlier Locke decision. What Roberts did in this case was to limit Locke to its unique facts, marginalizing its usefulness as a precedent.

But note that sentence in bold from the passage above. A state’s constitution is given meaning by the state’s courts. Imagine if, upon remand, the Montana Supreme Court issues a new decision, saying something like: “In view of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, we interpret the ‘No Aid’ provision in our state Constitution to prohibit any direct or indirect financial support to religious instruction in church-controlled schools.”

This would allow a voucher law that provides support to religious schools but not to religious education. Implementing or enforcing that funding mechanism would entangle the state with the operations of the religious schools, but it would seem doable. Would the Roberts court find that approach to be constitutional, or would it further restrict the reach of Locke?

What’s clear for now is that the long-standing “tuitioning” voucher systems in Maine and Vermont, which are limited to nonreligious private schools, cannot stand. There will have to be a shotgun wedding between church and state in those two states.

Other implications, which will reach beyond school vouchers, will emerge in the upcoming months and years.

Kevin Welner is the director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and co-author of several books, including NeoVouchers: The Emergence of Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schooling

Meet a Member: Larry Allen hopes to counteract anti-science agenda

Name: Larry W. Allen.

Where I live: Altadena, Calif.

Family: I lost my wife, FFRF Life Member Marilyn Morgan, to pancreatic cancer two years ago.

Education: Graduate with double major in philosophy and economics from California State College (now University) in Los Angeles. Graduate studies in both fields, but no graduate degree.

Occupation: Retired real estate investor. I never held employment in any paying job long enough to call it a career.

How I got where I am today: I was raised in the Presbyterian Church, but I’m not sure I ever believed in its teachings, although I could mouth the appropriate words. I’ve always been interested in science. The tipping point for me came when one of my junior high school classmates announced he didn’t believe in God because the creation account was inconsistent with Darwinian evolution. I’ve pretty much been an atheist since then.

Where I’m headed: I’ve not been an activist since my college years, but the ascendency of the Religious Right in recent Republican administrations has impelled me to rethink what I can do to counteract their anti-science and anti-human freedom agenda. A priority now is the upcoming election cycle and I think I may commence by donating to Senate races across the country.

Person in history I most admire and why: There are actually two who are celebrated for their roles in the formation of our country, but whose religious skepticism was excoriated at the time and has been suppressed in the mythology of our country’s founding: Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine.

A quotation I like: I’ll paraphrase here: “You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” — Richard Feynman, renowned physicist and Nobel Laureate (1974 Caltech commencement address).

Things I like: Early music (Bach and before), the visual arts, birdwatching, science, nature and travel.

Things I smite: Religions, superstitions, hypocrisy and authoritarianism.

My doubts about religion started: In junior high school, subsequently reinforced by my studies in philosophy, science and history.

What cultural changes worry you?: The increasing close-mindedness of the populace in the United States when it involves science, the value of the scientific method, and the implications of the findings of science to the future of our planet. Concomitant with this worry is the subordination of human freedom to the dictates of the Christian religion.

Before I die: I’ve accomplished pretty much what I wished, experiencing only one disaster: the death of my wife. The best I can do at this point is to ensure that the bulk of my estate goes to nonprofit organizations that instantiate my ideals and values.

Ways I promote freethought: I discovered FFRF only a few years ago when it ran a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times, but since then I have become a Lifetime Member, have gifted two Lifetime Memberships to people close to me, and given memberships in FFRF to acquaintances when I have learned that they are atheists.

Larry W. Allen

Caption contest winner

Congratulations to Derek Mathias of California for winning the June/July caption contest. Derek wins an FFRF T-shirt.

The winning entry is: Pugnacious Pastor Pelc, the plastic pistol-packing priest, painlessly pelts pandemic-panicked parishioners with pure papal-pleasing precipitation, proving positively that pumped potable projectiles in public places is as preposterously pointless as pious prayer in pews.

Runners-up are: Well, so much for “. . . putting away childish things” (1 Cor.13:11). — Thomas Drolsum of Wisconsin

Let us spray. — A.F. Ortiz Jr. of Florida

The sacramental wine is now available to all communicants who caught the consecrated host delivered via slingshot. — Dana Diedrich of Idaho

If you’ve taken any photos that you think would be good for this contest, please email them to [email protected].

