Special report: Christian nationalism and Jan. 6

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty have together published “Christian Nationalism and the January 6, 2021, Insurrection,” a comprehensive report of how Christian nationalism played an integral role in last year’s Capitol insurrection. 

“Even with the voluminous coverage of the events of Jan. 6, 2021, one area that has not yet been studied enough is the role that Christian nationalism played in bolstering, justifying and intensifying the attack on the U.S. Capitol,” writes Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee.

The full report will be available in February. 

“Drawing on reporting, videos, statements and images from the attack and its precursor events, this report contains the most comprehensive account of Christian nationalism and its role in the Jan. 6 insurrection,” Tyler writes. 

The contributors include Tyler; Andrew Whitehead and Sam Perry, authors of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States; Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism; Dr. Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise; and Andrew L. Seidel, director of strategic response at FFRF and author of The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American, which was just released in paperback with a new epilogue that’s about Jan. 6. 

The report includes an overview of Christian nationalist demographics and statistics, and a look at who is behind the network of money and power that support Christian nationalism. The bulk of the report includes the evidence compiled by Seidel. It concludes with potential solutions of how to combat Christian nationalism. 

“The scale and severity of the Jan. 6 attack warrant a dedicated report of this kind.” 

Insurrectionists carry a large wooden cross outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Shutterstock photo)

FFRF legal department kept busy in 2021

By Rebecca Markert

The legal department at FFRF has been working tirelessly to protect the wall of separation and to represent nonbelievers at every turn.

There’s been a lot of work this past year. It feels like it’s been nonstop:  from continuing violations stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic to dealing with a new ultraconservative U.S. Supreme Court taking more and more cases with an increased interest in religious liberty. 

I would like to thank our amazing legal department staff. Our attorneys and assistants weren’t just working remotely half of last year — they were at home during a global health crisis. They deserve kudos for rolling with the punches. 

Here are some of our notable achievements from 2021.

Court victories

In the past year, FFRF filed one new lawsuit, and has five ongoing cases. Two we have won, but they’re on appeal. We also closed one case permanently, a victory for FFRF.

Cragun v. Merrill

Victory! FFRF represented four Alabama residents who filed suit in the U.S. District for the Northern District of Alabama on Oct. 1, 2020, challenging a religious oath ending “so help me God” that voters were required to sign in order to register to vote. As part of a settlement, the Alabama secretary of state changed the voter registration forms and the applicable regulations. New voter registration forms allow voters to opt out of signing a religious oath. 


FFRF joined a coalition of service and advocacy organizations in a lawsuit at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against eight federal agencies for undoing rules that protect those receiving social services from being discriminated against. The Trump administration adopted new rules that do not require faith-based organizations to inform recipients of their legal right to be free from discrimination, not have religious programming, and to refer recipients to an alternative provider if requested. The Biden administration has indicated it will undo these provisions and will likely propose new rules in 2022. The case is stayed pending the adoption of the new rules. 

FFRF v. Gov. Greg Abbott 

FFRF filed a federal lawsuit in 2016, challenging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s removal of its approved Bill of Rights “nativity” display from the Texas State Capitol. FFRF had a permit and a legislative sponsor for its display. Abbott, as chair of the Texas State Preservation Board, ordered the display taken down three days after it was erected on Dec. 18, 2015, lambasting it as indecent, mocking and contributing to public immorality. In 2018, the district court entered judgment against Abbott and the State Preservation Board for violating FFRF’s free speech rights. The state appealed the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court on the basis that the district court was not permitted to issue the remedy that it provided to FFRF. The 5th Circuit ruled in FFRF’s favor in April 2020 and remanded the case for a final remedy. The district court issued a favorable ruling in May 2021. Texas appealed that decision to the 5th Circuit, arguing that the case had become moot. An opinion is likely forthcoming this year.

FFRF v. Mercer County Bd. of Ed. 

