In the News (Jan/Feb 2021)

Court backs religious groups in two states

The Supreme Court on Dec. 15 sided with religious groups in Colorado and New Jersey that argued that the states’ pandemic-related restrictions on worship services violated religious liberty rights.

In unsigned orders, the justices shot down lower court opinions in challenges that went in favor of the states.

The New Jersey challenge concerned restrictions related to limiting attendance at houses of worship as well as the state’s “mask mandate” that critics said violated the free exercise of religion because there are exemptions for secular reasons, including health, exercise and eating, but masks are only allowed to be removed momentarily in religious settings.

In the Colorado case, the court ruled in favor of High Plains Harvest Church, a small church in Ault.

The dispute was brought against Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, who had issued an order capping attendance at houses of worship to 50 people.

53% of Americans believe in God with no doubts

According to findings from the American National Social Network Survey, 53 percent of Americans report they believe in God without any doubts at all. Conversely, 6 percent of Americans say they do not believe in God and express no uncertainty in their belief.

A majority of Americans (59 percent) say it is not necessary for a person to believe in God to be moral and have good values, which is a remarkable shift in recent years. A large part of this change is due to the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans, who now make up 26 percent of the adult population.

Forty-one percent of Americans express at least some uncertainty about their belief in God. Eleven percent express some degree of disbelief in God, but remain at least somewhat unsure. Nineteen percent of Americans are inclined to believe in God but are somewhat less than completely certain in their belief. Eleven percent of Americans report being completely uncertain in their views on God.

Canadian churches fined $18K for COVID violations

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it has distributed tickets totaling $18,400 to representatives from three places of worship in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley for violating public health orders.

According to a press release, on the mornings of Dec. 6 and 13, 2020, Chilliwack RCMP responded to reports of groups of people gathering at three separate churches contrary to the existing public health order.

And on Dec. 17, 2020, police charged representatives of the congregations with eight counts of failure to comply with an order of a health officer, including fines amounting to $18,400.

Release humanist, says Nigerian court

A judge at the High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, ruled on Dec. 21 that Mubarak Bala should be immediately released from detention in Kano state, where he has been held since April 2020.

Bala, president of Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested by the state police after being accused of violating anti-blasphemy laws for calling the Prophet Muhammad a terrorist.

The ruling, in which the judge declared Bala’s continuous incarceration as illegal and ordered his immediate release, follows a “fundamental rights” petition detailing how Bala has been detained without charge for more than seven months, five months of which he was denied access to his legal representatives.

“Today’s ruling by the High Court in Abuja is a victory for the human rights of all citizens in Nigeria,” said Andrew Copson, president of Humanists International. “It is time our colleague Mubarak Bala was released immediately and unconditionally and we call upon leaders in Nigeria to respect due process and the rule of law.”

New Zealand votes to legalize euthanasia

New Zealand has voted to legalize euthanasia in what campaigners have called “a victory for compassion and kindness.”

Preliminary results showed 65 percent of voters supported the End of Life Choice Act. The law allows terminally ill people with less than six months to live the opportunity to choose assisted dying if approved by two doctors.

The law is expected to take effect in November. New Zealand will join a small group of countries, including the Netherlands and Canada, that allow euthanasia.

The legislation authorizes a doctor or nurse to administer or prescribe a lethal dose of medication to be taken under their supervision if all the conditions are met.

14 found guilty of aiding ‘Charlie Hebdo’ attacks

A French court on Dec. 16 convicted 14 people of crimes in relation to Islamist attacks in 2015 against the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi stormed Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris on Jan. 7, 2015, killing 12, nearly a decade after the magazine published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. A third attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, killed a police officer and then four Jewish hostages in a kosher supermarket in a Paris suburb. Like the Kouachis, Coulibaly was killed in a shoot-out with police.

The ruling found the 14 defendants guilty on a variety of charges, ranging from membership in a criminal network to complicity in the assault.

Prosecutors asserted that the 14 defendants who received their verdicts Dec. 16 aided the primary assailants with money, vehicles and other logistical support. Eleven of the accused have been behind bars awaiting trial, while the rest were tried in absentia.

South Carolina court: No money for private schools

South Carolina’s Supreme Court on Dec. 9 affirmed its rejection of Gov. Henry McMaster’s plan to spend federal coronavirus money on private school tuition grants.

The court’s unanimous decision strikes another blow to the governor’s months-long effort to direct $32 million in federal CARES Act aid toward a program that would pay for poor and working-class children to attend K-12 private schools in South Carolina this year.

The ruling also provides no help to 22 private colleges in South Carolina, including historically black colleges and universities, who were seeking an exception to the ruling so they could collect some $12 million in coronavirus relief.

The ruling was a follow-up to the state Supreme Court’s Oct. 7 also unanimous decision in the same case, where the justices ruled for the first time that the state’s Constitution prohibited the spending of public money for private schools.

“The Supreme Court’s opinion, affirmed today, is an unequivocal affirmation of our state Constitution’s prohibition of the use of public K-12 education dollars, allocated in any form, to private schools,” said Scott Price, executive director of the S.C. School Board Association.

