In the News (December 2020)

Church defiance to restrictions is growing

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

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

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

Poland delays abortion ban as protests continue

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

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

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

Trump sparks a rise of Patriot churches

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

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

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

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

Beheaded French teacher to be awarded honor

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

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

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

Americans supportive of LGBTQ rights

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

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

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

John Paul II blamed for McCarrick elevation

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

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

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

Survey: Prejudice higher for religion in the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo diocese sued over sex abuse  cover-up

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

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

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

Appeals court: Texas can kick PP out of Medicaid

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

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

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