FFRF filed a civil rights lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia against Mercer County Schools in early 2017 over the school system’s egregiously unconstitutional “Bible in the Schools” classes for elementary school students. In late 2017, the district court dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds. FFRF appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court, which, in late 2018, ruled in favor of FFRF and found that the plaintiffs have standing. The school system sought an appeal to the Supreme Court, which declined to take the case. In October 2021, the parties engaged in mediation and settlement discussions, which will likely resolve the lawsuit. 

Cobranchi v. Parkersburg 

FFRF and two Parkersburg, W.V., residents sued the city of Parkersburg in a challenge to the City Council’s practice of reciting the “Lord’s Prayer” at each meeting. Council members and most attendees recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison to start each bi-monthly meeting. At least one member of the council has been openly hostile to people who do not participate in the prayer. FFRF is awaiting a decision on its summary judgment briefing. 

Orsi v. Martin

FFRF and a coalition of plaintiffs filed a district court lawsuit on May 23, 2018, against Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin seeking the removal of a massive Ten Commandments structure from the grounds of the Arkansas Capitol. The plaintiffs include FFRF, the American Humanist Association, and the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, as well as seven individual plaintiffs. The case is proceeding slowly, with summary judgment briefing expected to be filed in early 2022. 

FFRF v. Judge Wayne Mack

FFRF refiled a lawsuit against Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack in 2019 for opening each of his court sessions with chaplain-led prayer. On May 21, 2021, the district court judge ruled in favor of FFRF and local attorney “John Roe,” finding that Mack’s courtroom prayer practice violated the Establishment Clause. Mack filed an immediate appeal and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the district court’s decision. The case is being briefed on the merits and a decision is expected in 2022. 

Amicus briefs

FFRF staff attorneys filed five amicus (or friend-of-the-court) briefs in 2021. Four of those were filed at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Carson v. Makin 

FFRF pointed out to the Supreme Court that Maine’s refusal to fund sectarian schools is supported by a proper understanding of the First Amendment. The First Amendment ensures that taxpayers are not compelled to subsidize a religion that is not their own. Also, the “no aid” principle avoids government entanglement with religious education. 

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health 

FFRF filed a brief with the Supreme Court that identified religion as the center of anti-abortion legislation. Mississippi’s total ban on abortion after 15 weeks was motivated by religious ideology. FFRF argued that judicial review of pre-viability abortion prohibitions is hampered by governments that obscure their true purpose in adopting abortion prohibitions. 

Ramirez v. Collier 

A person on death row brought suit over Texas’ denial of his request for a minister to “lay hands” on him and audibly pray with him in the execution chamber. FFRF argued to the Supreme Court that the death penalty, which stems in part from biblical roots, violates the First and Eighth amendments. FFRF’s brief also asserts that if executions are allowed, end-of-life accommodations must be made equally available to all, not just the religious. 

Shurtleff v. Boston

An organization called Camp Constitution requested to fly the Christian flag at Boston’s City Hall. The city refused to allow the display. FFRF, joined by Center for Inquiry, argued that Boston correctly denied the request because the city’s flag poles are not open for free speech for the general public. The city’s concern in not violating the Establishment Clause is a reasonable justification for the denial. 

Kluge v. Brownsburg Schools

FFRF filed a brief on behalf of the Secular Student Alliance, arguing before the 7th Circuit that public school teachers do not have the right to subject students, including transgender students, to the teacher’s religious whims. Based on his Christian beliefs, an Indiana teacher refused to call transgender students by their first names. The school system refused to grant FFRF permission to file the brief, which supported the school’s position, indicating that FFRF’s name and mission are disfavored by public school officials. The court granted permission for FFRF to file on behalf of SSA.

Nonlitigation advocacy

In 2021, our intake team processed 1,874 contacts from members of the public over state/church concerns. Our staff attorneys and legal fellows sent 592 letters of complaint to government agencies over state/church violations. We received 167 victories from these complaints, with more to come this year. FFRF also sent out “mass mailings” educating government officials on violations, including the state of religion in public schools in Florida, mask mandates in Wisconsin, and the National Prayer Breakfast.