Sculptor Zenos Frudakis featured on public TV show

Renowned sculptor and FFRF Member Zenos Frudakis is one of the artists featured in Season 6 of the Emmy Award-winning public television magazine series “Articulate with Jim Cotter.” The episode featuring Frudakis, titled “The Monument Man,” aired beginning Jan. 15. The series informs  audiences with stories of how creative thinking shapes our world. “The Monument Man” episode explores the artistic drive behind the creative work of Frudakis, who, as “Articulate” describes him, “has spent the last 50 years sculpting life out of bronze, aiming to capture the likeness and spirit of his subjects and to shine a light on those who have helped foster change in the world.”

Frudakis is the sculptor who, underwritten by FFRF, created the Clarence Darrow statue outside the courthouse in Dayton, Tenn., site of the 1925

Rep. Raskin’s remarks — ‘Thought crimes that have no actual victims’

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin

The Freedom From Religion Foundation cheered the U.S. Senate’s and House’s approval in December of a resolution seeking the global repeal of blasphemy and related laws. Both resolutions specifically note that “secularists” are frequent victims of such laws.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, spoke on the floor of the House in support of the anti-blasphemy resolution on Dec. 7, 2020. The following is a slightly edited version of that speech.

By U.S. Rep Jamie Raskin

Mr. Speaker, in this age of partisan division, one of the foundational American values still has the power to bring us together across the aisle — the defense of every human being’s freedom of religious conscience and freedom of thought against government persecution.

With House Resolution 512, we act today to stand up for religious and intellectual freedom in a world gone mad with religious discrimination, religious oppression and religious violence. H.R. 512 calls for global repeal of laws punishing blasphemy, heresy and apostasy — three religiously defined thought crimes that have no actual victims and thus no place in the criminal law of free nations.

And, yet, governments in 84 countries — from Saudi Arabia and Iran and Somalia to China and Russia and Bangladesh — still use laws like these to intimidate, arrest, prosecute and incarcerate members of minority religions, disfavored faiths and freethinkers. Putting them in jail or even condemning them to death for religiously subversive speech was not unknown in the American colonies. In Massachusetts, Puritan governors hanged Quakers for their heretical lectures in town squares. But our enlightenment Constitution, especially our First Amendment’s Free Exercise and antireligious Establishment clauses, put us squarely on the path of rejecting blasphemy laws and these other relics of the Inquisition, holy crusades and New England witchcraft trials.

Our law has gotten rid of obsolete offenses like blasphemy and apostasy because they have a purely religious character and do not refer to empirical social harms. Blasphemy is making impious or sacrilegious statements about established churches or doctrines. Heresy is taking religious or intellectual positions at odds with an established religious orthodoxy. Apostasy is breaking away from a religious orthodoxy or church. As offensive as we might consider other people’s religious views and utterances, in America today, people’s thoughts and words about religion are absolutely protected by the First Amendment. But in many parts of the world where religion is still actively weaponized by theocratic and authoritarian governments, these imaginary offenses can still get you thrown into jail, harassed and executed, or simply stopped and torn from limb to limb by state-sanctioned lynch mobs.

Religious people of the wrong faith are the most common victims of blasphemy and heresy laws.

You might be a practicing Christian or Hindu in an officially Muslim state like Libya or Afghanistan or a devout Muslim in a Hindu society like India. You might be a nonreligious person targeted by your enemies or state authorities.

You might be a 22-year-old Nigerian gospel musician like Yahoo Sharif Aminu, who is convicted of blasphemy in his state Sharia Court in Kano State on Aug 10, and has been sentenced to death by hanging for something that he said on a WhatsApp group on the Internet.

You might be a Sudanese Christian like Meriam Ibrahim, who was jailed for apostasy because, although she’d been a devout Christian for her entire life, government officials demanded that she follow her absent father’s Muslim faith. She was held in jail with her 20-month-old son and forced to give birth to her daughter in prison while her legs were shackled to the floor.

You might be a 13-year-old Muslim boy in Nigeria, like Omar Farouk, who was sentenced to 10 years at hard labor for blasphemy when he said something about Allah in an argument with friends — a brutal miscarriage of justice condemned by UNICEF and child advocates all over the world.

You might even belong to the wrong sect of the official state religion. In the Islamic State of Pakistan, for example, people belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith are being persecuted as heretics and apostates as if this were the Middle Ages. At least five Ahmadi Muslims have been killed in Pakistan this year [2020] alone because of their faith.

Mr. Speaker, the global assault on religious and intellectual freedom today is taking place in many of the world’s largest countries. China confines millions of Muslims in miserable re-education camps and forces them into slave labor. Russia has decreed that Jehovah’s Witnesses are an extremist group and confiscated their property, jailed their members and even allegedly tortured some of them. India recently passed draconian laws burdening the rights of disfavored Muslim minorities.

With this resolution, Mr. Speaker, against the new wave of global religious oppression and persecution, America can once again take the lead in defending the basic human rights of religious and intellectual freedom all over the world.

Let us share this principle with the nations of the world with this resolution.

Raskin family creates fund

Following the death of U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin’s 25-year-old son Tommy in late December, the Raskin family announced the launch of the Tommy Raskin Memorial Fund for People and Animals. The fund will distribute money to causes and charities championed by Tommy Raskin, including Oxfam, Give Directly, the Helen Keller Institute and Animal Outlook. The fund was launched with an initial contribution of $50,000 and FFRF has made a donation.

Condolences or donations can be sent to [email protected] or by mail to his district office at 51 Monroe Street, Suite 503, Rockville, MD 20850.

