In the News (November 2020)

Supreme Court won’t hear Kim Davis case

The Supreme Court on Oct. 5 said it won’t hear a case from Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, the Washington Post reported.

The court rebuffed the case from Davis, the former county clerk who was sued after she said her religious convictions kept her from recognizing same-sex marriages. She was briefy jailed over the issue.

While Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they agreed with the court’s decision not to accept Davis’ appeal, they renewed their objections over the case.

“Davis may have been one of the first victims of this court’s cavalier treatment of religion in its Obergefell decision, but she will not be the last,” Thomas wrote. “Due to Obergefell, those with sincerely held religious beliefs concerning marriage will find it increasingly difficult to participate in society without running afoul of Obergefell and its effect on other anti-discrimination laws.”

Some baptisms may be invalid, archdiocese says

The Archdiocese of Detroit is trying to contact those who may have received invalid sacraments after a priest in the archdiocese learned his own baptism as an infant 30 years ago was invalid, according to a report on DetroitCatholic.com.

On Aug. 6, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note clarifying that baptisms using an improper formula — using the phrase “We baptize you . . .” instead of the Church’s “I baptize you . . .”  — are not valid.

Matthew Hood, an associate pastor, contacted the Archdiocese of Detroit after finding out that his baptism used the wrong wording.

“It was devastating for me to find that out,” Hood told Detroit Catholic. “There was definitely shock and sadness at finding out 30 years later that I was never baptized. It was an alienating sense that even though I was following the Lord, I wasn’t a Christian, and I wasn’t a priest, and I wasn’t a deacon.”

Court shows interest in abortion medication case

The Supreme Court issued a decision on Oct. 8 saying that it was holding onto a case involving access to abortion medication. While not yet deciding the matter, the court said in FDA v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that it would benefit from a “more comprehensive record.” It directed a lower court to consider a request from the government to lift a court order that provides for non-contact access to abortion medication.

Because of the pandemic, a Maryland district court issued an injunction against the enforcement of an FDA rule that requires women to pick up in person a pill that induces abortion. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors and patients sued over the rule, given concerns about unnecessary face-to-face contact. The FDA asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the rule.

This decision by the Supreme Court is significant because it shows substantial interest by the justices on this issue. The decision is also informative because of a dissent filed by Justice Samuel Alito, who would have taken the case outright and ruled in favor of the FDA. He wrote that the pandemic has caused “unprecedented restrictions on personal liberty,” and said that “free exercise of religion also has suffered previously unimaginable restraints.” Alito added, “While COVID–19 has provided the ground for restrictions on First Amendment rights, the District Court saw the pandemic as a ground for expanding the abortion right recognized in Roe v. Wade.”

Pakistani court acquits man for blasphemy

A Pakistani appeals court has acquitted a Christian man who spent about seven years in jail on the accusation of blasphemy.

Sawan Masih, 40, was arrested in 2013 on blasphemy charge following an argument with a Muslim.

A two-member bench of the Lahore High Court on Oct. 6 acquitted Masih of all charges, with a full verdict detailing the reasons for the acquittal to be issued at a later date.

Masih was convicted and sentenced to death under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws by a lower court in 2014. The court had convicted him of insulting Prophet Muhammad, a charge that carries a mandatory death penalty under Pakistani law.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews hit hard by coronavirus

Defiance to public health measures and lack of education are the driving forces behind the high levels of COVID–19 infections among ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel (and New York City), according to an article in Foreign Policy.

Israelis, in general, have followed the lockdown protocols, the ultra-Orthodox Jews known as Haredim have accounted for as much as 40 percent of new daily confirmed cases in Israel.

And in New York City, another region with a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jews, communities have also been hit hard by the coronavirus. In one area, the average rate of positive test results was 28 percent, compared with 1 percent statewide.

Foreign Policy writes: “In Israel — and increasingly in the United States — the ultra-Orthodox community is impoverished and uneducated in the skills that prepare them for life in the modern world. Over the last decades, the Haredi ideal has been to be a ‘society of learners,’ where men pursue a life of religious study to the exclusion of everything else well into adulthood.”

Christian Nationalists flout safety guidelines

A group of academics say Christian Nationalism is either the single best predictor or a top predictor of whether a person will flout social distancing recommendations, among other science-negative beliefs and actions, according to a report from Religion News.

Samuel Perry, associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma, Andrew Whitehead of Indiana University and Joshua Grubbs of Bowling Green State University “argue in a series of new papers that Christian Nationalism is a top predictor of whether a person will flout social distancing recommendations, be skeptical of science, find nothing racist about calling COVID–19 the ‘China virus’ or argue that lockdown orders threaten the economy and liberty — all while deprioritizing the threat to the vulnerable,” according to Religion News.

“Christian Nationalism is knocking out all of the competition in terms of factors that influence these things,” said Perry, who co-authored with Whitehead the book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.

Pope sides with science on climate change

Pope Francis, during a prerecorded TED talk that streamed Oct. 10, urged lawmakers to follow science and to deal with climate change as a “moral imperative,” according to a report by Religion News Service.

“Science tells us each day with greater precision that urgent action is needed — I am not exaggerating; this is what the science tells us! — if we want to have the hope of avoiding radical and catastrophic climate change,” the pope said in the message.