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In the News (June/July 2018)

Louisiana schools must display ‘In God We Trust’

Public schools in Louisiana will have to display the national motto of “In God We Trust” on their buildings by August 2019, after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill into law on May 23.

Public school authorities must now display the national motto in each building used by a school under its jurisdiction. The law also requires Louisiana’s social studies curriculum to teach students about the motto by the fifth grade, a provision that expands upon the existing law that orders schools to teach students about the U.S flag and other “patriotic customs.”

Louisiana’s Legislative Fiscal Office stated in a fiscal note attached to the law that local school districts will not experience a “material impact” in expenses under this law. Although the schools are free to choose how they want to display the motto, the law states the minimum requirement of display can be a paper sign.

Senate Dems introduce bill to amend RFRA

Prominent Senate Democrats introduced a bill on May 22 that would amend the 25-year-old Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prevent the law from being used to justify discrimination against people, including gay, lesbian and transgender citizens.

Although it is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Congress, the Democrats’ bill, called the Do No Harm Act, shows the party’s stance toward a thorny question in the hands of the Supreme Court — how to choose when both LGBT people and conservative Christians feel their civil rights are at risk.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, referred to as RFRA, has become a favorite law among conservative Christians, who say that it protects their rights to abstain from practices they disavow.

The Democrats’ bill would amend RFRA to say that it does not protect the religious liberty of one person when the civil rights of another would be impinged.

Most evangelicals against U.S. accepting refugees

Opinions about whether the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees — which were already deeply polarized — have grown even more so, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April and May. The survey comes as the nation is likely to admit its smallest number of refugees in decades.

Roughly half of Americans (51 percent) say the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while 43 percent say it does not, the national survey found. That is changed only slightly from February 2017.

By more than 2-to-1 (68 percent to 25 percent), white evangelical Protestants say the United States does not have a responsibility to accept refugees. Other religious groups are more likely to say the United States does have this responsibility. And opinions among religiously unaffiliated adults are nearly the reverse of those of white evangelical Protestants, with 65 percent saying the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country.

Religious motto on cash ruled constitutional

A federal court has ruled that printing “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency doesn’t amount to a religious endorsement and therefore doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago made the ruling May 31 in a lawsuit brought by a self-declared Satanist, Kenneth Mayle.

A lower court tossed the suit citing a reference in a Supreme Court decision that a motto on currency isn’t displayed prominently and thus  people are not forced to publicly advertise views that clash with their own.

Mayle later made an appeal to restore the lawsuit, but the 7th Circuit shot down his efforts, calling the motto a “historical reminder” of the country’s heritage.

Michael Newdow first submitted a complaint in the Southern District of New York in March 2013, asserting that the motto violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution as it serves to proselytize unbelievers. But later that year, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer, Jr., rejected Newdow’s arguments, opining that “the inclusion of the motto on U.S. currency . . . does not violate the Establishment Clause.” FFRF also sued over the godly motto on currency in the 1990s.

DeVos: Ease restrictions on religious college aid

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a lifelong advocate of Christian education, moved to loosen federal regulations on religious colleges and universities, after a Supreme Court decision that restricted states from denying some kinds of aid to religious institutions. The measure is part of a sweeping deregulatory agenda for the Education Department.

Officials appear to be targeting regulations that would pose a legal risk after the Supreme Court ruled last year that states must sometimes provide aid to faith-based organizations.

In the decision, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer, the court ruled that Missouri had engaged in unconstitutional religious discrimination when it denied a church-run preschool publicly funded tire scraps for its playground.

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