In the News (Jan/Feb 2022)

Supreme Court keeps Texas abortion law in effect

The Supreme Court on Dec. 10 left in place a Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks, but provided a path for abortion providers to challenge the law.

The court’s decision allows the providers to return to a district judge who once blocked the law, saying it violated the constitutional right to abortion.

That restarts the legal process that has seen the law remain in effect since Sept. 1, when the Supreme Court refused to step in to block it.

Eight justices said the abortion providers may bring the challenge. 

Nearly 3 in 10 adults religiously unaffiliated

The number of religiously unaffiliated adults in the United States is at an all-time high, with 29 percent saying they are not a member of any religion. That is 6 percentage points higher than five years ago and 10 points higher than a decade ago, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

While Christians still make up a majority of the U.S. populace, their share of the population is 12 points lower from 10 years ago. Also, the share of U.S. adults who say they pray on a daily basis has been trending downward, as has the share who say religion is “very important” in their lives.

Christians still outnumber religious Nones by a ratio of a about 2-to-1, but, in 2007, when the question was first asked, Christians outnumbered Nones by almost 5-to-1.

State Department takes action on Avijit Roy death

On Dec. 20, the U.S. State Department finally issued a reward of up to $5 million for information regarding the deadly machete attack on Avijit Roy and his wife Bonya Ahmed, who was severely injured.

The State Department sent out a notice, stating: 

“Rewards for Justice offers a reward of up to $5 million for information on terrorist attack against Americans in Bangladesh. On Feb. 26, 2015, al-Qaida-linked terrorists killed Avijit Roy and wounded his wife Rafida Bonya Ahmed as the couple left a book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“Six individuals were convicted in a Bangladeshi court and sentenced for their role in the attack.  Two of those defendants — Syed Ziaul Haque (aka Major Zia) and Akram Hossain — were tried in absentia and remain at large.”

Man tortured, killed in Pakistan for blasphemy

A Pakistani mob tortured, killed and then set on fire a Sri Lankan man who was accused of blasphemy, according to a report in The Guardian.

Priyantha Diyawadana, a Sri Lankan national, was set upon by a violent crowd on Dec. 3 over some posters he had allegedly taken down.

The incident began when rumors surfaced that Diyawadana, who had been manager of an industrial engineering factory for seven years, had taken down a poster bearing words from the Quran. By the morning, a crowd began to gather at the factory gates and by early afternoon they had charged into the factory and seized Diyawadana.

Pakistan has draconian laws against blasphemy, which carry the death sentence. The laws are often used against religious minorities and those accused are sometimes lynched before they are proven guilty in a court. 

New German chancellor omits ‘so help me God’

Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, took God out of his oath on Dec. 8.

Scholz omitted the final four words — “so help me God” — from the traditional oath. The oaths Scholz took as mayor of Hamburg in 2011 and as finance minister in 2018 were also nonreligious.

The chancellor was raised as a Protestant but later formally left the church. When asked by a tabloid what he believed in, Scholz said: “That we humans are responsible for one another. That we need to be just with one another. Call it solidarity of loving one’s neighbor.”

Report: Utah used LDS Church to ‘help’ the poor

An investigation by the nonprofit journalism collaborative ProPublica reveals that Utah’s rules for giving cash assistance to the poor are so tight that almost no one qualifies, and instead points them to the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for assistance. 

ProPublica unearthed a signed memorandum of understanding between Utah’s Workforce Services and the LDS Church that calls for the church to quantify the aid it provides to the poor so that the state can count it toward fulfilling its obligation to spend money on assistance. That deal has allowed the state to count at least $75 million in LDS Church welfare — cash and volunteered labor — toward its own assistance efforts over the last decade.

And once those people seeking assistance are sent over to the church, many of them are expected to accept proselytizing visits in their homes, to attend church services, even to be baptized in the faith, in order to qualify for food, cash or other assistance.

As the Salt Lake Tribune said in an editorial: “That is an obvious violation of the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion in America.

Reality TV star guilty of child pornography

A federal jury in Fayetteville, Ark., on Dec. 9 found conservative Christian activist Josh Duggar guilty of one count each of receiving and possessing child pornography. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and $250,000 in fines.

Duggar, 33, was accused of downloading images showing sexual abuse of children, some younger than 12. Prosecutors alleged he installed a password-protected partition on a computer at his used car lot in Springdale, Ark., in May 2019 to avoid software that detects explicit images of children.

From 2008-15, Duggar was a star of the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting” about a large family guided by conservative Christian values. It was taken off the air after a 2006 police report surfaced detailing how he had molested five teen girls. His parents told Fox News in 2015 that four of the five were his sisters.

No criminal charges were filed then due to the statute of limitations. Duggar resigned as director of the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council.

S.D. governor pushes for morning prayer in schools

South Dakota’s Gov. Kristi Noem has introduced a bill that would allow students in public schools to pray every morning at school if they so choose.

In a statement, Noem shared her belief that “every student deserves the opportunity to begin their day with a calm, silent moment.”

“I hope students will take this opportunity to say a quick prayer or reflect on their upcoming day,” she wrote. “However they choose to take advantage of this time, it will be beneficial to students and teachers alike.”

Potential uses for this moment of silence include “voluntary prayer, reflection, meditation or other quiet, respectful activity.”

Majority in U.S. critical of religious exemptions

The New York Times reports that only about one in 10 Americans says that receiving the Covid-19 vaccine would violate their religious beliefs, while about 60 percent say that too many people are using religion as an excuse to avoid vaccine mandates, according to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core.

A majority of Americans are critical of religious exemptions and say that the vaccines do not violate their own religious beliefs or the teachings of their religion, and that there are no valid religious reasons to refuse the Covid-19 vaccine.

The survey indicates a sharp divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans, according to the New York Times report. That gap widens along partisan lines. More than 80 percent of vaccinated Democrats say they are angry at those who refuse to get vaccinated, and similar numbers of unvaccinated Republicans are “angry at those who think they have the right to tell me to get vaccinated against Covid-19.” 

Atheists: Society fine without marriage, kids

Among self-described atheists, 91 percent say society fares just as well when people have priorities other than marriage and children. That percentage was by far the highest among all “religious” affiliations.  

White evangelicals are the only religious subgroup in which a majority (56 percent) say that prioritizing marriage and having children is better for society. 

On average, evangelical Christians bear about the same number of children as other Americans, and while they tend to marry at a younger age than other U.S. adults, members of evangelical denominations are not necessarily more likely to be married than members of other Christian subgroups — and they may have higher divorce rates.

Among all Americans with a religious affiliation — whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or something else — 56 percent believe it is OK for society if people have priorities besides marriage and children, compared with 82 percent of those with no religion.

U.S. military has granted no religious exemptions

As of late December, the U.S. military services had yet to grant any religious exemptions to the Pentagon’s Covid-19 vaccinate mandate, out of at least 12,000 requests from service members, the services said.

In all, 1,746 soldiers, 2,751 sailors, 4,756 airmen and 3,144 Marines have asked for religious exemption, according to the latest data released by the services. The service branches haven’t reviewed all the requests, and may yet grant some.