In the News (December 2021)

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A third in U.S. believe religion is net negative

In 2019, the Public Religion Research Institute in its American Values Survey asked respondents to react to two statements that summarized the extremes of the religious debate. 1. — “Religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” 2. — “It is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.”

A third of all Americans believe that religion is a net negative in American society, and only one in 10 completely agrees that “religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” Only 20 percent of Republicans think religion is a negative force in American society, while 45 percent of Democrats hold the same position. 

On the question of whether it is necessary for people to believe in God to be moral and have good values, there’s also widespread support for the sentiment that people can be good without God. About 60 percent believed that those who didn’t believe in God could still be moral citizens. Those numbers aren’t much different for Democrats or independents, but 56 percent of Republicans think it’s not possible to be moral without a belief in God.

Poll: Strong support for upholding Roe v. Wade

Americans, by a 2-to-1 margin, believe the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The public also strongly opposes the Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The poll shows 27 percent of Americans say the court should overturn Roe, while 60 percent say it should be upheld, attitudes that are consistent in polls dating to 2005, the Washington Post reports. 

Asked about a Texas law that authorizes private citizens anywhere in the country to sue anyone who performs or aids someone in obtaining an abortion in Texas after about six weeks of pregnancy, the poll finds 65 percent say the court should reject the law, while 29 percent say it should be upheld. The Supreme Court is considering the role federal courts can play in evaluating the Texas law, which was intended to avoid federal court review. 

A separate question finds 36 percent support state laws that make it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate, while 58 percent oppose such restrictions, including 45 percent who oppose them “strongly.”

“The poll results show why some on the court might be reluctant to take such a bold step,” writes Scott Clement of the Washington Post. “Roe has become synonymous with a woman’s right to choose abortion, even as some restrictions on the process can be politically popular.”

Evangelicals want to live in Christian country

A majority (57 percent) of white evangelical Christians said they’d prefer that the United States be a nation primarily made up of people who follow Christianity, according to a new study from Public Religion Research Institute. Only 13 percent of white evangelicals said they prefer the country to be made up of people belonging to a wide variety of religions. 

“On this question, there is really more going on than politics,” said Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s CEO. 

Also, 75 percent of white evangelicals say the values of Islam are at odds with American values and ways of life — significantly more than any other U.S. religious group.

The survey also finds white evangelicals to be outliers on a host of other issues.

Almost a quarter of white evangelicals (23 percent) believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory — more than any other religious group. White evangelicals are also the religious group most likely to say American patriots might have to resort to violence to save the country.

New low for number of religious Canadians 

A new report from Statistics Canada has found that Canadians are becoming less religious.

New StatCan data show that in 2019, only 68 percent of Canadians reported having a religious affiliation. It’s the first time that fewer than 70 percent of Canadians reported being religiously affiliated since StatCan began tracking the data in 1985. Between 2000 and 2017, the percentage of religiously affiliated Canadians hovered around 77 to 82 percent, before declining to 75 percent in 2018.

Only 23 percent of Canadians in 2019 reported attending group religious activities, such as church service, at least once a month. Between 2000 and 2009, that figure was around 30 percent.

Individual religious activities, such as prayer or meditation, are also on the decline. Only 30 percent of Canadians reported engaging in such activities at least once a week, compared to 46 percent in 2006, when the data was first collected.

‘Procession’ documentary reveals clergy sex abuse 

In the new Netflix documentary “Procession,” six men who survived clergy sexual abuse as children make short films to try to process their trauma. The film debuted in theaters and on Netflix in November and shows the group from Kansas City working as a collective in scenes based on their memories and dreams.

In Ed Gavagan’s vignette, a priest sits with his trousers off in an all-white bedroom, beckons to Gavagan and asks, “What do you do when you think of girls? If you can’t tell me, then you can show me. Show me what you do when you have impure thoughts.”

Later in the scene, Gavagan vents his frustration by smashing up the set with a sledgehammer after learning criminal charges against his alleged abuser have been dropped. Although four of the men received settlements from civil suits, none of the accused priests was charged with a crime.

“Procession” is director Robert Greene’s seventh feature documentary and is influenced by drama therapy. The abuse survivors saw the potential to confront long-buried parts of themselves. They took on roles in each other’s stories and used the same young actor, Terrick Trobough, to play themselves in every segment.

“I admit I was a bit skeptical about the drama therapy part, but the way it’s presented is quite powerful,” said Tilt magazine critic Stephen Silver. 

“There’s no fixing” what happened decades ago, said Greene. “There’s no giving back to these guys what was taken from them. All we could hope to do is move forward.”

Religious exemptions for contractors rolled back

The Department of Labor has rolled back a rule made during the Trump administration that clarified religious exemptions for federal contractors organized around faith-based activities that would allow them to discriminate against certain groups in hiring decisions.

The department had already signaled its intent to rescind the rule after facing lawsuits opposing the rule, which went into effect on Jan. 8.

Since its proposal, civil rights groups had opposed the rule, saying that it stoked confusion about nondiscrimination laws and encouraged those wanting to discriminate to seek federal contracts. They also warned that it could usher in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in particular.

The Biden administration said the rule had been a departure from “long-standing policy and practice” of how the department had interpreted an existing religious exemption for contractors.

French bishops agree to compensate abuse victims

France’s Catholic Church announced on Nov. 8 that it would compensate sex abuse victims by selling property assets or taking out a loan, if needed.

French bishops said in a written statement they will set up an “independent, national body” tasked with addressing compensation issues. 

Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the Bishops’ Conference, stressed that the Church has recognized its “institutional responsibility” and decided to go “on a path of recognition and reparation that paves the way for victims to get the possibility of a mediation and a compensation.”

The Bishops Conference held its annual meeting a month after a report revealed large-scale child sex abuse within the French Catholic Church. The study released by an independent commission estimated that some 330,000 children were sexually abused over 70 years by priests or other church-related figures.

Judge: Texas ban on mask mandates violates ADA

A federal judge ruled Nov. 10 that the ban by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on mask mandates in his state’s schools violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel’s decision bars state Attorney General Ken Paxton from enforcing the governor’s executive order. The decision comes after parents of young children with disabilities and a disability rights group sued Texas officials this summer, alleging that Abbott’s executive order put students with disabilities at risk.

“The spread of COVID-19 poses an even greater risk for children with special health needs,” wrote Yeakel, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, in Wednesday’s decision. “Children with certain underlying conditions who contract COVID-19 are more likely to experience severe acute biological effects and to require admission to a hospital and the hospital’s intensive-care unit.”