In the News (December 2020)

Church defiance to restrictions is growing

The number of people who want their church congregation to defy potential state orders to close due to the coronavirus has grown since March, according to surveys done by Paul A. Djupe of Denison University and Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University.

In March, 56 percent of those surveyed did not want their congregation to defy such an order, but that shrunk to 39 percent by October. Support for the government asking congregations to stop meeting in person slipped from 66 percent in March to 56 percent in October.

The data was clear across political party lines as the defiance is growing in all categories of political leanings. Even strong Democrats are urging a more defiant stance, though the growth among Republicans is much greater.

Poland delays abortion ban as protests continue

Poland’s right-wing government has delayed implementation of a controversial court ruling that would outlaw almost all abortion after it prompted massive protests in more than 500 cities around the country.

The decision by the country’s constitutional tribunal promised to further tighten Poland’s abortion laws, which were already some of the strictest in Europe. Abortion is allowed in Poland only if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, if the woman’s life is in danger, or if the fetus is affected by severe congenital defects. The Oct. 22 court decision eliminated the last of these three conditions from the list.

The overwhelming majority of legal abortions — 1,074 of 1,100 performed last year — resulted from fetal abnormalities.

Trump sparks a rise of Patriot churches

Patriot churches are part of “an evolving network of nondenominational start-up congregations that say they want to take the country back for God,” according to an article in the Washington Post on Oct. 26.

Patriot churches belong to what religion experts describe as a loosely organized Christian Nationalist movement that has flourished under President Trump.

Sociologist Samuel Perry, co-author of the new book Taking America Back for God, says “no other factor better predicts a vote for Trump than adherence to a Christian Nationalist ideology,” the Post reports.

In just four years, Trump has helped reshape the landscape of American Christianity by elevating Christians once considered fringe, which has, as the Post reports, “made for some strange bedfellows, but the common thread among them is a sense of being under siege and a belief that America has been and should remain a Christian nation.”

Beheaded French teacher to be awarded honor

France will posthumously honor Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded on Oct. 16, with the Legion d’Honneur, the nation’s highest honor.

Paty, 47, was killed and beheaded in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine as he walked home from school.

His brutal murder took place after he was targeted by an attacker who prosecutors say sought to punish him for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, considered blasphemous by the teachings of Islam, to pupils during a civics class teaching freedom of expression.

Americans supportive of LGBTQ rights

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, the vast majority of Americans (70 percent) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. Majorities of Democrats (80 percent) and independents (76 percent), as well as half of Republicans (50 percent), support same-sex marriage.

White evangelical Protestants stand out as the only major religious group in which a majority opposes allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry (only 34 percent favor). Majorities in every other major religious group support marriage equality, including 90 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

Americans overwhelmingly favor (83 percent) laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing.

John Paul II blamed for McCarrick elevation

Pope John Paul II disregarded warnings in elevating Theodore E. McCarrick to the position of cardinal, a Vatican inquiry found.

The Vatican report found that John Paul II had rejected explicit warnings about sexual abuse by McCarrick, now a disgraced former cardinal, “choosing to believe the American prelate’s denials and misleading accounts by bishops as he elevated him to the highest ranks of the church hierarchy,” the New York Times reports.

As Washington’s archbishop, McCarrick was one of the most powerful leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. But he became the highest-ranking American official to be removed for sexual abuse when the pope kicked him out of the priesthood in 2019.

Survey: Prejudice higher for religion in the UK

Religious prejudice is the “final frontier” for diversity, a place where individuals are willing to express negative attitudes, according to “How We Get Along,” a diversity study in England and Wales in 2020.

The report says, “We are a society largely comfortable with the idea of a close relative marrying someone from a different ethnic or national background. We are, however, less comfortable with a close relative marrying someone from a different religious background.

“This particularly applies to marrying a Muslim, the group most often targeted by negative attitudes from other faith groups, but also the group most likely to have negative attitudes towards other faith groups.”

Around three-quarters of those surveyed are comfortable with a close relative marrying an Asian or Black person (70 percent and 74 percent), but less than half (44 percent) are comfortable with the idea of a close relative marrying a Muslim.

W.Va. can’t use consumer law to sue church

The West Virginia Supreme Court said the state’s attorney general cannot use a consumer protection law to sue a Roman Catholic diocese over sexual abuse allegations.

The court, on Nov. 23, issued its opinion in response to a lawsuit the state filed last year accusing the Wheeling-Charleston diocese of failing to publicly disclose the employment of sexual abusers in its schools and camps.

The absence of such disclosure amounted to a violation of a consumer protection law, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey argued.

The narrow legal question concerned whether using the 2015 Consumer Credit and Protection Act to sue the diocese violates the separation of church and state. A lower court judge had stayed his order to dismiss Morrisey’s lawsuit pending the Supreme Court’s review.

In its majority opinion, the high court said the law does not apply to services provided by a religious institution.

Among the lawsuit’s allegations was that the diocese failed to conduct more than 20 background checks at a Catholic elementary school in Charleston in 2007 and 2008.

It also accused the diocese of covering up a 2006 report on sexual abuse allegations involving a teacher in Kanawha County.

Buffalo diocese sued over sex abuse  cover-up

The state of New York on Nov. 23 sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and two former church leaders, alleging they “covered up allegations of sexual misconduct and misused charitable assets by supporting predatory priests who were allowed to retire or go on leave,” according to the Associated Press.