Educating the public

In November, FFRF issued a report, “Casting Light: The Sunshine State’s Problems of Religion in its Public Schools,” calling attention to the myriad unconstitutional activities taking place in public schools all over Florida. The report documented serious, systemic Establishment Clause violations in Florida public schools, ranging from teachers imposing their personal religion on students to administrators establishing chaplaincies. Florida school districts must educate staff and adopt sound policies ensuring all school-sponsored programming, including athletics, are free from religious activity and pressure. The report has been sent to every Florida school district. 

In August 2021, just before the school year started, FFRF released a short report about prayer walks in public schools, a bizarre but growing phenomenon whereby community members gather and walk through and/or around the schools praying for the upcoming school year. FFRF’s report shows why such events — typically involving religious leaders praying, sermonizing and even sprinkling “holy water” over school grounds — are constitutionally impermissible. 

FFRF also made it a priority these last two years to increase legal scholarship on state/church separation, particularly after seeing the dangerous use of (often inaccurate) history as rationale in our cases. To that end, FFRF gave a grant to Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island to put on a symposium titled “Is This a Christian Nation?” The virtual symposium was held in September 2020, but the important part of this scholarship was the journal published as a result. All presenters wrote articles that were printed in a special issue of the law school’s law review in the spring of 2021. FFRF then sent copies of the journal to every Supreme Court justice and appellate court judge in the country.

As we dive into 2022, FFRF’s Legal Department is poised to meet the challenges of the new Supreme Court, remains passionate about protecting the right to a government free from religion, and is dedicated to ensuring the wall of separation between state and church is protected to ensure true religious liberty for us all. 

Rebecca Markert is FFRF’s legal director.

FFRF gets legal, historian support in prayer case

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has received briefing support from Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of 13 well-known historians and legal scholars in its federal lawsuit against a praying Texas judge.

On behalf of “John Roe,” the national state/church watchdog filed suit against Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack for opening each of his court sessions with clergy-led prayer.

FFRF welcomes the amicus brief in support of FFRF and its plaintiff, an attorney who regularly practiced in Mack’s court and objects to the courtroom-prayer practice.

Mack, a formerly ordained minister who attended Jackson College of Ministries, made the unprecedented decision to solicit chaplains to open his court sessions with prayer, a practice not replicated by any other court in the country. 

Mack’s bailiff announced the prayers, saying that anyone could leave during the prayer, but then locking the courtroom doors. Mack entered, talked about his chaplaincy program, introduced a chaplain, and gave the name and location of the chaplain’s church. While everyone in the courtroom remained standing, the chaplain, who was almost always Christian, delivered a prayer, with no guidelines regarding permissible content. Attendees have reported that Mack has surveyed the courtroom during prayers, causing concern that their cases would be affected if they did not participate.

Mack’s main defense throughout the lawsuit has been that his prayer practice enjoys a long and unbroken history in this country, a claim he has advanced without expert support from a single historian.

The “friend of the court” brief filed by Americans United on behalf of the scholars and historians demonstrates that Mack’s history claim is false. The brief first traces the history of the development of religious freedom in America, citing the views of key founders such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, noting that the Establishment Clause was intended in part to prevent governmental religious coercion.

The historians’ brief then picks apart Mack’s dubious claim of historical legitimacy. “Proper historical analysis reveals that there was no long, unbroken, or established history of courtroom prayer in the United States,” the brief asserts. “Instead, it shows that courtroom prayer is not consistent with the purpose of the Establishment Clause, would not have been supported by the Founders whose ideas the Establishment Clause reflects, and was rare around the time of the ratification of the First Amendment.”

FFRF and Attorney Roe, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, previously dispatched Mack’s bogus history argument when they won their case in district court. In May 2021, U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, writing: “The court is of the view that the defendant violates the Establishment Clause when, before a captured audience of litigants and their counsel, he presents himself as theopneustically inspired, enabling him to advance, through the chaplaincy program, God’s ‘larger purpose.’ Such a magnanimous goal flies in the face of historical tradition, and makes a mockery of both religion and law.”

