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.