New York’s Attorney General Letitia James filed the suit against the diocese, former Bishop Richard Malone and former Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz.

It comes after a two-year investigation that found church leaders sheltered accused priests by letting them step away from ministry rather than follow mandated procedures that would subject them to possible removal from the priesthood.

Appeals court: Texas can kick PP out of Medicaid

A federal appeals court is allowing Texas to kick Planned Parenthood out of its Medicaid program.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 23 sided with state officials who removed Planned Parenthood from the program for low-income people, according to a report in the Texas Tribune. The state cited a highly edited video created by anti-abortion advocates in 2015 that purported to show PP officials selling fetal tissue.

A lower court had blocked the state from removing Planned Parenthood in 2017. But the 5th Circuit judges ruled that legal precedent disqualifies Medicaid beneficiaries from taking issue with how states determine which providers are qualified to be in the program.

In the News (November 2020)

Supreme Court won’t hear Kim Davis case

The Supreme Court on Oct. 5 said it won’t hear a case from Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, the Washington Post reported.

The court rebuffed the case from Davis, the former county clerk who was sued after she said her religious convictions kept her from recognizing same-sex marriages. She was briefy jailed over the issue.

While Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they agreed with the court’s decision not to accept Davis’ appeal, they renewed their objections over the case.

“Davis may have been one of the first victims of this court’s cavalier treatment of religion in its Obergefell decision, but she will not be the last,” Thomas wrote. “Due to Obergefell, those with sincerely held religious beliefs concerning marriage will find it increasingly difficult to participate in society without running afoul of Obergefell and its effect on other anti-discrimination laws.”

Some baptisms may be invalid, archdiocese says

The Archdiocese of Detroit is trying to contact those who may have received invalid sacraments after a priest in the archdiocese learned his own baptism as an infant 30 years ago was invalid, according to a report on DetroitCatholic.com.

On Aug. 6, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note clarifying that baptisms using an improper formula — using the phrase “We baptize you . . .” instead of the Church’s “I baptize you . . .”  — are not valid.

Matthew Hood, an associate pastor, contacted the Archdiocese of Detroit after finding out that his baptism used the wrong wording.

“It was devastating for me to find that out,” Hood told Detroit Catholic. “There was definitely shock and sadness at finding out 30 years later that I was never baptized. It was an alienating sense that even though I was following the Lord, I wasn’t a Christian, and I wasn’t a priest, and I wasn’t a deacon.”

Court shows interest in abortion medication case

The Supreme Court issued a decision on Oct. 8 saying that it was holding onto a case involving access to abortion medication. While not yet deciding the matter, the court said in FDA v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that it would benefit from a “more comprehensive record.” It directed a lower court to consider a request from the government to lift a court order that provides for non-contact access to abortion medication.

Because of the pandemic, a Maryland district court issued an injunction against the enforcement of an FDA rule that requires women to pick up in person a pill that induces abortion. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors and patients sued over the rule, given concerns about unnecessary face-to-face contact. The FDA asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the rule.

This decision by the Supreme Court is significant because it shows substantial interest by the justices on this issue. The decision is also informative because of a dissent filed by Justice Samuel Alito, who would have taken the case outright and ruled in favor of the FDA. He wrote that the pandemic has caused “unprecedented restrictions on personal liberty,” and said that “free exercise of religion also has suffered previously unimaginable restraints.” Alito added, “While COVID–19 has provided the ground for restrictions on First Amendment rights, the District Court saw the pandemic as a ground for expanding the abortion right recognized in Roe v. Wade.”

Pakistani court acquits man for blasphemy

A Pakistani appeals court has acquitted a Christian man who spent about seven years in jail on the accusation of blasphemy.

Sawan Masih, 40, was arrested in 2013 on blasphemy charge following an argument with a Muslim.

A two-member bench of the Lahore High Court on Oct. 6 acquitted Masih of all charges, with a full verdict detailing the reasons for the acquittal to be issued at a later date.

Masih was convicted and sentenced to death under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws by a lower court in 2014. The court had convicted him of insulting Prophet Muhammad, a charge that carries a mandatory death penalty under Pakistani law.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews hit hard by coronavirus

Defiance to public health measures and lack of education are the driving forces behind the high levels of COVID–19 infections among ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel (and New York City), according to an article in Foreign Policy.

Israelis, in general, have followed the lockdown protocols, the ultra-Orthodox Jews known as Haredim have accounted for as much as 40 percent of new daily confirmed cases in Israel.

And in New York City, another region with a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jews, communities have also been hit hard by the coronavirus. In one area, the average rate of positive test results was 28 percent, compared with 1 percent statewide.

Foreign Policy writes: “In Israel — and increasingly in the United States — the ultra-Orthodox community is impoverished and uneducated in the skills that prepare them for life in the modern world. Over the last decades, the Haredi ideal has been to be a ‘society of learners,’ where men pursue a life of religious study to the exclusion of everything else well into adulthood.”

Christian Nationalists flout safety guidelines

A group of academics say Christian Nationalism is either the single best predictor or a top predictor of whether a person will flout social distancing recommendations, among other science-negative beliefs and actions, according to a report from Religion News.

Samuel Perry, associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma, Andrew Whitehead of Indiana University and Joshua Grubbs of Bowling Green State University “argue in a series of new papers that Christian Nationalism is a top predictor of whether a person will flout social distancing recommendations, be skeptical of science, find nothing racist about calling COVID–19 the ‘China virus’ or argue that lockdown orders threaten the economy and liberty — all while deprioritizing the threat to the vulnerable,” according to Religion News.

