In the News (August 2021)

Prophecy

Trump prophecy still believed by many

“Religious prophecy has been wrong over and over again, but failure does not necessarily have the effect among true believers that you might expect,” write researchers Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Jason M. Adkins.

Many people have prophesied, or believed those who make the claims, that Donald Trump would be president again.

“Thirty-seven percent agreed or strongly agreed that prophecy is real, while fewer — only 19 percent —agreed that God told prophets his plan that Trump would win (the election in 2020). Larger numbers (40 percent) believe in faith-healing powers, while a slim majority of Americans indicate that God is in control over the course of events on Earth.” 

The researchers write that believing prophecy is strongly correlated with a belief that Trump was anointed by God to become president. 

“And once these hopes acquire divine sanction, it becomes harder to accept any other result,” the researchers write. “In fact, those contrarian results then take on a gloss of evil since they run counter to ‘God’s plan.’

“It is also no surprise at all that belief in prophecy is highly correlated with a Christian nationalism scale, nor is it surprising that prophecy believers are more likely to believe that Christians will be persecuted by a Democratic administration.”

Remains of nearly 1,000 kids found at schools

The remains of 751 people, mainly Indigenous children, were discovered at the site of a former school in the Saskatchewan, a Canadian Indigenous group said on June 24, “jolting a nation grappling with generations of widespread and systematic abuse of Indigenous people,” according to The New York Times.

The discovery came just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of another former boarding school in British Columbia.

Both Roman Catholic schools were part of a system that took Indigenous children in the country from their families over a period of about 113 years, sometimes by force, and housed them in boarding schools, where they were prohibited from speaking their languages.

GOP, Dems switch sides on religion vs. science

Researchers have found that, in the 1970s, Republicans were more likely to place their confidence in science than religion, while the opposite was true of Democrats. By 2018, these attitudes had completely reversed. 

A report from Timothy O’Brien, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Shiri Noy, an assistant professor at Denison University, showed how these attitudes have changed over time. 

White evangelicals played an important role in this as they migrated to the Republican Party. 

As science became more politicized, O’Brien and Noy said, it was no longer seen as neutral, but as progressive. Both science and religion were recast as alternative, even opposing, sources of knowledge, values and authority.

Pope Francis issues reform of Vatican penal law

In a reform of the Catholic Church’s penal code, Pope Francis on June 1 issued stronger penalties for crimes including sexual abuse, financial malfeasance and female ordination.

More than 70 percent of the canons on the code of canon law were changed by the reform, with only 17 articles remaining untouched.

If a cleric is found guilty of sexually abusing a minor, canon law will require that he be stripped of his office and, if necessary, defrocked. According to current church legislation, put in place by Pope John Paul II in 1983, bishops were allowed more discretion in applying canon law, resulting in a patchwork accountability system.

The new rule also applies to clerics who share child pornography with minors or vulnerable persons. Laypeople and nuns will also be punishable for committing sexual abuse.

The new laws will go into effect Dec. 8.

Study: Atheists are as happy as believers

Atheists are just as happy as devout religious believers, a new global study has shown. 

It upended the conventional idea that Christians and followers of other faiths are happier and more content with their lives than those without religion.

The findings were based on surveys carried out in 24 countries which asked both about religious belief and levels of satisfaction with life.

The researchers found that either a firm belief in God or strong atheist views are more likely to lead to a satisfied mind than a loose attachment to religious faith.

Academics from the Journal of Happiness Studies at the University of Cologne divided levels of belief and nonbelief into four categories and found that all except “weakly religious” showed similar levels of life satisfaction, and all were higher than the “weakly religious” group.

The researchers said religion and happiness also depend heavily on the country involved. In strictly religious countries, atheists are less satisfied with their lives, but ratings improve in more liberal countries with a high proportion of non-believers. They suggested this could be linked to discrimination against atheists in theocracies or highly religious states.

Pakistani court overturns blasphemy conviction

A Pakistani court on June 3 overturned the death sentence of a Christian couple in a blasphemy case, acquitting them for lack of evidence after they had spent seven years on death row, lawyers said.

A lower court had sentenced Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, to death in 2014 for allegedly sending derogatory remarks about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in a text message to another man, Khalid Maqsood.

The couple’s lawyer told Reuters the Lahore High Court had acquitted the couple in the case in the town of Toba Tek Singh.

Insulting the prophet carries a mandatory death penalty in the predominantly Muslim country. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been criticized by global rights groups.

Study links religiosity, conspiratorial beliefs

The findings of the Baylor Religion Survey indicated that biblical literalists, self-identified “very religious” people and weekly church attenders are significantly more likely to believe that the 2020 election was rigged, that the Covid-19 vaccine is untrustworthy and that top Democrats are involved in sex-trafficking rings.

Additionally, Americans who self-identified as becoming “more religious” over the past 10 years are especially likely to believe these falsehoods, said Paul Froese, director of the Baylor Religion Survey and professor of sociology. 

“This broad religion effect corresponds to a Trump effect, something we began to notice in 2017,”  Froese said. “The intersection of religion and politics makes the discrete religion effect on conspiratorial thinking hard to concisely determine, and we must note that there are lots of different types and expressions of religiosity.”

Gorsuch denies churches’ petition over restrictions

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch on June 1 denied a request from two Colorado churches and their pastors challenging Covid-19-related restrictions that they said treated them less favorably than secular organizations, according to a CNN report.

Gorsuch denied the churches’ petition without referring the matter to the full court, suggesting he didn’t think his colleagues would be interested in the arguments put forward by the houses of worship in the case at hand.

Unlike other disputes that have drawn close divisions at the court, the Colorado churches took aim at a law that was not specific to the coronavirus but included other public health disasters such as wildfires and earthquakes, as well. Conservative groups that had supported other challenges to state Covid restrictions did not weigh in in favor of the churches in the Colorado dispute, suggesting that they, too, thought the request was too broad.

Study: LGBTQ attitudes change during college 

A new survey shows that students at Christian schools — whether Protestant, evangelical or Catholic — entered college with less positive attitudes toward gay, lesbian and bisexual people compared with those at nonreligious schools. But all students increased in their positive attitudes toward this group by the time they graduated.

However, Catholic school students made the least gains, according to the results from the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey. Upon entering college, their attitudes were more positive than evangelical students and showed an initial surge after the first year. Yet, when they left college, they had the least positive scores.

According to the survey creators, these findings suggest that how much appreciation students have for diverse sexual orientations might be related to institutional culture, messaging and attitudes — and not necessarily to students’ personal convictions and beliefs alone.

43% of Millennials don’t care, believe in God 

Millennials in the United States are far less likely to believe in God and the bible’s teachings than older generations, according to a survey.

Arizona Christian University’s American Worldview Inventory survey showed younger adults are less likely to identify with organized religion and instead are embracing other beliefs, such as horoscopes.

While 57 percent of Millennials surveyed consider themselves Christian, 43 percent “don’t know, care or believe that God exists.”

“The Millennial generation in particular, seems committed to living without God, without the bible, and without Christian churches as foundations in either their personal life or within American society,” said George Barna, director of research for ASU’s Cultural Research Center.

Judge rejects college’s request on housing rule

A federal judge on May 19 rejected the College of the Ozarks’ request to sidestep a 2021 directive backed by President Joe Biden that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Judge Roseann Ketchmark issued the ruling, denying a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. She said an effort by the conservative Christian college to stop the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from applying the new directive would not protect the college from any liability related to unfair housing allegations.

In mid-April, the college sued Biden, HUD and related federal officials with support from the Alliance Defending Freedom. The college and ADF argued the directive forced religious schools to violate their views by opening male or female residence halls — including dorm rooms and restrooms — to members of the opposite sex.

