In the News (November 2021)

French Catholic clergy abused 200K+ minors

A major report released Oct. 5 said French Catholic clerics had abused more than 200,000 minors over the past 70 years, a systemic trauma that the inquiry’s leader described as deep and “cruel,” according to a New York Times report.

The Vatican said in a statement that Pope Francis had been informed of the report. 

The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church, set up more than two years ago with the approval of French church officials, examined decades of accusations in much the manner of other landmark reports — whether from Ireland, Germany, Poland, Australia or the United States.

Commission leader Jean-Marc Sauvé said his team had identified only a small percentage of victims, but academic research and other sources meant that the real number is likely around 216,000, or even around 330,000 if one includes sexual abuse by lay members. The vast majority of the victims were male, according to the report. 

Supreme Court doesn’t block Texas abortion ban

The Supreme Court on Oct. 22 refused the Justice Department’s request to immediately block the draconian six-week abortion ban in effect since Sept. 1 in Texas. Instead, the high court scheduled oral arguments on Nov. 1, both for the DOJ’s appeal and the earlier appeal by Texas abortion clinics.

In the order, the court did not indicate it would examine the constitutionality of the abortion ban. Rather, it stated that it would weigh whether “the state can insulate from federal-court review a law that prohibits the exercise of a constitutional right by delegating to the general public the authority to enforce that prohibition through civil action.” It would also examine whether the federal government has the authority to challenge the law. 

The consequence of deferring action to block the unconstitutional law is that most abortions will remain banned in the state of Texas.   

Being ‘godless’ may be good for your health

A new study found that atheists may be just as healthy as devoted believers, going against popular opinion and previous studies that say the religious are healthier, according to a Pew Research report.

The study is called “Godless in the Great White North” and was published in the Journal of Religion and Health in its January 2021 issue. 

“Past studies have focused heavily on the health of very religious people while treating atheists and other nonbelievers as an afterthought,” the Pew report states.

In some cases, belief in God might actually be bad for your health, particularly when that belief is not solid, the report states. A 2020 study published in the Review of Religious Research found that “doubting theists” — those who believe in God but are less certain about those beliefs — reported poorer health outcomes.

Pakistani woman gets death penalty for blasphemy

A Pakistani court handed down death penalty to a Muslim woman on blasphemy charge on Sept. 27. 

“It is proved beyond reasonable doubt that accused Salma Tanveer wrote and distributed the writings, which are derogatory in respect of Holy Prophet Muhammad and she failed to prove that her case falls in exception provided by section 84 [on the penal code],” said Judge Mansoor Ahmad Qureshi in his verdict.

Section 84 deals with offenses committed by a person of unsound mind.

The woman, owner and principal of a private school, was accused of distributing photocopies of her writings, in which she denied the finality of prophethood and claimed her as a prophet.

The woman’s counsel had argued that the suspect was of not of sound mind at the time, but the court determined that she did not suffer from mental illness.

Biden reverses Trump’s abortion referral ban

The Biden administration on Oct. 4 reversed a ban on abortion referrals by family planning clinics, lifting a Trump-era restriction.

The Department of Health and Human Services said its new regulation will restore the federal family planning program to the way it ran under the Obama administration, when clinics were able to refer women seeking abortions to a provider. 

Planned Parenthood, the biggest service provider, said its health centers look forward to returning. 

Known as Title X, the taxpayer-funded program makes available more than $250 million a year to clinics to provide birth control and basic health care services mainly to low-income women, many of them from minority communities.

Nonreligious are least anti-LGBTQ demographic

Nonreligious Americans are more in favor of LGBTQ rights than any other demographic in the United States, according to a report by the Public Religion Research Institute.

A full 91 percent of nonreligious Americans say they support basic nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. White evangelicals come in last, although a solid majority of 66 percent of that demographic claim to support these protections.

Also, according to the PRRI report, “White evangelical Protestants remain the only major religious group in which a majority favors religiously based service refusals, and their support for these exemptions is increasing. A majority of white evangelical Protestants (62 percent) say that they support allowing small business owners to refuse to serve LGBTQ people, up from 54 percent in 2019 and 51 percent in 2015.”

Nonbelieving Blacks less likely to identify as atheist

Data from the U.S. Secular Survey show that Black people who do not believe in a god are less likely to identify as atheists. 

One study found that only 26.1 percent of Black respondents who said that there was no god identified as atheists, compared to 59.1 percent of white respondents.

Nearly four in 10 (39.6 percent) Black participants mostly or always concealed their nonreligious beliefs from members of their immediate family, compared with 31.2 percent of other participants. 

However, in comparison to other participants, Black participants were significantly more likely to be members of local secular organizations. More than one quarter (26.9 percent) of Black participants were members of a local organization for atheists, humanists, or nonreligious people in their area, compared to 21.9 percent of all other participants. 

And, Black participants who were members of national secular organizations were one third (33.9 percent) less likely to be at risk for depression (19.5 percent vs. 26.8 percent).

N.Y. health workers can use religious exemptions

New York health care workers will be able to seek religious exemptions from a statewide Covid-19 vaccine mandate as a lawsuit challenging the requirement proceeds, a federal judge ruled Oct. 12, according to the Associated Press.

Judge David Hurd had issued a temporary restraining order in September after 17 anti-abortion doctors, nurses and other health professionals claimed in a lawsuit that their rights would be violated to “medically cooperate in abortion,” including use of vaccines linked to fetal cell lines.

Hurd’s preliminary injunction means New York will continue to be barred from enforcing any requirement that employers deny religious exemptions. And the state cannot revoke exemptions already granted.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she will fight the decision in court “to keep New Yorkers safe.”

Satanic Temple loses lawsuit over monument

The Satanic Temple lost its court battle with the city of Belle Plaine, Minn., four years after the religious group tried to put a monument in the local Veterans Memorial Park, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The temple said in two separate lawsuits that the city violated its rights to free speech and free expression of religion. But, in 2020, a federal judge dismissed most of those allegations. In September, it was decided that the city didn’t breach a contract when it revoked the temple’s permit to install the monument. The court’s ruling came by summary judgment, not a trial.

The issue began after a monument was installed four years ago at the park depicting a soldier’s silhouette kneeling by a fallen comrade’s cross-shaped grave marker. After getting complaints for its religious overtones, the city first took the memorial down. It then created a “free-speech area” in the park and put the soldier’s silhouette back up. The Satanic Temple then commissioned a monument of a black cube with pentagram inscriptions and an upturned helmet on top to be displayed as a counterpoint.

The Satanic Temple intends to appeal the case, according to the newspaper report.

Court to hear case of flag at Boston City Hall

The Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case over local officials’ refusal to fly a Christian group’s flag on the grounds of Boston City Hall.

The justices indicated they will review an appeals court ruling issued in January that found the city did not violate the Constitution by turning down the flag-flying request from a Christian organization called “Camp Constitution.”

The dispute involves the group’s desire to fly a white flag bearing a red cross over a blue square in the upper left corner from an 83-foot flagpole outside the seat of Boston’s city government. Two of the three flagpoles at City Hall are used to fly the U.S. flag (along with a POW/MIA flag) and the Massachusetts state flag.

However, the city of Boston flag that customarily flies from the third flagpole has been lowered on numerous occasions and replaced with flags of various groups or causes, including gay pride, and those of foreign countries. Some of those flags contain religious symbols.

But city officials rejected the Christian group’s flag on the basis it would appear to convey an endorsement of particular religious views.