A second amicus brief, filed in support of plaintiffs by the nonprofit Institute for Justice and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, argues that a panel of judges on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals misstated the law in holding that lawsuits against state officials (such as Mack) cannot arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and must instead be brought as an equitable cause of action recognized in Ex Parte Young. While this highly technical issue was not raised by the parties on appeal, and did not need to be resolved in order to adjudicate the issues on appeal, Judge Andrew Oldham, a Trump appointee, nevertheless advanced this novel and unprecedented interpretation of the law in his written opinion. IJ and FIRE urge the 5th Circuit to address and overturn this incorrect holding when resolving the case on the merits.

“We’re grateful for the support of these groups, historians and legal scholars in documenting the truth — that courtroom prayer cannot be excused as a historic practice,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Mack’s conduct is coercive, inappropriate, ill-mannered and unconstitutional.”

The case is now on appeal before the 5th Circuit. FFRF and Roe are represented by FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover, with Attorney Ayesha Khan of Washington, D.C., serving as co-counsel.

In memoriam: Constance Seward protected animals

Constance Seward

FFRF Member Constance J. Seward, 72, of Columbus, Ind., died Oct. 1, 2021, at her home.

Constance was born in Columbus on Jan. 7, 1949, the second daughter born to Tom and Frances Seward.

Constance dedicated her life to protecting animals; she fostered hundreds of pets and found forever homes for them.

FFRF is grateful to be notified that she has remembered FFRF in her estate planning with a generous gift.

In memoriam: ‘Uncle Bill’ Jedrzynski dies at 89

William Jedrzynski

FFRF Member William “Uncle Bill” J. Jedrzynski, 89, died Nov. 8, 2021. 

He was born in Dudley, Mass., son of the late John C. Jedrzynski and Josephine H. (Duszlak) Jedrzynski. He was a U.S. Navy veteran. Bill worked for Jamesbury and Microtech in Worcester, Mass., as a machinist for many years. His talents were numerous — he would be the go-to person for any information one may need for repair or life in general.  

Bill was a great storyteller and loved sharing his vast knowledge with friends and family. He enjoyed reading, fishing, hunting, motorcycle riding, magic, the outdoors and nature, from insects to animals. Bill was everyone’s “Uncle Bill”! He was an extraordinary, brilliant and caring person.

In memoriam: Richard Prosser led Junior State of America

Richard Prosser

Richard Thomas Prosser, 75, died on May  26, 2021. He was born on April 6, 1946, in Fort Collins, Colo., to Helene and Carl Prosser. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Sacramento State and a master’s degree in mass communications from San Jose State. He was executive director of Junior State of America from 1969–2007, transforming it from a little-know Northern California program into a nationwide educational institution impacting tens of thousands of students.

He was a passionate and effective advocate for nonpartisan civic education and a steadfast believer in young people’s agency and the student-run nature of JSA.

Overheard (Jan/Feb 2022)

Those who have accused right-wing justices of seeking to impose one strain of Christian doctrine on the rest of the country sadly have been proved correct.

Jennifer Rubin, in her column “The Supreme Court faces an existential crisis of legitimacy” following the oral arguments regarding Mississippi’s abortion law.

Washington Post, 12-3-21

We believe in the separation of church and state because it requires religions to obey laws enacted by the state instead of allowing religions to hold everyone to their own religious laws.

. . . Whether it leads to theocracy or balkanization, the creeping fusion of church and state is disastrous for the public good.

Attorney Marci A. Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, and law professor Leslie C. Griffin, in their op-ed “Why we still like separation of church and state.”

Verdict.com, 12-13-21

I believe the church is actively and currently doing harm in the world. The church leadership is not honest about its history, its finances, and its advocacy. I believe the Mormon church has hindered global progress in women’s rights, civil rights and racial equality, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Billionaire Jeff T. Green, the wealthiest person in Utah, in his resignation letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  

Salt Lake Tribune, 12-20-21

I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control.

Anne Rice, who died Dec. 11, 2021, writing in 2010 when she announced she was no longer a Christian.