Ohio law now allows medical discrimination

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio signed the budget bill on June 30 that allows doctors, hospitals, insurers and other health care professionals and companies to deny services if they have an objection based on “moral, ethical or religious beliefs.”

The measure comes months after Arkansas, South Dakota and Montana enacted similar legislation, indicating a growing trend among Republican-controlled state legislatures. 

The provision was tucked inside a 700-page document of amendments to the state’s two-year budget bill, and remained largely unexamined until DeWine had signed it into law. DeWine had the opportunity to line-item veto the language while signing the rest of the budget into law and refused to do so.

The change will allow any medical professional “the freedom to decline to perform, participate in, or pay for any health care service which violates the practitioner’s, institution’s or payer’s conscience as informed by the moral, ethical or religious beliefs.”

41% of Australians don’t trust religious leaders

The Australia Talks National Survey found that 41 percent of Australians don’t trust religious leaders “at all,” a 6 percent rise since the survey was last conducted in 2019.

Almost half (47 percent) of 18–24 year-olds don’t trust religious leaders “at all.” That’s a jump of 15 percentage points in just two years.

At the last census in 2016, 30 percent of Australians said they had no religion, compared with 19 percent in 2006.

Texas churches to stay open during disasters

Prompted by the pandemic shutdowns, a newly passed law in Texas will keep religious organizations active during disasters.

The law, which took effect June 18, blocks all government bodies at or below the state level from stopping the activities of churches, mosques, temples or any house of faith. Governmental entities may not “prohibit a religious organization from engaging in religious and other related activities or continuing to operate in the discharge of the organization’s foundational faith-based mission and purpose,” the text reads.

The law further specifies that a “declared state of disaster” does not grant governments leeway to limit religious activity. 

Atheists sue over ‘IGWT’ license plates in Miss.

American Atheists, the Mississippi Humanist Association and three nonreligious Mississippi residents filed a federal lawsuit on June 22 against the state over its “In God We Trust” license plate. The complaint accuses the Mississippi Commissioner of Revenue of violating the people’s freedom of speech and religion by forcing them to display this religious message on their personal vehicles.

The Mississippi license plate has included “In God We Trust” since 2019. The lawsuit claims that car owners are forced to promote this religious statement or pay an additional fee for a specialty plate without it.

“Every minute they spend on the streets of Mississippi, atheists are forced to act as a billboard for the state’s religious message,” said Geoffrey T. Blackwell, litigation counsel at American Atheists. 

 Vatican tries to sway Italy over gay rights bill

The Vatican has expressed concerns to the Italian government about a gay rights bill working its way through Parliament, according to a report in The New York Times.

The Vatican says the bill infringes upon guaranteed religious liberties, and “risked exposing core church beliefs, such as limiting the priesthood to men or only recognizing marriage between a man and a woman, to charges of criminal discrimination,” according to the Times.

Church historians said a letter from the Vatican to an Italian ambassador outlining those concerns “amounted to a unique escalation of Vatican attempts to influence the affairs of the Italian state.”

Justice Dept. says it can defend religious exemption

The Justice Department in a court filing June 8 said it can “vigorously” defend a religious exemption from federal civil rights law that allows federally funded religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students, a move that surprised some LGBTQ advocates who said the wording went further than just an obligation to defend an existing law, according to a report in the Washington Post.

In the filing, the Biden administration said it “shares the same ultimate objective” as the conservative Christian schools named in the case.

At issue in Hunter v. the U.S. Department of Education are 40 LGBTQ students at conservative religious colleges and universities who are suing the government for its role in providing funding to schools with discriminatory policies. The schools say they have a First Amendment right to promote traditional religious beliefs about sexuality and gender.

“The plaintiffs seek safety and justice for themselves and for the countless sexual and gender minority students whose oppression, fueled by government funding, and unrestrained by government intervention, persists with injurious consequences to mind, body and soul,” reads the March suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon. 

Billions in federal money for things such as scholarships and grants flow through the U.S. Department of Education.

Most atheists, agnostics oppose death penalty

A majority of adults in the United States favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. However, views about the death penalty vary by religion — with atheists and agnostics opposing this form of punishment at about the same rate as Americans overall support it.

Roughly two-thirds of atheists (65 percent) and 57 percent of agnostics either “strongly” or “somewhat” oppose the death penalty for people convicted of murder. 

Meanwhile, 60 percent of U.S. adults overall favor the death penalty, including 75 percent of White evangelical Protestants and 73 percent of White non-evangelical Protestants, according to the survey. 

Atheists and agnostics are the only religious groups in this analysis that are more likely to oppose the death penalty than to support it. 

Judge: Christian baker broke discrimination law 

A Denver district court found that the Colorado baker who was the subject of a 2018 Supreme Court case for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding has violated state discrimination laws in another case.

A judge on June 15 found that Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips illegally refused to bake a cake to celebrate a trans woman’s birthday and identity, saying it violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. 

In 2019, he was sued by Autumn Scardina for refusing to bake her a custom birthday cake in 2017 after she said the colors and design of the cake would celebrate her transition from male to female.

Scardina explained on the phone to Phillips the personal meaning of the cake as a transgender woman and she said the tone of the call changed. She was told the bakery “probably could not make that cake because of the message,” according to court documents.

In the News (June/July 2021)

Atheists have lowest coronavirus death rate

Data on Covid-19 death rates in England has revealed that atheists, as a group, were the least affected, experiencing 336.6 deaths per 100,000 among men and 218.2 among women.

Muslims are by far the worst-affected religious group, with death rates twice as high as among Christians, and nearly three times higher than the atheists.

Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics showed that, up to the end of February, 4,191 Muslims had been killed by the virus.

Muslim men had a death rate of 966.9 per 100,000 people, while that of women was about 519.1 per 100,000.

Muslims were followed by Hindus — 605.2 among men and 346.5 for women; Sikhs — 573.6 and 345.7; Jews — 512.9 and 295.4; and Christians — 401.9 and 249.6.

However, after factoring in other risk indicators such as age, wealth and location, it said: “After adjustments, the Hindu population and Muslim men were disproportionately affected throughout the pandemic.”

Experts have suggested that ethnic minorities are more likely to have low incomes and work in public-facing jobs that increase their exposure to the virus. 

Bishops may push Biden to stop taking Communion

At the national meeting in June of U.S. Catholic bishops, they may decide to tell President Biden, a Catholic, to not take communion if he continues to advocate for abortion rights, according to a report by Religion News Service.

Such a stance by a public figure is “a grave moral evil,” according to Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Wis. AG announces probe of clergy sex abuse

Attorney General Josh Kaul on April 20 announced an investigation into clergy sexual abuse across Wisconsin. 

The state Department of Justice will lead the probe and focus on abuse allegations against Catholic clergy and other faith leaders — many of which date back decades and involve religious officials who are now dead. Prosecutors will request documents from the dioceses and religious orders as part of the investigation. 

Wisconsin is home to five dioceses and religious orders such as the Norbertines. 

45 dead in stampede at Israeli religious event

At least 45 people were killed and 150 more injured in a crush April 30 at a religious festival of ultra-Orthodox Jews in northern Israel, where tens of thousands of faithful had convened in one of the country’s largest events since the pandemic began.

The event, at Mount Meron, is the festival of Lag BaOmer, which features bonfires and dancing around the Galilee tomb of a second century rabbi.

According to witnesses, in an area of the complex where the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community of Toldos Aharon was holding its celebration, participants were pushing through a slippery staircase. Suddenly, a row of people fell to the floor, piling atop  one another. People were asphyxiated or trampled in the tightly packed corridor.