“Christian Nationalism is knocking out all of the competition in terms of factors that influence these things,” said Perry, who co-authored with Whitehead the book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.

Pope sides with science on climate change

Pope Francis, during a prerecorded TED talk that streamed Oct. 10, urged lawmakers to follow science and to deal with climate change as a “moral imperative,” according to a report by Religion News Service.

“Science tells us each day with greater precision that urgent action is needed — I am not exaggerating; this is what the science tells us! — if we want to have the hope of avoiding radical and catastrophic climate change,” the pope said in the message.

In the News (October 2020)

Congressional Freethought Caucus

Rep. Rashid Tlaib joins Freethought Caucus

Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a first-term representative and Muslim, has joined the Congressional Freethought Caucus.

The Freethought Caucus was formed in 2018 by Rep. Jared Huffman, who is the only openly non-religious member of Congress, and Rep. Jamie Raskin. It now has 13 members:

Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill.

Rep. Steve Cohen., D-Tenn.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa.

The Freethought Caucus “promotes public policy formed on the basis of reason, science, and moral values; protects the secular character of our government by adhering to the strict Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state; opposes discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, seekers, religious and nonreligious persons, and to champion the value of freedom of thought and conscience worldwide; and provides a forum for members of Congress to discuss their moral frameworks, ethical values, and personal religious journeys.”

Nigerian atheist, arrested for blasphemy, is missing

Mubarak Bala, head of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was seized by the police and has disappeared in custody.

On April 25, he logged on to Facebook and typed a post calling the Prophet Muhammad a terrorist.

Three days later, he was arrested by the state police after being accused of violating anti-blasphemy laws, which can carry a death sentence. He has not been seen since.

“We are concerned that he may be prosecuted under anti-blasphemy laws that provide for capital punishment in Nigeria,” wrote a group of U.N. experts who have called for his release.

Other nonbelievers are worried that other Nigerian atheists will be prosecuted and that more arrests may be coming.

FFRF is urging the Nigerian authorities to release Bala and has contacted the Trump administration to do the utmost to ensure Bala’s well-being.

Nigerian teen gets 10 years for blasphemy

Omar Farouq, a 13-year-old boy, was convicted of blasphemy in a Sharia court in Nigeria and sentenced to 10 years in prison in September.

Farouq was accused of using “foul language” toward Allah in an argument with a friend. He was sentenced on Aug. 10 by the same court that recently sentenced Yahaya Sharif-Aminu to death for blaspheming Prophet Mohammed, according to lawyers.

Farouq’s punishment is in violation of the African Charter of the Rights and Welfare of a Child and the Nigerian constitution, said his counsel Kola Alapinni, who told CNN they filed an appeal on his behalf on Sept. 7.

NYC banquet halls host large Jewish weddings

Three banquet halls in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood hosted Hasidic Jewish wedding parties less than a week after Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that a similar gathering there led to an increase in coronavirus cases, the Washington Post reported. Celebrations were witnessed involving as many as 200 people at three different sites along a 10-block stretch.

At Torah Vyriah and Ateres Chaya, the windows were covered with paper to prevent anyone from looking in, but witnesses saw dozens of people getting out of cars and entering through side or rear doors.

Study: Nonbelievers more likely to sleep better

A new study shows that Americans who don’t believe in God are more likely to get the recommended amount of sleep each night than those who do believe in God.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends seven to nine  hours of sleep a night.

In the journal Sleep, it says, “The psychology of religion literature indicates that religious engagement is beneficial to physical and mental health,” the study’s authors wrote. They anticipated that this might be reflected in better sleep.

The co-authors surveyed 1,501 participants in the Baylor Religion Survey on how many hours they slept each night and how easy they found it to go to sleep. Contrary to expectations, they found 73 percent of atheists and agnostics usually got the recommended sleep quotient. By contrast, only 65 percent of people who considered themselves religious got the same. The figure was just 55 percent for Baptists.

Medically assisted death can proceed, court rules

On Sept. 9, a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal judge denied a request to shelve a lower court decision that effectively allows a man to go ahead with a medically assisted death, in spite of his longtime wife’s efforts to stop him.

The 83-year-old man from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, was approved for medical assistance in dying (MAID) earlier this year, but his wife of 48 years filed for an injunction with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, forcing him to cancel his plans.

The wife threatened to sue health-care providers who help her husband access a medically assisted death. She has also expressed a religious opposition to MAID.

The husband says he’s suffering and near the end of his life because of advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but his wife says his wish to die is not based on physical illness, but rather anxiety and mental delusions.

Sudan government agrees to state-church separation

Sudan’s transitional government agreed to separate religion from the state, ending 30 years of Islamic rule, according to a report on Bloomberg.com.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, signed a declaration on Sept. 3 adopting the principle.

“For Sudan to become a democratic country where the rights of all citizens are enshrined, the constitution should be based on the principle of ‘separation of religion and state,’ in the absence of which the right to self-determination must be respected,” the document states.

Charlie Hebdo terror trial under way in Paris

Fourteen people have gone on trial in Paris over their alleged involvement in the deadly terrorist attack, which began in the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and ended at a supermarket two days later.