Associated Press, 12-13-21

Call me one of the intolerant. That’s what I am. I will not coddle willful ignorance anymore. I will not indulge the fool’s errand of ‘I’m still doing my own research’ anymore, either. . . . I am furious at the unvaccinated, and I am not ashamed of disclosing that. I am no longer trying to understand them or educate them.

Charles Blow, in his op-ed, “I’m furious at the unvaccinated.” 

The New York Times, 12-8-21

Even if courts were to interpret that law as being enforceable, as attorney general, I would not use the resources of the Wisconsin Department of Justice either to investigate alleged violations of that abortion ban or to prosecute alleged violations of it.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, on Wisconsin’s ban on abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Wisconsin State Journal, 12-15-21

If the unaffiliated were a religion, they’d be the largest religious group in the United States.

Elizabeth Drescher, an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University, who wrote the book, Choosing our Religion, about the spiritual lives of the Nones.

Associated Press, 12-14-21

There’s less stigma attached to being an atheist. It’s revealing of what’s been there for a long time, rather than a big shift. People may not have answered honestly 20, 30 years ago.

Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, on the results of the latest Pew Research Center showing fewer people are religious than ever before.

Religion News Service. 12-14-21

[Rep. Kat] Cammack, [Rep. Madison] Cawthorn and others who believe in the beforelife seem to think of embryos with the potential to become people as beings (“eternal souls,” “little girls”) who should have choice and do have feelings. They — and indeed everyone who asks how abortion advocates would feel if they had been aborted, as if unborn people hover about ruing their nonexistence — remind us that religion is driving our abortion debate. Religion — not reason and not compassion for people who already exist in this earthly realm.

Kate Cohen, in her op-ed, “‘How would you feel if your mother had aborted you?’ Easy. I’d feel nothing.”

Washington Post, 12-16-21

Until now, when Americans have found themselves wrestling with questions about church-and-state matters, the Supreme Court usually, but not always, was the guardian of separation. Today’s conservative justices, however, appear likely to trash that noble heritage of the court.

Editorial, “Supreme Court poised to trample the separation of church and state.”

Las Vegas Sun, 12-17-21

Some of the anti-vaxxers here in this chamber remind me of what happened 400 years ago when people were clinging to the fact that the sun revolved around the Earth. They just didn’t believe science. Or 500 years ago when they were sure the Earth was flat.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, castigating those in the Senate who narrowly voted for a resolution against the Biden administration’s requirement that business with 100 or more workers mandate vaccinations.

Los Angeles Times, 12/8/21

They Said What? (Jan/Feb 2022)

This is a Christian nation and any policy that is contrary to the word of God, we need to remove it from mainstream America and make it illegal.

MAGA pastor Mark Burns, who is running for Congress in South Carolina.

Right Wing Watch, 11-18-21

I agonized. I’m not ashamed that to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case because there was great pain. There was great harm.

Niagara County Court Judge Matthew Murphy, after he decided a man who pleaded guilty to the rape and sexual assault of four teenage girls will avoid prison time.

CNN, 11-22-21

I want my children to know that I love them very much and that I was a good man at one time. Don’t ever read anything but the King James Bible.

David Neal Cox’s final words before he was executed in Mississippi.

WLBT News, 11-17-21

Organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation have been at the forefront of a movement that has targeted the singing of Christmas carols in public schools and Nativity scenes on military bases. Nothing triggers an atheist faster than the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. 

Todd Starnes, in his column “Christmas trees are burning and I blame godless Democrats,” after someone lit the huge Christmas tree outside Fox News headquarters on fire. 

ToddStarnes.com, 12-8-21

This is whether or not somebody is going to have something put into their body that they do not want put into their body. That’s more than freedom, that’s the right to control and secure your own body.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, speaking about his opposition to a vaccine mandate, while ignoring his blatant hypocrisy when it comes to a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Rolling Stone, 12-11-21

In the News (Jan/Feb 2022)

Supreme Court keeps Texas abortion law in effect

The Supreme Court on Dec. 10 left in place a Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks, but provided a path for abortion providers to challenge the law.

