In the News (April 2020)

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

The Oklahoma House has backed a bill that would require hundreds of public buildings in the state to display the national motto, “In God We Trust.”

The House voted 76–20 on March 2 in favor of the bill, sending it to the Senate. House Bill 3817 would require the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to display “In God We Trust” in a prominent place in all state buildings, except for those owned by school districts.

The size and placement of the phrase would match how the motto is displayed in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

The bill could cost the state an estimated $85,000 to place the signs in 342 state buildings.

Coach loses lawsuit over praying on field

The former high school assistant football coach in Washington who sued the school district after he was ordered in 2015 to stop praying on the field after games lost his lawsuit on March 5. FFRF had written an amicus brief in the case siding with the district.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton ruled that Joe Kennedy’s religious rights were not violated when he was coaching at Bremerton High School.

Kennedy’s attorney said he would appeal.

In 2015, the district placed Kennedy on administrative leave after he repeatedly violated the district’s directive to stop praying on the field immediately after games

Appeals court upholds rules involving abortions

A U.S. appeals court on Feb. 24 upheld Trump administration changes that include additional hurdles for those seeking abortions through a federal program that helps low-income women.

The 7–4 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned decisions issued by judges in Washington, Oregon and California. The court had already allowed the administration’s changes to begin taking effect while the government appealed those rulings.

The rules ban taxpayer-funded clinics in the Title X program from making abortion referrals and prohibit clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers — a rule critics said would force many to find new locations, undergo expensive remodels or shut down.

More than 20 states and several civil rights and health organizations challenged the rules in cases filed in Oregon, Washington and California. Judges in all three states blocked the rules from taking effect.

Religious ‘extremists’ target pregnant women

A global network of “crisis pregnancy centers,” backed by anti-abortion groups linked to the Trump White House, has been condemned by lawmakers, doctors and rights advocates for targeting vulnerable women with “disinformation, emotional manipulation and outright deceit,” according to a report by openDemocracy.

There are thousands of these centers in the United States and many have been criticized for posing as neutral health facilities for women while hiding their anti-abortion and religious agendas.

In its investigation, openDemocracy sent undercover reporters posing as vulnerable women with unwanted pregnancies to centers affiliated with Heartbeat International in 18 countries. It found that women were falsely told abortion increases risks of cancer and mental illness; that a woman needs consent from a partner to access abortion; and that hospitals will refuse to treat medical complications from abortion.

Heartbeat International has close ties to the White House. Vice President Pence has spoken at its events and President Trump applauded a 2018 Supreme Court decision in favor of crisis pregnancy centers.

Blasphemy resolution passes House committee

A bipartisan resolution calling for the worldwide repeal of blasphemy laws unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 4.

Res. 512 calls for the Department of State to work toward the global repeal of criminal laws against blasphemy, apostasy and heresy.

The bill was introduced on July 23, 2019, by Rep. Jamie Raskin, co-founder of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, along with Rep. Mark Meadows.

Poll: Dem candidates not seen as very religious

Americans don’t consider the Democratic candidates to be particularly religious, according to a Pew Research Center survey that asked about four candidates (prior to Pete Buttigieg dropping out of the race): Joe Biden, Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Sanders is described as “not too” or “not at all” religious by 60 percent, while a third of respondents say Sanders is at least “somewhat” religious.

Biden is the only candidate who is considered at least “somewhat” religious by more than half of U.S. adults (55 percent), though only 9 percent describe him as “very” religious.

Opinions about all four candidates are divided along party lines: Respondents who identify as Democrats or say they lean toward the Democratic Party are much more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners to say that Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders or Warren are at least somewhat religious.

While some Democrats are highly religious — especially black and Hispanic Democrats — the party has become increasingly unaffiliated in recent years. The share of Democrats and Democratic leaners who identify as Christian declined by 17 percentage points between 2009 and 2019 (from 72 percent to 55 percent), while the share who are religiously unaffiliated jumped by 14 points, from 20 percent to 34 percent.

Bible bill heads to W.Va. governor’s desk

The West Virginia state Senate passed and sent to Gov. Jim Justice a bill clarifying that county school boards may offer elective courses on the bible.

HB 4780 passed March 4 30–3–1, but not before warnings about the constitutionality of the bill.

“I’ll bet you a Holy Rosary that this is going to be declared unconstitutional,” said Sen. Mike Woelfel, moments before he reluctantly voted for it, according to MetroNews.

Sen. Patricia Rucker defended the bill when asked if it had provisions for other sacred texts to be studied.

“No, it does not,” Rucker responded. “It says Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament or New Testament.”

Rolls-Royce and $112K? You can meet the pope

According to a Rolls Royce app, if you own a new Rolls Royce and have $112,000 to donate to the Catholic Church, you can have a private audience and Mass with the pope, the Religion News Service reports.

The Whispers app, which was unveiled in February and is only available to owners of new Rolls-Royce cars, features “an offer that promises a one-hour private audience and Mass with the pope, followed by an ‘exclusive’ tour of the Vatican and other sites around Rome,” according to screenshots from the app that a Religion News Service reporter viewed.

Applicants are also told that a minimum “fully deductible” donation to the Catholic Church of 100,000 euro (about $112,000) is requested and will be “hand delivered to the pope himself.”

Study: Just 1 in 4 now a practicing Christian

Christianity in the United States has undergone dramatic change in the last few decades, with the number of practicing Christians now only about half as common as in 2000.

The Barna Group, which has survey data over several decades, found that currently, just one in four Americans is a practicing Christian. A practicing Christian is identified as a Christian who says that faith is very important in their lives and who has attended church within the past month.

In 2000, 45 percent of all those sampled qualified as practicing Christians. That share has consistently declined in the past 20 years, and now is at 25 percent. 

Trump has stacked courts with arch-conservatives

The New York Times published an analysis of the more than 185 federal judgeships so far appointed during the Trump administration. These lifetime appointments include 51 to appeals courts, who now make up a quarter of the entire appellate bench. Trump has made these appointments in only three years, contrasting with the total of 50 appeals court judges confirmed under the Obama administration in eight years.

The stacking of the appeals court with arch-conservative appointments is very significant, because, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “the court of appeals is where policy is made.”

“Perhaps most telling,” the Times reports, “all but eight of the new judges have had ties to the Federalist Society.” Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has called Trump’s appellate nominees “far outside the judicial mainstream.”

Christian poll didn’t get results it wanted

After getting results diametrically opposed to what it assumed it would get, the National Association of Christian Lawmakers blamed Satanists and atheists for the results.

The poll, sponsored by their own organization, showed 95.8 percent of the 16,000 respondents do not want to see Christians hold more elected offices.

“View the comments on this thread to see what religious persecution and anti-Christian bigotry looks like in America,” it said on the group’s Twitter page. “Satanists and atheists piled on this poll and have begun leaving vile messages as well.”

The organization was founded by Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, who earlier claimed Christianity is in decline and warned of “the rise of the occult in our nation.”