The suspects are accused of having provided logistical support to the perpetrators — brothers Said and Chérif Kouachi, and their accomplice Amedy Coulibaly — and face charges of participating in a terrorist criminal association.

Charlie Hebdo was targeted over the magazine’s publication, in 2006, of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Depictions of Islam’s prophet are considered blasphemous by many Muslims. At the beginning of the trial in September, the magazine republished the same cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.

Eleven of the suspects will appear in court — 10 of them from behind bulletproof glass. Three others, who traveled to Syria in the days before the attacks began, will be tried in absentia.

A total of 17 people were killed in the attacks, which took place in the French capital over three days in January 2015. Twelve of those who died were shot in the Charlie Hebdo building.

N.C. county won’t say pledge at meetings

The Orange County (N.C) Board of Commissioners voted on Sept. 1 against a resolution to open its meetings by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The board voted 5-2 against a resolution proposed by Commissioner Earl McKee, according to Chapelboro.com. McKee brought forth the resolution as the result of a petition that pushed for the pledge to be recited, which circulated around Orange County earlier this year.

Several of the commissioners said the manner it was brought forth to the board, by a county resident who described himself as a “nationalist,” felt like a move to shame the county officials for not regularly reciting it.

Chair of the Board Penny Rich said she has not said the Pledge of Allegiance for years, citing the addition of “under God” in the 1950s as a lack of separation between church and state.

Religion helps push pandemic

Religion has a lot to answer for when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

There are many political and sociological reasons why the United States is leading the world in coronavirus deaths and new cases, but the finger must also be pointed at religion and the role it is playing in making the pandemic even more deadly. Deference to religion by federal, state and local public officials is literally killing Americans. As professor Juan Cole has put it, “In the U.S. and abroad, leaders are putting faith before good science.”

That bad faith in religion is exemplified in two ways. One is the favoritism religion expects and often gets, such as the exemption of church gatherings from safety mandates. The other, more insidious, is religion’s role in spreading another dangerous “virus”: science denial. As the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s bumper sticker puts it, religion is the original “alternative fact.” Religion sets the stage for denial of science by rewarding belief without evidence or even against the facts.

As countless studies and news articles have shown, church services are a hotbed for coronavirus infection, due to difficulty in social distancing, by the singing and chanting and extended indoor contact. Yet President Trump has used his authority to often deprecate scientific advice — and to pander to his religious base. In late May, he called churches “essential” operations — telling every governor to open up “essential places of faith . . . right now for this weekend” or he would override them. When he added, “In America, we need more prayer, not less,” he further signaled his devaluation of the role of science.

The Justice Department has thrown its support behind churches that have sought exemption from stay-at-home orders. Religion-based pressure was put on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, partly accounting for its less-than-stellar advice, delaying a guidebook on safety measures and tampering with CDC’s guidelines for churches.

Trump has muzzled the voice of reason that is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who, by the way, is not a “man of faith” but a humanist. Notes Fauci: “One of the problems we face in the United States is that unfortunately, there is a combination of an anti-science bias that people are — for reasons that sometimes are, you know, inconceivable and not understandable — they just don’t believe science and they don’t believe authority. . . . Science is truth.”

A number of evangelical governors likewise refused to issue stay-at-home orders until it was too late, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Even after seeing the light, both have given dispensations to religious gatherings from safety mandates. DeSantis, in a state with growing cases, still refuses to order mask-wearing in public. Church-going Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp even tried to sue Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over her responsible actions, such as a city requirement to wear masks.

Many governmental officials either blinded by faith or seeking to propitiate the Religious Right, have perpetuated attacks on the scientific method and scientific knowledge. Polls are showing that, thanks to irrational anti-science views, only half to two-thirds of Americans say they would even get the vaccine once it is developed. This anti-science attitude has encouraged QAnon, the fringe conspiracy theorists who are spreading dangerous misinformation.

The base that many public officials are pandering to includes umpteen churches and worshippers who’ve filed lawsuits clogging the courts demanding to be considered above the law and to be exempted from stay-at-home and, now, masking orders. Behind many of these lawsuits are Christian Nationalist outfits, working to destroy the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

Church officials who ignore stay-at-home orders (and the biblical admonitions to “Love thy neighbor” and “do unto others”) and public officials who politicize or flout medical science are enabling the coronavirus curve to keep rising. The religion-inspired anti-science backlash is increasing infections and deaths, sowing ignorance about the potential of a future vaccine and jeopardizing the economic and educational recovery of our nation.

Pompeo’s report is Christian Nationalism

Benson cartoon

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights produced a report on July 16 asserting that religious beliefs are more important than other peoples’ rights. The Freedom From Religion Foundation condemns this report and its flagrant attempt to elevate the rights of believers above the rights of others.

The report is Christian Nationalism in print and stamped with government authority, granting the State Department permission to conduct a Christian Nationalist foreign policy. That means not supporting the rights of the LGBTQ community, giving Christian Nationalists a blank check to proselytize, restricting access to HIV/AIDS medications and abortion, and permitting the direct funding of houses of worship abroad.

For instance, the report argues, “Protestant Christianity, widely practiced by the citizenry at the time, was infused with the beautiful biblical teachings that every human being is imbued with dignity and bears responsibilities toward fellow human beings, because each is made in the image of God.” Of course, the idea that all humans have worth and value cannot be claimed by one religion and is repudiated with disturbing regularity in the bible this commission seems to have failed to read. The bible condones and justifies slavery, subjugates women, and mandates death for LGBTQ people and anyone who exercises their right to religious freedom. Religion, Christianity and the bible are not bastions of human dignity. Rather, they favor adherents above all others — belief in the “correct” god is all that matters.