Evangelicals are losing their climate skepticism

White evangelicals have become more willing to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change over the past decade, according to a Climate Nexus poll, as reported by Religion News Service.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that just 28 percent of white evangelicals attributed global warming to human activity. In October 2020, though, 44 percent of them said climate change was due “mostly to human activities.” 

While they remain less concerned about the issue than other major American religious communities, the poll showed them to be closer to mainstream opinion than previously.

Abortion bills on huge upswing in U.S.

In the first four months of 2021, state lawmakers have introduced an incredible 536 abortion restrictions, including 146 bans, with 61 of those bills being signed into law.

The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization that tracks abortion bills in the states, assessed the situation in a report.  

Previously, 2011 was the most brutal year for abortion rights in recent history. In the 12 months after the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans enacted 92 abortion restrictions across 24 states, kicking off a “war on women” that shut down dozens of abortion clinics across the country and dominated the national political conversation through 2014.

Florida expands private school voucher program 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 11 signed into law a $200 million school choice plan that will allow about 61,000 new students to become eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers that will help families pay for private tuition and other education expenses.

The measure is a continuation of a decades-long push to expand school choice in Florida, a move Republicans support and most Democrats have fought as they advocate for more oversight and accountability for private schools that get state-funded vouchers.

The law, which takes effect July 1, will allow families of four with an income of nearly $100,000 to qualify for awards, up from the current $79,500 threshold. And students will no longer need to attend a public school before receiving a state voucher.

Christian school seeks ‘ministerial exception’ 

A 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on May 11 took up a case to test the limits of an exemption from anti-discrimination laws for religious schools.

Faith Christian Academy in Colorado claims the exemption should apply broadly to “teachers, chaplains and other leaders,” according to a report by Reuters.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty will urge the panel to rule that the “ministerial exception” shields the school from a former faculty member’s claims that he was fired for organizing a chapel service focused on combating racism.

A federal judge in Denver earlier had said a jury should decide whether the exception applied to Gregory Tucker, who was the director of student life at Faith Christian Academy, and denied the school’s motion for summary judgment in his 2019 lawsuit.

German Catholics bless gay unions despite ban

Germany’s Catholic progressives openly defied a recent Vatican ruling that priests cannot bless same-sex unions by offering such blessings at services in about 100 different churches all over the country in mid-May, according to a report by Religion News Service.

The blessings at open worship services are the latest pushback from German Catholics against a document released in March by the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, which said Catholic clergy cannot bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.”

Pope Francis, who has championed a more decentralized church structure, reminded the German hierarchy that it must remain in communion with Rome during its reform process.”

Study: Young Jews are moving to opposite views

A new survey of U.S. Jews shows the group’s youngest adults are increasingly dividing in polar-opposite directions: secularism and orthodoxy, according to a report by Religion News Service.

The study from Pew Research Center is a follow-up to its 2013 study, and many of the trends outlined have remained constant. U.S. Jews represent 2.4 percent of the U.S. population, a slight rise from 2.2 percent in 2013.

Nearly three-quarters of Jews identify as Jews by religion (73 percent), but a growing number do not consider themselves religiously Jewish (27 percent), instead identifying as Jewish ethnically, culturally or by ancestry. 

This group is particularly large among Jews ages 18 to 29, where 40 percent consider themselves Jews of no religion. While Orthodox Jews represent 9 percent of the overall American Jewish population, the survey found, they represent 17 percent among the 18 to 29 age group.

Conviction overturned in ‘holy spirit’ case

A federal appeals court on May 5 overturned the conviction of former Florida Rep. Corrine Brown, ruling that a judge was wrong to remove a juror in her trial who said the “holy spirit” told him Brown was not guilty.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 7-4 decision, said that Brown, who was found guilty in 2017 on 18 felony counts connected to using a phony charity as a personal slush fund, deserved a new trial on the corruption charges.

Chief Judge William Pryor, writing for the majority, said the decision of a district judge to remove the juror after deliberations had already begun in the trial was wrong because there was no evidence that the juror had engaged in misconduct or would have ultimately held out against a conviction.

“Corrine Brown was entitled to the unanimous verdict of a jury of ordinary citizens,” Pryor wrote. “The removal of Juror No. 13 — a juror who listened for God’s guidance as he sat in judgment of Brown and deliberated over the evidence against her — deprived her of one.”

U.S. Reps sponsor Day of Reason

Several members of Congress, led by U.S. Jamie Raskin, co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, are championing a resolution proclaiming May 7 as an annual National Day of Reason. Other sponsors include Reps. Jared Huffman, Mark Pocan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jerry McNerney and Pramila Jayapal, all CFC members.

The National Day of Prayer occurs on the first Thursday in May (May 6 this year) as proclaimed by an unconstitutional congressional law requiring the president to encourage citizens to “turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” FFRF won a historic federal court ruling in 2010 declaring the law unconstitutional, which was later thrown out by an appeals court based on standing, not the merits.

Raskin’s resolution reads:

“Whereas the application of reason has been the essential pre-condition for humanity’s extraordinary scientific, medical, technological, and social progress since the modern Enlightenment;

“Whereas reason provides the vital catalyst for confronting the crises of our day, including the civilizational emergency of climate change, and for cultivating the rule of law, democratic institutions, justice, and peace among nations;

“Where irrationality, magical and conspiratorial thinking, and disbelief in science have undermined the national effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing to the death of more than 555,000 people in the United States;

Whereas reason and science are fundamental to implementing an effective coordinated response to beat the Covid-19 virus, which includes improved social confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccinations and evidence-based solutions to the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, and involves the federal government, the states, and the scientific and medical communities;

“Whereas America’s Founders insisted upon the primacy of reason and knowledge in public life, and drafted the Constitution to prevent the official establishment of religion and to protect freedom of thought, speech, and inquiry in civil society; 

“Whereas James Madison, author of the First Amendment and fourth president of the United States, stated that ‘The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty,’ and ‘Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives’ and 

“Whereas May 7, 2021, would be an appropriate date to designate as a ‘National Day of Reason’: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the House of Representatives supports the designation of a ‘National Day of Reason;’ and encourages all citizens, residents, and visitors to join in observing this day and focusing on the central importance of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry to resolving social problems and promoting the welfare of humankind.”

“We are grateful to Rep. Raskin and other co-sponsors for working so that reason and our secular Constitution will prevail,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said.

Rep. Jayapal

In the News (May 2021)

Secular voters outnumber other religious groups

Secular Democrats have a strong voting bloc that outshines all other political/religious/racial groupings, according to an analysis of voting patterns.

Researcher and professor Ryan P. Burge used data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to come up with a chart to show how different religious groups voted in the 2020 November elections. The chart above shows various faith-based and nonreligious voting blocs as a share of the entire population.

Overall, the “nothing in particular” group, including Republicans, Democrats and independents, outweighs all white evangelicals by 18.7 percent to 17.5 percent. 

The largest individual political voting bloc by a religious group is the 13.1 percent by white evangelical Republicans. However, combining the Democratic Nones (the “Nothing in particulars”), atheists and agnostics adds up to 17.6 percent of the population. 

Hemant Mehta, who writes the Friendly Atheist blog, said it would behoove Democratic candidates to try to gain the secular vote.

“It’s all the more reason Democratic candidates in large parts of the country should openly work for the secular vote by talking about the importance of church/state separation, LGBTQ rights, abortion access, quality science and sex education in school, and any number of other issues that unite most secular Democrats while also being opposed by so many conservative Republicans,” Mehta writes.

Religious makeup of Congress skewed 

While more than a quarter (26 percent) of U.S. adults are religiously unaffiliated — describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” also known as “Nones” — just one member of the new Congress (Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.) identifies as religiously unaffiliated, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, although Rep. Jared Huffman identifies as a Humanist.

