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In the News (Jan/Feb 2021)

Court backs religious groups in two states

The Supreme Court on Dec. 15 sided with religious groups in Colorado and New Jersey that argued that the states’ pandemic-related restrictions on worship services violated religious liberty rights.

In unsigned orders, the justices shot down lower court opinions in challenges that went in favor of the states.

The New Jersey challenge concerned restrictions related to limiting attendance at houses of worship as well as the state’s “mask mandate” that critics said violated the free exercise of religion because there are exemptions for secular reasons, including health, exercise and eating, but masks are only allowed to be removed momentarily in religious settings.

In the Colorado case, the court ruled in favor of High Plains Harvest Church, a small church in Ault.

The dispute was brought against Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, who had issued an order capping attendance at houses of worship to 50 people.

53% of Americans believe in God with no doubts

According to findings from the American National Social Network Survey, 53 percent of Americans report they believe in God without any doubts at all. Conversely, 6 percent of Americans say they do not believe in God and express no uncertainty in their belief.

A majority of Americans (59 percent) say it is not necessary for a person to believe in God to be moral and have good values, which is a remarkable shift in recent years. A large part of this change is due to the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans, who now make up 26 percent of the adult population.

Forty-one percent of Americans express at least some uncertainty about their belief in God. Eleven percent express some degree of disbelief in God, but remain at least somewhat unsure. Nineteen percent of Americans are inclined to believe in God but are somewhat less than completely certain in their belief. Eleven percent of Americans report being completely uncertain in their views on God.

Canadian churches fined $18K for COVID violations

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it has distributed tickets totaling $18,400 to representatives from three places of worship in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley for violating public health orders.

According to a press release, on the mornings of Dec. 6 and 13, 2020, Chilliwack RCMP responded to reports of groups of people gathering at three separate churches contrary to the existing public health order.

And on Dec. 17, 2020, police charged representatives of the congregations with eight counts of failure to comply with an order of a health officer, including fines amounting to $18,400.

Release humanist, says Nigerian court

A judge at the High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, ruled on Dec. 21 that Mubarak Bala should be immediately released from detention in Kano state, where he has been held since April 2020.

Bala, president of Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested by the state police after being accused of violating anti-blasphemy laws for calling the Prophet Muhammad a terrorist.

The ruling, in which the judge declared Bala’s continuous incarceration as illegal and ordered his immediate release, follows a “fundamental rights” petition detailing how Bala has been detained without charge for more than seven months, five months of which he was denied access to his legal representatives.

“Today’s ruling by the High Court in Abuja is a victory for the human rights of all citizens in Nigeria,” said Andrew Copson, president of Humanists International. “It is time our colleague Mubarak Bala was released immediately and unconditionally and we call upon leaders in Nigeria to respect due process and the rule of law.”

New Zealand votes to legalize euthanasia

New Zealand has voted to legalize euthanasia in what campaigners have called “a victory for compassion and kindness.”

Preliminary results showed 65 percent of voters supported the End of Life Choice Act. The law allows terminally ill people with less than six months to live the opportunity to choose assisted dying if approved by two doctors.

The law is expected to take effect in November. New Zealand will join a small group of countries, including the Netherlands and Canada, that allow euthanasia.

The legislation authorizes a doctor or nurse to administer or prescribe a lethal dose of medication to be taken under their supervision if all the conditions are met.

14 found guilty of aiding ‘Charlie Hebdo’ attacks

A French court on Dec. 16 convicted 14 people of crimes in relation to Islamist attacks in 2015 against the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi stormed Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris on Jan. 7, 2015, killing 12, nearly a decade after the magazine published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. A third attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, killed a police officer and then four Jewish hostages in a kosher supermarket in a Paris suburb. Like the Kouachis, Coulibaly was killed in a shoot-out with police.

The ruling found the 14 defendants guilty on a variety of charges, ranging from membership in a criminal network to complicity in the assault.

Prosecutors asserted that the 14 defendants who received their verdicts Dec. 16 aided the primary assailants with money, vehicles and other logistical support. Eleven of the accused have been behind bars awaiting trial, while the rest were tried in absentia.

South Carolina court: No money for private schools

South Carolina’s Supreme Court on Dec. 9 affirmed its rejection of Gov. Henry McMaster’s plan to spend federal coronavirus money on private school tuition grants.

The court’s unanimous decision strikes another blow to the governor’s months-long effort to direct $32 million in federal CARES Act aid toward a program that would pay for poor and working-class children to attend K-12 private schools in South Carolina this year.

The ruling also provides no help to 22 private colleges in South Carolina, including historically black colleges and universities, who were seeking an exception to the ruling so they could collect some $12 million in coronavirus relief.

The ruling was a follow-up to the state Supreme Court’s Oct. 7 also unanimous decision in the same case, where the justices ruled for the first time that the state’s Constitution prohibited the spending of public money for private schools.

“The Supreme Court’s opinion, affirmed today, is an unequivocal affirmation of our state Constitution’s prohibition of the use of public K-12 education dollars, allocated in any form, to private schools,” said Scott Price, executive director of the S.C. School Board Association.

Sculptor Zenos Frudakis featured on public TV show

Renowned sculptor and FFRF Member Zenos Frudakis is one of the artists featured in Season 6 of the Emmy Award-winning public television magazine series “Articulate with Jim Cotter.” The episode featuring Frudakis, titled “The Monument Man,” aired beginning Jan. 15. The series informs  audiences with stories of how creative thinking shapes our world. “The Monument Man” episode explores the artistic drive behind the creative work of Frudakis, who, as “Articulate” describes him, “has spent the last 50 years sculpting life out of bronze, aiming to capture the likeness and spirit of his subjects and to shine a light on those who have helped foster change in the world.”

Frudakis is the sculptor who, underwritten by FFRF, created the Clarence Darrow statue outside the courthouse in Dayton, Tenn., site of the 1925