The report also claims that a belief in God is a prerequisite for religious freedom, mistakenly attributing this belief to the Framers: “The Madisonian view of religious liberty — like the view to which Jefferson gave expression in his Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom — proceeds from a theistic premise about the sources of human dignity even as it denies the state the power to dictate final answers about ultimate matters.”

Pompeo once described politics as “a never-ending struggle . . . until the rapture.” This report is both political and highly religious. The report’s dangerous conclusion is based on the flawed premise that all human rights “came from our Lord,” as Pompeo told a group of conservative women last fall. This common Christian Nationalist talking point is based on a misreading of the Declaration of Independence, which states that “all men” are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Pompeo’s name for this commission tipped his hand from the outset, showing his intent to misuse this phrase to justify trampling others’ rights in the name of his religion.

In fact, the above phrase from the Declaration of Independence was nothing more than a rhetorical flourish. And it wasn’t even penned by Thomas Jefferson, the declaration’s primary author. The famous Deist wrote in his draft, later altered by others, that “all men are created equal & independent.”

More important, the Declaration of Independence is the wrong place to look for the source of our rights. America’s Founders made their views on fundamental rights perfectly clear in the document that provides those rights: the U.S. Constitution. In the world’s first godless national charter, the U.S. Framers invented the formal separation of religion and government. The Constitution’s only references to religion in government are exclusionary, including bars on religious tests for public office (in Article VI) and on any law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . .” (in the First Amendment).

The first liberty guaranteed by the Bill of Rights — the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment — is the right to a secular government. This guarantee is an American original and directly undercuts the Chrstian Nationalist assertion that our rights rely on a deity. The idea of God-given rights is un-American and is dangerous, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation has championed repeatedly.

“God-given rights are fragile,” says FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel, one of the attorneys who has written about this fallacy. “God-given rights can be taken away by humans claiming to speak for that god, while human rights — rights that we possess by virtue of our shared humanity — are much stronger.”

Rights are not given by supernatural beings; they are asserted. Not only is our freedom not a gift from God, it is guaranteed by a godless document, the U.S. Constitution. The report from Pompeo’s commission is antithetical to this American principle, and is thus un-American in its quest to give government sanction to favored religious beliefs. Our country was founded in large part to reject exactly this notion, and this report must be given the same treatment.

Reps. Huffman, Raskin denounce commission’s report

U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman and Jamie Raskin, founders of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, issued the following statement on July 17 after the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights unveiled its review of American human rights policy:

“We founded the Congressional Freethought Caucus to promote public policy based on reason, science and moral values, to protect the secular character of our government and to champion the value of freedom of thought and conscience worldwide. The State Department’s meandering new report only confuses these founding American principles and continues this administration’s retreat from clear and coherent world leadership for human rights.

“As we feared, this report does not enshrine essential human rights, but rather confuses the whole field by downgrading political and civil rights and promoting a muddled and airily abstract interpretation of religious freedom. While invoking ‘Protestant Christianity’ first as a founding ethos for America, Secretary Mike Pompeo’s report cautions against ‘new claims of human rights,’ and warns that ‘the tendency to fight political battles with the vocabulary of human rights risks stifling the kind of robust discussion on which a vibrant democracy depends.’ We fear that such slippery, equivocating language is intended to devalue LGBTQ+ rights and women’s reproductive rights and relegate them to mere ‘claims.’ While often pretending to some kind of abstract universal ambition for the rights of people, the authors cannot resist throwing rhetorical bones to the Religious Right and its war on personal freedom in America.

“Moreover, this report may lend credence to a foreign policy that disregards our international human rights framework in favor of a narrower interpretation of fundamental property and majority religious rights, one that allows for increased discrimination against political dissidents, women, and minority groups. The Congressional Freethought Caucus will continue to closely watch the impact of Secretary Pompeo’s curious commission and to hold this administration responsible for repeatedly walking away from mainstream American values.

“In short, at a moment when authoritarianism, racism and anti-scientific magical thinking are on the march, there is not much in here to make the dictators, despots, kleptocrats, racists, anti-Semites and strongmen of the world quiver in any way. On the other hand, the authors do finally get around to criticizing human rights violations in Putin’s autocratic Russia, a detail buried deep in the report — perhaps with the hope that Donald Trump might not notice it. We are happy to bring it to his attention and to suggest that a first order of business should be to aggressively defend the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and the Uighurs in China, two minority groups ruthlessly persecuted by these authoritarian governments that Donald Trump has worked hard to befriend.”

US. Rep. Jamie Raskin
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman

In the News (September 2020)

S.C. to allocate $32M to pay for private tuition

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced July 19 he is allocating $32 million for grants to pay for private school tuition.

The grants, called Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE), will come out of the $48 million McMaster’s office received in discretionary funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

McMaster said the money will go to private schools to distribute, and it is intended for current private school students or those who wish to transfer to a private school.

The announcement received immediate backlash from state teacher organizations, two state senators and FFRF.

Opponents of the plan filed a lawsuit, which was heard by an Orangeburg circuit judge, who temporarily enjoined the funding.