Nearly nine in 10 members of Congress identify as Christian (88 percent), compared with two-thirds of the general public (65 percent). Congress is both more heavily Protestant (55 percent vs. 43 percent) and more heavily Catholic (30 percent vs. 20 percent) than the U.S. adult population overall.

Congress is more heavily Christian than U.S. adults ages 50 to 64, by a margin of 14 percentage points. 

Younger Blacks are less religious than their elders

Black adults attend church and participate in bible studies more than other U.S. adults, but younger Black Americans are less likely to identify with the Christian faith than older generations, a new Barna Group report shows. The research firm on April 16 released its “Trends in the Black Church” report. 

It shows Black Gen Zers, those who were born between the 1990s and early 2010s (67 percent), and Millennials (65 percent) have similar connections to Christianity. That makes them less Christian than older Black adults but more linked to that faith than their peers of other races.

While 74 percent of all Black adults say they are Christian, that percentage has declined sharply from 89 percent in 2011. Fifteen percent of African Americans say they are agnostic, atheist or of no faith. 

UK ‘Nones’ have lowest Covid-19 related deaths 

In the United Kingdom, those who reported having “no religion” (also known as “Nones”) had the lowest rate of death involving the coronavirus with 80.7 deaths per 100,000 males and 47.9 deaths per 100,000 females, according to a study done in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic (from March through May 2020).

The highest age-standardized mortality rates of deaths involving Covid-19 were Muslims, with 198.9 deaths per 100,000 males and 98.2 deaths per 100,000 females. People who identified as Jewish, Hindu or Sikh also showed higher mortality rates than other groups.

“For the most part, the elevated risk of certain religious groups is explained by geographical, socioeconomic and demographic factors and increased risks associated with ethnicity,” said Nick Stripe from the Office for National Statistics in the UK.

S.C. Blaine Amendment targeted in fed lawsuit

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a group of religious schools and independent colleges in South Carolina takes aim at the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment.

South Carolina’s Blaine Amendment says no public money can be used for the direct benefit of any religious or private school. Thirty-seven states have similar provisions in their constitutions.

South Carolina amended its Blaine Amendment in 1973 to eliminate the ban on “indirect” funding of private schools.

The lawsuit, which was filed April 14, argues the amendment discriminates against Black residents and Catholics by withholding education funding from nonpublic schools in South Carolina and has been used to keep COVID-19 relief from private, independent and religious schools, including historically black colleges and universities.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston and the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which names South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams and Department of Administration Budget Director Brian Gaines as defendants.

Evangelicals linked to searches for ‘bigger penis’

According to a recent paper in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, researcher founds a a “strong association” between the number of evangelical Christians in a state and the number of Google searches in those states looking for “bigger penis.”

Samuel L. Perry and Andrew L. Whitehead published the paper, titled, “Linking Evangelical Subculture and Phallically Insecure Masculinity Using Google Searches for Male Enhancement.” 

Using Google Trends, an analysis tool, the researchers focused on terms like “male enhancement,” “ExtenZe,” and “penis pump” and connecting them to the “preponderance of evangelicals in a state.”

U.N. report shows Islamophobia on the rise 

A March 11 report from the United Nations shows growing Islamophobia and excessive surveillance of Muslims in countries around the world, including the United States, according to an article by the Religion News Service.

The United Nations Human Rights Council report says that governments around the world should do more to combat Islamophobia.

The report notes that almost four in 10 Europeans held unfavorable views of Muslims in surveys conducted between 2018 and 2019. A survey of Americans conducted in 2017 found 30 percent held Muslims “in a negative light.” 

Ky. bill would let medics refuse to provide care

The Kentucky Senate will get a “rights of conscience” bill that would let medical professionals in Kentucky refuse to perform procedures that violate their religious or moral beliefs.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 11 approved Senate Bill 83 despite testimony from health care advocates and civil rights groups that warned the measure could permit discrimination. Medical ethics require doctors to treat everyone equally, regardless of their own personal beliefs, testified Dr. Keisa Fallin-Bennett, a family medical specialist.

“This bill protects discrimination based on personal identity and threatens the core of the Hippocratic Oath and the health of our citizens,” Fallin-Bennett said.

Court: Removing cross didn’t violate rights

In Kelly v. Montana Department of Transportation on March 23, a Montana federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations dismissing First Amendment objections to the removal of a “spiritual cross” that the plaintiff had erected alongside of a highway in memory of his stepson.

The magistrate held that “a spiritual cross erected on public land adjacent to a highway constitutes government speech.” Rejecting free exercise claims, the magistrate said in part:

Kelly does not allege that the defendants prohibited him from freely exercising his religious beliefs though private speech.” 

School can be liable for barring Christian group

University of Iowa administrators can be held liable for monetary damages for improperly barring a Christian student group that rejects homosexual relationships, a federal appeals court ruled in March, according to a report by the Associated Press.

The administrators do not enjoy qualified immunity from the lawsuit brought by Business Leaders in Christ because they violated the group’s clearly established constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

The case dates to 2017, when the organization barred a student from serving in its leadership after disclosing that he was gay and did not agree with its teachings on sexuality.

Study: Religion a driver of gender pay gap

Research published in the Academy of Management Journal indicates that religion perpetuates the gender wage gap, according to an article on PsyPost.com. 

The findings provide evidence that men tend to earn significantly more than women in societies with heightened religiosity.

The researchers examined the situation in the United States using data from Gallup and the Status of Women in the States report. They found that the gender wage gap tended to be greater in more religious countries and in more religious states within the United States. The collective mentality toward sexuality, the ability of women to attain power, and the differentiation of social roles for men and women helped to explain the relationship.

“The effect held true for all major world religions,” said Traci Sitzmann, an associate professor of management at the University of Colorado Denver and the corresponding author of the new study. “It didn’t matter if most believers in a country were Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or adherents to a folk religion. The wage gap was still greater in countries where religion played a major role in daily life.”

“The gender gap is projected to vanish in 28 years in the most secular states, compared with a stunning 109 years in the most religious states in the United States,” Sitzmann added.

Bill ending religious vaccine          exemption passes 1st step

A bill that would end Connecticut’s long-standing religious exemption from immunization requirements for schools, beginning with the 2022-23 school year, now awaits action in the state Senate, according to the Associated Press.

The legislation passed on a 90-53 vote in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on April 20. No date has been set yet for when the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats, will vote on the same bill.

The House vote marked the furthest the legislation has progressed in Connecticut. Some Republican opponents argued the bill was unnecessary and an attempt to impede the religious liberties of children. Yet mostly Democratic supporters said it was a necessary step to prevent future outbreaks of disease.

Panera sued over religious discrimination

A Pennsylvania woman filed a lawsuit March 24 against Panera Bread Company, alleging that she was discriminated against and fired due to her pagan beliefs, according to a Religion News Service report. 

Tammy McCoy worked as a baker at a Panera in a Pittsburgh suburb in October 2019. According to the filing, she “never discussed her religion or religious beliefs at work.” 

According to the lawsuit, the McCoy’s religion came up last May, when McCoy was on break with the store’s assistant manager, Lori Dubs, and the manager, Kerri Ann Show. Show asked McCoy what her religion was, and Tammy responded, “I am pagan.”

The lawsuit describes a series of discriminatory actions, including complaints that McCoy’s hours were cut, and when she asked why, she was told that she “needed to find God” before returning to her “previous schedule.” She was reportedly docked pay for breaks that she did not take.

On July 27, 2020, McCoy said she was told to give notice that she was leaving her job. Both she and her husband, who also worked at Panera and was not otherwise mentioned in the case, were fired, according to the suit. 