Caption contest

They Said What? (August 2020)

You cannot change the culture of a country until you change the character of mankind. And you can’t change that unless you change the heart, and for billions of us on the planet, we believe you can’t do that unless you accept Jesus Christ or unless you accept God. God has been left out of this equation through all of this and we need tremendous healing. You cannot love your fellow man if you don’t love God. And we have a country where we’ve been working really hard, particularly on the left, to kick God out.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in an interview on Fox News.

Huffington Post, 6-4-20


All I really want to do is what God wants me to do with the talents he gave me.

5th U.S. Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan (in a 2014 article for the Ivy League Christian Observer). Duncan, an ultraconservative, upheld a Texas abortion ban.

The Guardian, 6-14-20


If you have a radical left group of judges, religions I think will be almost wiped out at America. If you look at it, pro-life will be absolutely wiped out. So, if you have that happening, pro-life is going to be out. It’s going to be gone.

President Trump, in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, on the need for more conservative justices.

The Friendly Atheist,  6-22-20


Montana and other states should be very clear about this historic decision: Your bigoted Blaine amendments and other restrictions like them are unconstitutional, dead and buried. I’m calling on all states to now seize the extraordinary opportunity to expand all education options at all schools to every single student in America.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Espinoza case, allowing for the expansion of voucher-like programs.

The NewYork Times, 7-1-20


This week Dr. Anthony Fauci made the statement that “science is truth.” Really? I would beg to differ. Science may be a quest for truth, but it is certainly fallible. . . . And, man did not  evolve from apes or tadpoles, as many scientists say. That’s just not true — God created man and woman, as the bible says.

Evangelist Franklin Graham, on his Facebook page, linking to a CNN article about Fauci.

Facebook, 6-21-20


Mask-wearing has become a totem, a secular religious symbol. Christians wear crosses, Muslims wear a hijab, and members of the Church of Secular Science bow to the Gods of Data by wearing a mask as their symbol, demonstrating that they are the elite; smarter, more rational, and morally superior to everyone else.

Alex Castellanos, a veteran Republican strategist.

Washington Post, 6-30-20

In the News (August 2020)

‘Nones’ more accepting of homosexuality

Nones, the group of nonreligious, have a much higher tolerance for acceptance of homosexuality than religious believers. In the United States, 72 percent of people now say being gay should be accepted, but that number is even higher for the Nones, at 86 percent, according to a Pew Research survey.

However, among those in the United States who said religion was “very important” to them, only 57 percent said homosexuality should be accepted by society.

In the Pew analysis, it said, “Those who are religiously unaffiliated, sometimes called religious Nones, (that is, those who identify as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’) tend to be more accepting of homosexuality. Though the opinions of religiously unaffiliated people can vary widely, in virtually every country surveyed with a sufficient number of unaffiliated respondents, Nones are more accepting of homosexuality than the affiliated.”

Humanist weddings in Scotland more popular

Humanist weddings, which have been legal in Scotland for 15 years, are more popular than Christian ones, according to data from the National Records of Scotland.

In 2019, there were 5,879 Humanist weddings compared to 5,812 Christian weddings. In 2018, there were 6,117 Humanist weddings, but 6,258 Christian ones.

A 2017 survey found that more than 70 percent of Scottish people said they were not religious.

Southern Baptists see big drop in membership

Total membership in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination fell at a historic rate between 2018 and 2019, according to an annual report.

The Southern Baptist Convention said it had 14.5 million members in 2019, down about 287,655 from the previous year. Membership dropped 2 percent, the largest single-year drop in more than 100 years, according to a survey from LifeWay Christian Resources, the denomination’s publishing and research arm.

The decline reflects a larger trend of Americans leaving Christianity at a rapid pace. According to the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of Americans describe themselves as Christians, down 12 percentage points during the past decade.

Southern Baptist baptisms, a key metric in measuring new members of the faith, fell by more than 4 percent.

1 in 4 Americans see Trump as a man of faith

Only 27 percent of registered voters in a Politico/Morning Consult poll said they somewhat or strongly agree that President Trump is religious, while 55 percent somewhat or strongly disagree. Just over a third of all Christians view the president as religious (50 percent do not), while 23 percent of Catholics and 18 percent of independents see him that way.

Evangelicals were more likely to view Trump as religious: 40 percent said they agreed that he is, while 33 percent disagreed.