The plaintiffs then filed a petition to take the case directly to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

It’s something attorneys on both sides support, saying that reaching a resolution to the case is critical as the start of school approaches.

Survey: Do you need to believe in God to be good?

A new Pew Research Center survey showed that people’s thoughts on whether belief in God is necessary to be moral vary by economic development, education and age.

Across the 34 countries in which residents were surveyed, 45 percent said it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. But there are large regional variations in the answers.

Less than half of those surveyed in both Canada and the United States say belief in God is necessary to be moral (26 percent and 44 percent, respectively).

There is an inverse relationship between GDP per capita and the percentage of the public that draws this connection between belief in God and morality.

In most European and North American countries surveyed, individuals with more education are less likely to say that belief in God is necessary to be moral.

Transgender man sues Catholic hospital

Jesse Hammons, a 33-year-old transgender man, had his hysterectomy canceled by the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center because it conflicted with the medical center’s Catholic beliefs, according to a story in the Washington Post.

So, on July 17, Hammons filed a lawsuit against the medical center, claiming the hospital’s denial violated the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause and discrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act.

The Post reported that a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Hammons, stated that “The case follows a pattern of Catholic hospitals across the country denying care to transgender patients as Catholic medical systems have continued to expand nationwide and as the Trump administration has removed nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in health care.”

Photo forces Falwell to take leave at Liberty

Jerry Falwell has taken a leave of absence as president of Liberty University, an evangelical Christian college, after posting a photo of himself and a woman, both with their pants unzipped.

The university said in a statement on Aug. 7: “The Executive Committee of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the full Board, met and requested that Jerry Falwell Jr. take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as president and chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately.”

The college has a strict code of conduct for student behavior at the university, including barring premarital sex and the consumption of media either on or off campus “that is offensive to Liberty’s standards and traditions.”

Christian Nationalists less likely to wear masks

A new study shows that those who embrace Christian Nationalist ideology are more likely to flout measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a mask or social distancing.

    According to the study, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, “Christian Nationalism is the leading predictor that one engaged in more frequent incautious behavior related to COVID-19” and the “second strongest predictor that Americans took fewer precautions like wearing a mask or sanitizing/washing one’s hands.”

     The authors of the study, Samuel Perry, Andrew L. Whitehead and Joshua B. Grubbs, concluded that “Christian Nationalism ideology is positively associated with Americans’ frequency of engaging in incautious behaviors.”

Chicken-killing ritual faces legal challenge

In New York, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish chicken-killing ritual is a major health risk during the coronavirus pandemic, animal advocates write in new legal papers.

The Alliance To End Chickens as Kaporos has waged a five-year battle against the Kaporos ritual, which takes place on public streets in Brooklyn and elsewhere prior to Yom Kippur. Up to 100,000 live chickens are brought in packed crates and sacrificed to “cleanse the practitioner of sins.” In new papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on July 6, the group seeks to revive a lawsuit against the city Health Department in light of the pandemic.

“A pandemic-causing virus, such as COVID-19, can be caused by a live animal wet market, which involves uncontrolled and poorly understood interactions between humans and intensely confined filthy, sick and diseased animals, which is what Kaporos is and does,” attorney Nora Constance Marino writes in the suit.

FFRF has written the city of New York several times over this animal cruelty issue in the name of religion.

Murder prompts criticism of blasphemy laws

On July 29, Tahir Naseem, 57, of Illinois, was on trial for blasphemy in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. A man walked into the busy courtroom and shot Naseem multiple times at close range, killing him.

Video showed the murderer saying that the Prophet Muhammad told him to kill Naseem in a dream.

“He is the enemy of Islam . . . the enemy of Pakistan,” the gunman said.

The murder of an American standing trial for blasphemy in Pakistan has sparked renewed pressure on Islamabad to reform laws that human rights groups say target minorities.

The State Department said Naseem was a U.S. citizen and called in a tweet for “immediate action” in response to his killing.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been the target of fierce criticism from international human rights groups. 

Satanic Temple suit moves forward against city

A lawsuit filed by the Satanic Temple over its efforts to erect a monument in a Minnesota park is moving forward, despite a federal court’s dismissal of most of the counts outlined in the complaint.

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright dismissed nine of the 10 counts in the suit against the city of Belle Plaine, several of which alleged violations of free speech and the free exercise of religion.

The suit alleged the city broke what amounted to a promise by rescinding the permit to let the temple place a monument in Veterans Memorial Park. The temple had already paid to have the monument built, at a cost of $40,000, its lawyer said.

The group has been fighting with the city for more than three years after city leaders accepted a steel silhouette of a soldier kneeling at a cross in the park.

Arizona ‘Nones’ advance to November election

Three Arizona “Nones” advanced to their respective November general elections. 

Arizona state Rep. Athena Salman won her primary on Aug. 4. She had the most votes in the three-way race, where the top two advance to the November ballot. Salman is a two-term representative and serves as Minority Whip.

Arizona state Sen. Juan Mendez easily won his primary against a more moderate Democrat. Mendez, one of only a few openly atheist state senators, is in his second term as state senator following two terms as a state representative.

Delina DiSanto won the Democratic primary in Arizona’s Fourth Congressional District. DiSanto, who is a registered nurse running in her first race, is a self-described “recovering Catholic,” according to the Freethought Equality Fund PAC.

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.