The court’s decision allows the providers to return to a district judge who once blocked the law, saying it violated the constitutional right to abortion.

That restarts the legal process that has seen the law remain in effect since Sept. 1, when the Supreme Court refused to step in to block it.

Eight justices said the abortion providers may bring the challenge. 

Nearly 3 in 10 adults religiously unaffiliated

The number of religiously unaffiliated adults in the United States is at an all-time high, with 29 percent saying they are not a member of any religion. That is 6 percentage points higher than five years ago and 10 points higher than a decade ago, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

While Christians still make up a majority of the U.S. populace, their share of the population is 12 points lower from 10 years ago. Also, the share of U.S. adults who say they pray on a daily basis has been trending downward, as has the share who say religion is “very important” in their lives.

Christians still outnumber religious Nones by a ratio of a about 2-to-1, but, in 2007, when the question was first asked, Christians outnumbered Nones by almost 5-to-1.

State Department takes action on Avijit Roy death

On Dec. 20, the U.S. State Department finally issued a reward of up to $5 million for information regarding the deadly machete attack on Avijit Roy and his wife Bonya Ahmed, who was severely injured.

The State Department sent out a notice, stating: 

“Rewards for Justice offers a reward of up to $5 million for information on terrorist attack against Americans in Bangladesh. On Feb. 26, 2015, al-Qaida-linked terrorists killed Avijit Roy and wounded his wife Rafida Bonya Ahmed as the couple left a book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“Six individuals were convicted in a Bangladeshi court and sentenced for their role in the attack.  Two of those defendants — Syed Ziaul Haque (aka Major Zia) and Akram Hossain — were tried in absentia and remain at large.”

Man tortured, killed in Pakistan for blasphemy

A Pakistani mob tortured, killed and then set on fire a Sri Lankan man who was accused of blasphemy, according to a report in The Guardian.

Priyantha Diyawadana, a Sri Lankan national, was set upon by a violent crowd on Dec. 3 over some posters he had allegedly taken down.

The incident began when rumors surfaced that Diyawadana, who had been manager of an industrial engineering factory for seven years, had taken down a poster bearing words from the Quran. By the morning, a crowd began to gather at the factory gates and by early afternoon they had charged into the factory and seized Diyawadana.

Pakistan has draconian laws against blasphemy, which carry the death sentence. The laws are often used against religious minorities and those accused are sometimes lynched before they are proven guilty in a court. 

New German chancellor omits ‘so help me God’

Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, took God out of his oath on Dec. 8.

Scholz omitted the final four words — “so help me God” — from the traditional oath. The oaths Scholz took as mayor of Hamburg in 2011 and as finance minister in 2018 were also nonreligious.

The chancellor was raised as a Protestant but later formally left the church. When asked by a tabloid what he believed in, Scholz said: “That we humans are responsible for one another. That we need to be just with one another. Call it solidarity of loving one’s neighbor.”

Report: Utah used LDS Church to ‘help’ the poor

An investigation by the nonprofit journalism collaborative ProPublica reveals that Utah’s rules for giving cash assistance to the poor are so tight that almost no one qualifies, and instead points them to the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for assistance. 

ProPublica unearthed a signed memorandum of understanding between Utah’s Workforce Services and the LDS Church that calls for the church to quantify the aid it provides to the poor so that the state can count it toward fulfilling its obligation to spend money on assistance. That deal has allowed the state to count at least $75 million in LDS Church welfare — cash and volunteered labor — toward its own assistance efforts over the last decade.

And once those people seeking assistance are sent over to the church, many of them are expected to accept proselytizing visits in their homes, to attend church services, even to be baptized in the faith, in order to qualify for food, cash or other assistance.

As the Salt Lake Tribune said in an editorial: “That is an obvious violation of the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion in America.

Reality TV star guilty of child pornography

A federal jury in Fayetteville, Ark., on Dec. 9 found conservative Christian activist Josh Duggar guilty of one count each of receiving and possessing child pornography. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and $250,000 in fines.