The lawsuit, which was filed in a Pennsylvania federal court, states that McCoy’s civil rights were violated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

LGBTQ students sue Department of Education

On March 29, 33 LGBTQ students sued the Department of Education in a class-action lawsuit, according to NBC News. The students allege that they faced discrimination at 25 federally funded Christian colleges and universities in 18 states.

The Religious Exemption Accountability Project, or REAP, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ students at taxpayer-funded religious colleges and universities, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon on behalf of former and current students.

Many Christian colleges and universities receive federal funding and are still allowed to enforce policies that, for example, prohibit same-sex relationships on campus. Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bars sex-based discrimination, contains an exemption for religious entities. The ultimate goal of the lawsuit by the students is to strike down Title IX’s religious exemption.

White evangelicals skeptical of Covid vaccine

Vaccine skepticism is more widespread among white evangelicals than almost any other major bloc of Americans, according to a report by the Associated press.

In a March poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 40 percent of white evangelical Protestants said they likely won’t get vaccinated, compared with 25 percent of all Americans, 28 percent of white mainline Protestants and 27 percent of nonwhite Protestants.

The findings have aroused concern within evangelical circles, the AP writes. The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 local churches, is part of a new coalition that will host events, work with media outlets and distribute various public messages to build trust among wary evangelicals.

“The pathway to ending the pandemic runs through the evangelical church,” said Curtis Chang, a former pastor and missionary who founded ChristiansAndTheVaccine.com, the cornerstone of the new initiative. 

Chang contends that with white evangelicals comprising an estimated 20 percent of the U.S. population, resistance to vaccination by half of them would seriously hamper efforts to achieve herd immunity.

Alabama House votes to end yoga ban in schools

The Alabama House of Representatives voted 73-25 in March to approve a bill that will authorize school systems to decide if they want yoga to be allowed in K-12 schools, according to a report from the Associated Press. 

Yoga done in school would be limited to poses and stretches.  The bill says the use of chanting, mantras and teaching the greeting “namaste” would be forbidden.

The Alabama Board of Education voted in 1993 to prohibit yoga, hypnosis and meditation in public school classrooms. The ban was pushed by conservative groups.

Under the bill, the moves and exercises taught to students must have exclusively English names. Students would also have the option to not participate and instead do an alternative activity. The bill moves to the Alabama Senate.

Survey: Most know Biden’s religion, but not Harris

About 6 in 10 U.S. adults (58 percent) know that President Biden is Catholic, including 63 percent of those who are Democrats or lean Democratic and 55 percent of Republicans or Republican leaners, according to Pew Research Center survey results. 

The report, released March 30, looked at Americans’ views about the faiths of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The survey of more than 12,000 U.S. adults revealed a political divide in agreement on just how religious the two top officeholders are.

Two-thirds of American adults (65 percent) said they are not sure of Harris’ religion. The vice president identifies as a Baptist. 

About half of Americans say Harris is “somewhat religious” or “very religious” (46 percent).

In The News (April 2021)

U.S. Rep. Don Beyer joins Freethought Caucus

U.S. Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia is the newest member of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, which was started by Reps. Jared Huffman and Jamie Raskin.

Speaking at the Secular Coalition for America members’ meeting on Feb. 6, Beyer said:

“I was honored to be invited to join the Congressional Freethought Caucus in Congress. Congressman Jared Huffman and Congressman Jamie Raskin are two men I admire immensely. Together, we will do our best to minimize the impact and influence of religious rules and dogmas and intolerances on our laws and our budgets. If we are a nation founded on freedom, then it is essential that every person be free to think, believe, even worship in their own way — to the extent, of course, that it is lawful and does not impinge on the freedom of others.

“I have four children, none of whom have even the slightest inclination toward God, religion or church. Religion means 19 Muslims killing 3,000 people and themselves on 9/11, to earn virgins in heaven. It means Jerry Falwell and Jerry Falwell Jr., and the Moral Majority, which was neither. It means Shiites vs. Sunnis, Catholics vs. Protestants, burning at the stake because you don’t believe in baptism. Religion is equivalent to intolerance — of skin color, sexual orientation, class, and on and on. Religion means imposing your rules and practices and beliefs on everyone else — especially, especially when it comes to sexuality.”


Alabama can’t execute inmate without pastor

The Supreme Court on Feb. 12 said Alabama could not execute a death row inmate without the man’s pastor by his side, the Washington Post reported.

The court also indicated that other states must find a way to honor final requests for a spiritual adviser in the death chamber.

The court’s order came an hour before Alabama’s self-imposed deadline of executing Willie B. Smith III, convicted of a 1991 robbery and murder. A lower court had put the execution on hold, and Alabama asked the Supreme Court to step in.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with liberal colleagues, saying federal law requires states to make accommodations for prisoners like Smith.


Tennessee bill would let man stop abortion

Tennessee lawmakers proposed a bill on Feb. 15 that would let a biological impregnator stop a woman from getting an abortion, according to a report by The Hill.

An injunction would only be granted to an individual if there is evidence the woman is considering an abortion and if there is evidence the man is the impregnator.

However, DNA evidence is not required for the injunction.

Once the injunction is issued, the court must hold a hearing with both parties within 14 days. If a woman violates the injunction and gets an abortion, “the court may hold the respondent in civil or criminal contempt and punish the respondent in accordance with the law.”

If the bills are passed and approved by the governor, they would take effect starting July 1.


Religion’s relevance down in Iran, Middle East

Several recent surveys in the Middle East show an increase in secularization and growing calls for reforms in religious political institutions, according to a report by Deutsche Welle.

“Personal piety has declined some 43 percent over the past decade, indicating less than a quarter of the population now define themselves as religious,” it said in the Middle East survey report.

In Iran, the survey showed 47 percent reported “having transitioned from being religious to nonreligious.”

Pooyan Tamimi Arab, assistant professor of religious studies at Utrecht University and co-author of the survey, sees this transition as a logical consequence of Iran’s secularization.

“Iranian society has undergone huge transformations, such as the literacy rate has gone up spectacularly,” Tamimi Arab said.


Evangelicals more likely to believe QAnon theory

A survey shows that more than a quarter of white evangelical Protestants believe the QAnon conspiracy theory that purports former President Donald Trump was secretly battling a cabal of pedophile Democrats, the Religion News Service reports.

It also showed that about half of the evangelicals expressed support for the debunked claim that antifa was responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Experts say the data point to a widening ideological divide not only between white evangelicals and other religious groups in the country, but also between white evangelical Republicans and other members of their own party, RNS reports.

There was also significant support among white evangelicals for the claim that members of antifa, or anti-fascist activists, were “mostly responsible” for the attack on the U.S. Capitol — a discredited claim repeated by former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and conservative religious leaders such as the Rev. Franklin Graham. FBI officials have said there is “no indication” antifa played a role in the insurrection.


Young Black adults becoming less religious

Young Black adults are less religious and less engaged in Black churches than older generations, a Pew Research Center survey shows.

Black Millennials and members of Generation Z are less likely to rely on prayer, less likely to have grown up in Black churches and less likely to say religion is an important part of their lives, the Pew report states. Fewer attend religious services, and those who do attend are less likely to go to a predominantly Black congregation.

About one-in-five Black Americans are not affiliated with any religion and instead identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” and this phenomenon is increasing by generation: Roughly three-in-ten Black Gen Zers (28 percent) and Millennials (33 percent) in the survey are religiously unaffiliated, compared with just 11 percent of Baby Boomers and 5 percent of those in the Silent Generation.