Ideological conservatives and Republicans were the only demographics in which a majority of respondents characterized the president as religious — 55 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

South Korean church sued for $66M over virus

The city at the epicenter of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak has filed a $83 million suit against the religious group that has been linked to nearly 62 percent of the 6,900 cases in the city.

Officials of the Daegu city government are demanding compensation for losses suffered by the local authority as a result of the leaders of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus refusing to cooperate with initial efforts to halt the spread of the virus.

The church’s refusal to cooperate with regional health authorities hampered the initial response to the crisis and worsened the outbreak in the city, an official said.

Investigators also reported that the church went ahead with services and events in defiance of an order from the local government banning mass gatherings.

Survey: Most not yet OK going back to church

A study in May examining Americans’ response to COVID-19 shows that with the exception of white evangelicals, a majority of Americans are not comfortable returning to in-person religious services.

The results of the survey suggest that despite political pressure to reopen houses of worship — from President Donald Trump as well as leading conservative Christians and religious liberty advocates — Americans aren’t quite ready to take a seat in a sanctuary.

The survey from the American Enterprise Institute showed that 64 percent of Americans said they were “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” attending in-person worship.

Even among those who reported their congregations offered in-person worship, 56 percent of respondents said they chose not to go.

“We’re seeing among lay people a significant amount of discomfort in going back to formal in-person religious practices,” said Daniel Cox, a research fellow at AEI who led the study. “People are equivocating and uncertain about whether they feel comfortable attending.”

20% in Northern Ireland identify as nonreligious

The proportion of people in Northern Ireland who identify as “nonreligious”  has reached 20 percent, according to the latest Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey.

It was an increase of 3 percent over the previous year. The proportion of nonreligious people in Northern Ireland now exceeds that of every other religion or belief group except Catholics — 36 percent, with Presbyterians accounting for 18 percent and those who identify as Church of Ireland/Anglican/Episcopal at 14 percent.

Greek church: Yoga not for Christians

Yoga has no place “in the life of Christians,” the governing body of the Greek Orthodox Church has ruled.

The Church intervened after Greek media recommended yoga as a way to combat stress during the pandemic.

“[Yoga] is a fundamental chapter in Hindu religion. It is not a ‘kind of physical exercise,’” the Holy Synod said in its statement.

The church’s opposition is based on the “experience of those who practiced yoga,” Father Michael Konstantinidis said, explaining that “if yoga offered what man wanted, we would be happy.”

Evangelicals still strongly support Trump

President Trump’s approval rating has dropped among a wide range of religious groups, including white evangelical Protestants — though they remain strongly supportive.

About seven-in-10 white evangelical Protestants say they approve of the way Trump is handling his job, according to a Pew Research Center survey, but that’s a 6 percentage point drop from 78 percent recorded in April.

The same survey found that if the 2020 presidential election were held today, 82 percent of white evangelical Protestant registered voters would vote for Trump or lean toward voting for him. By comparison, a Pew survey that was conducted just after the 2016 presidential election among those who were identified as having voted found that 77 percent of white evangelical Protestant voters backed Trump.

Catholic clergy sex abuse complaints jump

The Washington Post reported that the number of allegations of Catholic clergy sex abuse of minors more than quadrupled in 2019 compared to the average in the previous five years.

The yearly audit report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the 2019 report counted 4,434 allegations of clergy sex abuse against minors. That number was 1,451 in 2018, 693 in 2017, 1,318 in 2016 and 903 in 2015.

About half of the 2019 allegations  were deemed credible by the church.

There are about 37,000 diocesan and religious order priests in the country.

In the 2019 audit, the Catholic Church paid out a total of $282 million related to those allegations, including child abuse settlements, other payments to victims, “support for offenders,” attorneys’ fees, and other miscellaneous costs related to those lawsuits.

Delaware city sued for not allowing crèche

The Knights of Columbus, backed by the First Liberty Institute, filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Rehoboth Beach, Del., claiming religious discrimination for the town’s blanket ban of a Knights of Columbus nativity scene from city property.

For decades, a free-standing crèche has been part of the Christmas holiday tradition in Rehoboth Beach. The primary location for Christmas displays is the circle at the city bandstand and adjacent boardwalk.

In 2018, after a local church placed a nativity scene on the public site, the city forced the church to take it down.

“I don’t understand why Christians would be deeply offended,” Mayor Paul Kuhns said. “We are basically saying that on public property, with public resources comes public responsibility and this [separation] of church and state is the city’s decision.”