Duggar, 33, was accused of downloading images showing sexual abuse of children, some younger than 12. Prosecutors alleged he installed a password-protected partition on a computer at his used car lot in Springdale, Ark., in May 2019 to avoid software that detects explicit images of children.

From 2008-15, Duggar was a star of the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting” about a large family guided by conservative Christian values. It was taken off the air after a 2006 police report surfaced detailing how he had molested five teen girls. His parents told Fox News in 2015 that four of the five were his sisters.

No criminal charges were filed then due to the statute of limitations. Duggar resigned as director of the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council.

S.D. governor pushes for morning prayer in schools

South Dakota’s Gov. Kristi Noem has introduced a bill that would allow students in public schools to pray every morning at school if they so choose.

In a statement, Noem shared her belief that “every student deserves the opportunity to begin their day with a calm, silent moment.”

“I hope students will take this opportunity to say a quick prayer or reflect on their upcoming day,” she wrote. “However they choose to take advantage of this time, it will be beneficial to students and teachers alike.”

Potential uses for this moment of silence include “voluntary prayer, reflection, meditation or other quiet, respectful activity.”

Majority in U.S. critical of religious exemptions

The New York Times reports that only about one in 10 Americans says that receiving the Covid-19 vaccine would violate their religious beliefs, while about 60 percent say that too many people are using religion as an excuse to avoid vaccine mandates, according to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core.

A majority of Americans are critical of religious exemptions and say that the vaccines do not violate their own religious beliefs or the teachings of their religion, and that there are no valid religious reasons to refuse the Covid-19 vaccine.

The survey indicates a sharp divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans, according to the New York Times report. That gap widens along partisan lines. More than 80 percent of vaccinated Democrats say they are angry at those who refuse to get vaccinated, and similar numbers of unvaccinated Republicans are “angry at those who think they have the right to tell me to get vaccinated against Covid-19.” 

Atheists: Society fine without marriage, kids

Among self-described atheists, 91 percent say society fares just as well when people have priorities other than marriage and children. That percentage was by far the highest among all “religious” affiliations.  

White evangelicals are the only religious subgroup in which a majority (56 percent) say that prioritizing marriage and having children is better for society. 

On average, evangelical Christians bear about the same number of children as other Americans, and while they tend to marry at a younger age than other U.S. adults, members of evangelical denominations are not necessarily more likely to be married than members of other Christian subgroups — and they may have higher divorce rates.

Among all Americans with a religious affiliation — whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or something else — 56 percent believe it is OK for society if people have priorities besides marriage and children, compared with 82 percent of those with no religion.

U.S. military has granted no religious exemptions

As of late December, the U.S. military services had yet to grant any religious exemptions to the Pentagon’s Covid-19 vaccinate mandate, out of at least 12,000 requests from service members, the services said.

In all, 1,746 soldiers, 2,751 sailors, 4,756 airmen and 3,144 Marines have asked for religious exemption, according to the latest data released by the services. The service branches haven’t reviewed all the requests, and may yet grant some.

Rep. Raskin to highlight Thomas Paine event

The New Yorker’s 2021 “Person of the Year” U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin will provide the closing remarks during an online celebration of Thomas Paine’s birth. 

Please join Paine enthusiasts on Jan. 29 at 4 p.m. (EST) for a Zoom celebration. The event is presented by the newly formed Thomas Paine Memorial Association (TPMA), a nonprofit organization with the purpose of educating the public and installing statues of Thomas Paine in Washington, D.C., and other places of significance to the life of Thomas Paine.

Actor Ian Ruskin will speak about his experiences portraying Thomas Paine. Freethought Society President Margaret Downey will be talking about the many Thomas Paine-themed activities she has sponsored. Sculptor Zenos Frudakis will join from his studio in Glenside, Pa., and TPMA board members will be introducing themselves. Board members speaking at the event are Robyn Blumner, John de Lancie, Ann Druyan, Gary Berton, Thomas Legg, Christopher Cameron, Julia Sweeney, Marnie Mosiman de Lancie and Annie Laurie Gaylor.

To register for the event, go to: bit.ly/3qjCAYH.