But Black Americans are still more religious than the American public. They are more likely to say they believe in God or a higher power, and to report that they attend religious services regularly. They also are more likely to say religion is “very important” in their lives and to be affiliated with a religion, and to believe prayers to ancestors have protective power and that evil spirits can cause problems in a person’s life, the Pew report states.


God belief not needed to tell right from wrong

One doesn’t have to believe in God to believe in goodness, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, analyzing various values driving the morals of atheists and religious believers.

The poll revealed more than half (51 percent) of people polled in 34 countries do not think believing in God is fundamental to being moral and having good values.

Overall, respondents in nations with lower gross domestic product are more likely to say that belief in God is necessary to be moral and have good values.

Also, individuals with more education are less likely to say that belief in God is necessary to be moral. This pattern closely tracks the connection between income levels and the way people answer this question, because there is a significant correlation between educational attainment and earnings.


Religious institutions not trustworthy for Gen Z

Trust in institutions among Americans in general has dwindled over the years and Gen Z — those born between 1995 and 2010 — are among the most distrustful, according to a story on the Religion In Public blog on Feb. 19. Gen Z members are also the generation most likely to self-identify as “atheist” or “agnostic” according to surveys.

The State of Religion and Young People 2020 confirmed that trust in organized religion was not very high — around two-thirds of young people rated their trust of religious institutions at 5 or below out of maximum of 10, with an overall mean score of 4.5 out of 10. This compares with an average score of 5.3 for banks.


Atheist Rep. running for Lt. Gov. in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims, an outspoken progressive who is, according to “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta, “openly gay, openly atheist, and never afraid to pick a fight with conservatives who want to use their power to hurt people,” is running for lieutenant governor.

The office is up for election in 2022.

If elected, he would become one of the highest-ranking openly atheist officials in the country — and the only one in statewide office.

According to the Advocate website, Sims “once posted a photo of him giving Mike Pence the middle finger at a protest where Sims and others were voicing opposition to the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant families. He has filmed himself calling out an anti-choice demonstrator at a Planned Parenthood facility in Philadelphia.”


Being godless might be good for your health

Atheists may be just as healthy as devoted believers, according to a new study from Canada called “Godless in the Great White North,” published in the Journal of Religion and Health.

In some cases, belief in God might actually be bad for your health. A 2020 study published in the Review of Religious Research found that “doubting theists” — those who believe in God but are less certain about those beliefs — reported poorer health outcomes.

Joseph Baker, a sociologist of religion at East Tennessee State University who worked on the study, said that atheism can give people a strong sense of identity and a clear set of values, which may help with their well-being, even if they don’t have the same kind of built-in social support that religious people do.


Archdioceses: Vaccine is ‘morally compromised’

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and at least six other dioceses from across the country have released statements expressing “moral concerns” about using the Johnson and Johnson vaccine because cells used to create the vaccine are derived from aborted fetal tissue in the 1970s.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans and Archdiocese of Detroit are among those that have stated that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is “morally compromised” and “morally problematic.”

The decision puts those dioceses in conflict with the Vatican and Pope Francis, who have been aggressively pro-vaccine. Last December, the Vatican approved the use of vaccines “that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,” adding it’s “morally acceptable.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops hedged and said Catholics should get vaccinated, but should push for other options than the Johnson & Johnson one.


Vatican: Priests can’t bless same-sex unions

In a decree approved by Pope Francis, the Vatican on March 15 said priests cannot bless same-sex marriages, saying that such relationships are “not ordered to the Creator’s plan,” according to a report in the Washington Post.

“The blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit,” the church said.

The “explanatory note,” issued by the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, carries the weight of a universal ground rule for the Roman Catholic Church — and it regards one of the most controversial inside an institution divided over its stance on sexuality.

“The Catholic church has long fought against LGBT rights, and past popes have called same sex unions deviant or a moral evil,” the Washington Post reports.


‘In God We Trust’ to be OK in OK state buildings?

Oklahoma’s House speaker is pushing for the national motto, “In God We Trust,” to be displayed prominently in state buildings.

The Oklahoma House on March 1 passed Speaker Charles McCall’s House Bill 2085 to add the phrase in 342 state buildings at an estimated cost of $85,000.

Democrats argued that the bill violates the separation of church and state and could alienate Oklahomans with diverse religious beliefs.

Rep. Mauree Turner, who is Muslim, said whether it’s intentional or not, the legislation will hurt atheists and non-Christians.

“This bill sends a message,” she said. “It sends a message to folks who don’t believe in religion, to folks who believe in different religions and quite frankly, it sends a message to me.”

Rep. Regina Goodwin, made a similar point, noting additions to state buildings wouldn’t say, “In Buddha We Trust” or “In (Prophet) Muhammad We Trust,” nods to Buddhism and Islam, respectively.


Catholic schools hit by large enrollment drop

Enrollment in Roman Catholic schools in the United States dropped 6.4 percent from the previous academic year — the largest single-year decline in at least five decades, Catholic education officials reported March 1, according to ABC News.

Among the factors were the closure or consolidation of more than 200 schools and the difficulty for many parents of paying tuition fees that average more than $5,000 for grades K-8 and more than $10,000 for secondary schools, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

John Reyes, the NCEA’s executive director for operational vitality, said the pandemic has been an “accelerant” for longstanding challenges facing Catholic education.

Between the 2019-2020 school year and the current year, nationwide enrollment dropped by 110,000 to about 1.6 million students. Back in the 1960s, enrollment was more than 5 million.


Atheists are most likely to get Covid vaccine

According to a recent survey reported by Religion News Service, atheists and agnostics scored highest of all religious groups in their willingness to get vaccinated.

Ninety percent of atheists and 80 percent of agnostics said they would “definitely or probably” get the Covid-19 vaccine.

Only 54 percent of white evangelicals said the same. It was the lowest of any religious or nonreligious group.

White evangelicals are the least likely to say they should consider the health effects on their community when making a decision to be vaccinated. Only 48 percent of white evangelicals said they would consider the community health effects “a lot” when deciding to be vaccinated. That compares with 70 percent of Black Protestants, 65 percent of Catholics and 68 percent of unaffiliated Americans.

John Fea, a U.S. historian at Messiah University who studies evangelicals, said he wasn’t surprised that white evangelicals seemed least likely to want to take advantage of the vaccine.

“There’s a long history of anti-science within American evangelicalism,” Fea said.


Swiss ‘burka ban’ accepted by slim majority

Switzerland will introduce a clause in its constitution to outlaw face coverings, including the Islamic burka and niqab, in public spaces after a 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent vote on March 7.

It will join five other European countries, including France and Austria, who have already banned such garments in public.

Exceptions to the law will include face coverings for reasons of security, climate, or health – which means protective masks worn against Covid-19 are acceptable. Niqabs and burkas will still be allowed in places of worship.


Supreme Court: Graduated student can seek damages

The U.S. Supreme Court on March 8 sided with a former Georgia college student who sued his school after it prevented him from expressing religious views in a free-speech zone on campus.

The 8-1 decision, with only Chief Justice John Roberts dissenting, said that Chike Uzuegbunam, who was silenced by Georgia Gwinnett College officials even after he had obtained a permit to proselytize and handout religious literature, can seek nominal damages despite the fact that the school ultimately changed course and Uzuegbunam subsequently graduated.

First Amendment advocates, including FFRF, called the decision a win for free speech and religious expression. The decision reversed two lower court rulings that agreed with the school in calling the case moot.


Pandemic has Vatican bracing for $60M deficit

According to a statement released by the Vatican on Feb. 19, Catholic Church leaders say the financial toll of the Covid-19  pandemic on Vatican coffers will be more than $60 million.

Expenses for the tiny city-state this year are expected to reach almost $376 million, while revenues lag behind at just above $316 million.

The Vatican said that its finances were “heavily impacted by the economic crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” which shrank donations and closed the high-earning Vatican museums for months.

The Vatican has not been particularly forthcoming with the state of its finances in the past, but it released its 2021 budget, the statement said, “with the objective of providing more visibility and transparency to the economic transactions of the Holy See.”

In the United States, Catholic dioceses and other Catholic institutions received at least $3 billion in federal aid from the Paycheck Protection Program.


‘QAnon Shaman’ denied request to leave jail

Jacob Chansley, the “QAnon Shaman” who is facing federal charges for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, has been denied a request to be released until trial, despite appeals to his “Shamanic faith,” Religion News Service reports.

A lawyer representing Chansley asked that his client be released from prison while he awaits trial because of his refusal accept a vaccine for Covid-19. Chansley’s refusal to be vaccinated, combined with various COVID-19 protocols in place at prisons where he is being held, have made communication with his attorney impossible, his lawyer said.

But U.S. District Court Judge Royce  Lamberth rejected Chansley’s request on March 8, dismissing several of the arguments — including religious ones.

“To put it plainly, defendant’s religious objection to the Covid-19 vaccine is not a relevant reason, let alone a ‘compelling reason,’ to grant his temporary release,” Lamberth wrote.

Churches favored over science again

The U.S. Supreme Court has engaged again in religiously preferential conduct toward churches resisting Covid-19 health orders, much to the FFRF’s chagrin.

In an unsigned order issued on Feb. 27, the high court blocked local health regulations seeking to slow the spread of Covid-19 via indoor worship services. A group of churches suing Santa Clara County, Calif., appealed to the Supreme Court after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left in place limits on indoor worship. The court’s brief order simply refers to one of its prior decisions: “This outcome is clearly dictated by this court’s decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom.” Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The county had argued that its regulations, which temporarily limited “all indoor gatherings of all kinds,” are neutral and did not single out churches. The county also filed a letter with the court indicating that decreasing rates of Covid-19 would lead to allowing indoor worship gatherings as early as Wednesday, March 3. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court went ahead with its order.

Covid-19 cases have topped 114 million globally, with more than 2.53 million deaths.

“Given the fact that the United States is the worst-hit country with the highest number of cases and deaths, it’s appalling that the Supreme Court has gone out of its way to favor churches,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Churches and religious gatherings have figured highly as super-spreaders. This decision is not based on the science, but on privileging churches.”

Other California churches that challenged health orders have flaunted their disregard for public health — and have been coddled by the highest court in the land. Harvest Rock Church was granted an injunction by the Supreme Court on Feb. 5. Its most recent Sunday service featured 30 straight seconds of shouting as part of a 40-minute sing-along.

“This reckless behavior is exactly why churches should have to follow the same rules as other gatherings,” adds Gaylor.

Epidemiologists have warned about extended worship gatherings that involve singing. Kagan had previously cited the state of California’s expert witness, who reported that there is an increased risk of community spread where churches have lengthy gatherings that involve singing or chanting.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court continues to favor churches over science.

In the News (March 2021)

Court: Boston can reject Christian flag

Three flags fly outside the Boston City Hall. One is always the American flag, the second is always the Massachusetts state flag and the third flag varies, based on private groups who submit their flag to be flown. A court ruled that the city may bar the Christian flag from being the third flag. (Photo courtesy of city of Boston)

The city of Boston can refuse a citizen’s request to fly a Christian flag over City Hall, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Jan. 22, according to Courthouse News.

This doesn’t violate the plaintiff’s right to free speech nor does it discriminate against religion, the court said.

Boston is “entitled to select the views that it wants to express,” U.S. Circuit Judge Bruce Selya wrote for a three-judge panel. And the refusal to fly the flag “simply cannot be construed to suggest the disparagement of the plaintiffs’ religion.”

The court said the flagpoles represent the government’s speech, not the public’s speech, because a casual observer seeing the flags would assume that the city intended whatever message they convey. 

FFRF had originally joined the amicus brief supporting the city.

Ex-state Rep. Saccone resigns after comments

Former Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone, who was the target of an FFRF lawsuit in 2012, resigned from his teaching position at St. Vincent College after comments he made on social media.

Saccone tweeted a selfie from the Capitol on Jan. 6, saying: “We are storming the Capitol . . .  We will save this nation. Are u with me?”

A pro-Trump violent demonstration at the U.S. Capitol left five dead. Saccone, 62, resigned as an adjunct instructor the following day, Jan. 7.

In March 2012, FFRF sued against a declaration by the Pennsylvania House that 2012 is “The Year of the Bible,” which was authored by Saccone. U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner on Oct. 1, 2012, dismissed the case, ruling House officials had legislative immunity, but chastised House officials for “premeditated pandering.”

Abortion ban takes effect in Poland

A near-total ban on abortion in Poland went into effect on Jan. 27, despite protests from hundreds of thousands of residents.

The law halts the termination of pregnancies for fetal abnormalities, basically the only kind of abortion performed in Poland.

The decision had been made in October by the Constitutional Tribunal, but its implementation was delayed after it prompted a month of protests. On Jan. 27,  the government abruptly announced that the ruling was being published in the government’s journal, meaning it came into effect.

“We are dealing with incompetence, corruption, a total decay of the state, so these men are doing what they know best — taking away rights and freedoms from the citizens,” Marta Lempart, a protest organizer, told a television station.

8-year-old expelled for having crush on girl

Chloe Shelton, an 8-year-old second-grader, was expelled from Rejoice Christian Schools in Owasso, Okla., because she told another girl she had a crush on her.

“[Chloe] said the vice principal sat her down and said the bible says you can only marry a man and have children with a man,” said Delanie Shelton, Chloe’s mother. “My daughter was crying, saying, ‘Does God still love me?’”

Rejoice Christian Schools told Shelton they don’t condone boyfriend/girlfriend relationships on campus.

“The vice principal asked me ‘How do I feel about girls liking girls?’ And I said, ‘If we’re being honest, I think it’s OK for girls to like girls’ and she looked shocked and appalled,” Delanie Shelton said.

Ark. House OKs bill to let churches stay open

A bill passed the Arkansas House 75–10 on Jan. 28 that would prohibit the state from closing churches or prohibiting religious gatherings during emergencies, including a pandemic.

The bill would allow houses of worship to ignore reasonable public health restrictions, increasing the likelihood that in-person church services will become Covid-19 superspreader events.

The bill now moves to the Republican-heavy state Senate, which is also likely to approve it.

Iowa bill would ‘out’ LGBTQ+ students

A bill introduced in the Iowa Senate has critics saying that it’s a blatant attempt to “out” LGBTQ+ students.

Senate File 80 states that if a school chooses to ask a student or give them a survey which asks them to identify their gender, that information would be required to be provided to the parent or guardian of the student.

One Iowa, whose mission is to improve the lives of the LGBTQ+ community in Iowa, has criticized the bill because not all students who consider themselves LGBTQ+ are comfortable “outing” themselves to their parents.

Survey: Covid-19 in U.S. has strengthened faith

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in the summer of 2020 reveals that more Americans than people in other economically developed countries say the outbreak has bolstered their religious faith and the faith of their compatriots.

Nearly three in 10 Americans (28 percent) report stronger personal faith because of the pandemic, and the same share think the religious faith of Americans overall has strengthened, according to the survey of 14 economically developed countries.

Far smaller shares in other parts of the world say religious faith has been affected by the coronavirus. For example, just 10 percent of British adults report that their own faith is stronger as a result of the pandemic. In Japan, 5 percent of people say religion now plays a stronger role in both their own lives and the lives of their fellow citizens.

Majorities or pluralities in all the countries surveyed do not feel that religious faith has been strengthened by the pandemic, including 68 percent of U.S. adults who say their own faith has not changed much.

Judge: Church’s beach parking is religious act

A federal judge in Florida ruled on Jan. 29 that the community of St. Pete Beach couldn’t stop a church from allowing beachgoers to use its parking lot, calling the practice a legitimate ministry.

The United Church of Christ parking lot, which has 70 spaces, is about a block from a metered lot run by the city. In June 2016, the city fined the church twice for violating a law governing commercial parking lots. The church filed its complaint in the U.S. District Court of Florida.

As Religion News Service writes, “The arguments in the case hinged, as they often do in religious freedom rulings, on whether the church’s insistence on keeping the parking lot available to the public was ‘a sincerely held belief’ of the church’s faith.”

Researcher: Definition of ‘evangelical’ changing

Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science and a researcher from Eastern Illinois University, says that the term “evangelical” is morphing into something more political.   

In his Jan. 26 op-ed on the Religion News Service site, “Think U.S. evangelicals are dying out? Well, define evangelicalism,” Burge writes: “The assumption is that the term [evangelical] describes those who place high value on the teachings of the bible and strive to evangelize other people into their faith.

“However, that understanding of the term seems to be fading, replaced with a more amorphous concept that melds together religious doctrine and an affinity for conservative politics that experts are only beginning to understand now.”

Burge continues: “For instance, in her book From Politics to Pews, scholar Michele Margolis argues that people are choosing their religious affiliation based on their political partisanship with greater frequency now than in prior decades.”

Saudi women’s activist released from prison

Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released from custody on Feb 10, according to several news outlets.

She was best known for challenging the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. In 2014, al-Hathloul, tried to drive her car across the border from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia and was detained for more than 70 days.

She was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to almost six years in prison last December under a broad counterterrorism law. She’s been in prison since then and her release after 1,001 days is due to time served and a partially suspended sentence

But al-Hathloul’s family has said she is not really free because she has been banned from leaving the country for five years and will not be allowed to speak with journalists.

Satanic Temple sues Boston over prayer policy

The Satanic Temple on Jan. 23 sued the city of Boston after the City Council declined to allow Satanists to deliver an invocation at the start of its meetings.

The Satanic Temple said the council’s policy for its opening prayer is discriminatory and unconstitutional because it does not permit prayer from every religious organization that wishes to deliver one.

Satanists have asked to give the opening invocation on at least three occasions, and each time they were informed the council doesn’t accept requests, the organization said.

The Satanic Temple, in its federal lawsuit, argued that the council policy violates the city’s public accommodations statute, which states that any place serving a public function is entitled to protection from discrimination. It also violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, which it argues guarantees all religions an equal opportunity to participate in free-speech forums.

After legal battle, secular invocation given in Florida

David Williamson

David Williamson, a director and co-founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community (a chapter of FFRF), offered what is believed to be the first-ever secular invocation to open a meeting of Brevard’s Board of County Commissioners.

Williamson’s invocation on Jan. 26 was noteworthy because the board previously had denied him and other nontheists the opportunity to offer secular invocations to open its meetings, while permitting a parade of religious invocations, thus sparking a nearly five-year-long legal battle. The case, in which FFRF was a major participant, ended successfully in February 2020 when commissioners agreed not to discriminate against nonreligious individuals or those who don’t belong to mainstream, monotheistic religions.

Williamson’s remarks reflect on the shared American ideals of public service, democracy, compassion, community and seeking common ground.

“The religious landscape of Brevard includes a fast-growing number of nonreligious people,” stated Williamson. “It is an honor to begin the process of including atheists, humanists and others who claim no religion whatsoever as equal members of the community.”

Williamson was the lead plaintiff in Williamson v. Brevard County, which was filed in 2015 by FFRF, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida. Other plaintiffs included the Central Florida Freethought Community; the Space Coast Freethought Association and its former president, Chase Hansel; the Humanist Community of the Space Coast and its president, Keith Becher; and Brevard County resident Ronald Gordon.

The plaintiffs settled the case last year after the county agreed to implement a July 2019 decision of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which made clear that government officials must not engage in religious discrimination when selecting people to deliver opening invocations. As part of the settlement, the county agreed to pay nearly $500,000 in damages and legal fees to plaintiffs.

Report: $1.5B PPP abuse by Catholic Church

Don Addis cartoon

Another new bombshell report by the Associated Press shows once again that churches are stealing from the American taxpayer:

“As the pandemic began to unfold, AP revealed Feb. 4, “scores of Catholic dioceses across the U.S. received aid through the Paycheck Protection Program while sitting on well over $10 billion in cash, short-term investments or other available funds, an Associated Press investigation has found. And despite the broad economic downturn, these assets have grown in many dioceses.”

AP reports that “[t]he 112 dioceses that shared their financial statements collected at least $1.5 billion in taxpayer-backed aid. A majority of these dioceses reported enough money on hand to cover at least six months of operating expenses, even without any new income.”

The PPP is not even a year old and already the grift and abuse by church has been enormous. And, unfortunately, we’ll see more: The Paycheck Protection Program was reopened on Jan. 11.

Remember all the state/church problems with PPP that FFRF has fought and brought to light in the past year?

First, the Small Business Administration violated the Constitution and trampled longstanding agency rules to extend these loans to churches. This was clearly unconstitutional, as FFRF explained to the SBA at the time.

The SBA is currently — even under the new administration — working to make these rules permanent.

Second, this rule change was not authorized by the COVID relief act that created PPP. The CARES Act extended eligibility for loans from the SBA to nonprofits, which was new. But the law did not give the SBA the power to extend this eligibility to churches, nor could it — the Constitution prohibits government funding of religion. The CARES Act only mentions religion once, to prevent universities from using taxpayer funds for “capital outlays associated with facilities related to athletics, sectarian instruction, or religious worship.”

However, the SBA ignored that language, and the centuries-old bar on taxpayer-funded religious worship, and issued rules and guidance declaring that your taxpayer funds “can be used to pay the salaries of ministers and other staff engaged in the religious mission of institutions.” To do this, SBA had to suspend numerous rules that, correctly, prevented taxpayer funds from flowing to churches.

SBA was spurred to do this because a few congressmen, like Christian Nationalist Josh Hawley who has since helped incite an insurrection, declared after the fact and against the language of the law and the Constitution, that churches were beneficiaries. Again, FFRF was there to explain why this was wrong.

Third, the Trump administration was using the program to reward his closest political allies. FFRF broke the story of secretive White House calls between SBA officials and religious leaders that supported Trump politically. The preachers were encouraged to apply for the PPP funds and promised help. Trump-allied faith leaders were assured by the federal government that even a discriminatory fly-by-night “church” that provides absolutely no secular social services, and of which the owner is the sole employee, could have its wages covered by taxpayers during the PPP time period. On one call, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council, explained that the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, which took in $350,000–$1 million, “has literally been kept solvent . . . by the Paycheck Protection Plan (sic)” and explained that in 43 years of leading two faith-based ministries, he has “never asked for, nor received, one cent from the federal government” expressing his surprise that taxpayer funds could now flow to his ministry.

Finally, there’s well-documented but still emerging abuse. FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel  wrote, “American churches took in as much as $10 billion in taxpayer funds through PPP loans. More than 400 evangelical churches received loans of at least $1 million. The Catholic Church might have taken in as much as $3.5 billion.” He explained that Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church took in nearly $5 million in taxpayer funds. Other mega-churches purchased private jets, returning the taxpayer money when they were caught.

And this is only the tip of the corruption, as the latest AP report shows.

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