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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News (March 2022)

OnlySky media site caters to nonreligious 

A new website for secular and nonreligious people has launched at OnlySky.media.

As secular studies Professor Phil Zuckerman writes, its “goal is to be a media hub (news, culture, politics, entertainment, science, etc.) for the 85 million nonreligious Americans out there.” 

The site was founded by Shawn Hardin, who quickly added Zuckerman, Hemant Mehta, Sarah Levin, Dale McGowan and others to get the site up and running.

“OnlySky is a participatory media platform delivering world-class journalism, storytelling, and commentary — exploring the whole human experience from a secular perspective,” Zuckerman writes. “OnlySky provides a media platform for the nonreligious to express the positive perspective and values they actually hold. We want to change the cultural narrative regarding the nonreligious, encouraging a nationwide movement that secures an influential place for secular values in our culture and makes a naturalistic, freethinking world-view accessible and desirable through storytelling. Nonreligious Americans are projected to become the largest belief group in the United States within the next 5-10 years; it’s time that our voices are widely heard.”

40% of countries had blasphemy laws in 2019

A new Pew Research Center analysis finds that 79 countries and territories out of the 198 studied around the world (40 percent) had laws or policies in 2019 banning blasphemy, which is defined as speech or actions considered to be contemptuous of God or of people or objects considered sacred. 

Twenty-two countries (11 percent) had laws against apostasy, the act of abandoning one’s faith. 

These laws were most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where 18 of the 20 countries (90 percent) in the region have laws criminalizing blasphemy and 13 of them (65 percent) outlaw apostasy. 

Blasphemy laws were on the books in 2019 in all five global regions covered by the analysis, including 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 17 in the Asia-Pacific region, 14 in Europe and 12 in the Americas. 

Among the 79 countries that criminalized blasphemy, penalties varied widely, from fines to prison sentences and, in some cases, lashings and execution.

S.D. school ‘prayer’ bill rejected by committee

A Republican-dominated South Dakota House committee on Jan. 21 rejected Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposal to require public schools to have a moment of silence to start the day.

The Republican governor first billed the proposal at a conservative Christian conference in Iowa last year as “putting prayer back in schools,” but a House committee rejected the idea after education groups argued that voluntary prayer is already allowed in schools and the proposed law would have saddled teachers with an unclear mandate. The Republican-dominated House Education Committee rejected the bill on a 9–6 vote, but it could still be revived with support from one-third of House members.

“Maybe it’s me, but I view prayer as something that is personal and not performative,” said Republican Rep. Will Mortenson, who criticized the bill as vaguely written.

Ex-pope accused for how he handled abuse cases

A church-commissioned German investigation on Jan. 20 accused former Pope Benedict of “wrongdoing” in his handling of sexual abuse cases during his time running the archdiocese of Munich between 1977 and 1982.

The law firm that carried out the investigation said Benedict’s claims to have no direct knowledge of the cases were not credible. 

At a news conference to unveil its nearly 1,900-page report, the firm said Benedict, known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the time of the cases, could be accused of wrongdoing in four of them, including one in which he knowingly accepted a priest into his archdiocese even after the cleric had been convicted of sexual abuse in a criminal court.

The report provides rare insight into how someone who went on to become a pope acted behind the scenes in one of the defining crises of modern church. 

Pakistani sentenced to death for blasphemy

A court in Pakistan has sentenced a woman to death over allegedly blasphemous messages sent over WhatsApp and Facebook.

Aneeqa Ateeq, 26, was found guilty and given a death sentence by a court in Rawalpindi on Jan. 19 after a complaint was registered against her under Pakistan’s draconian cybercrime and blasphemy laws, The Guardian reports.

Ateeq allegedly met her accuser, a fellow Pakistani, online in 2019 through a mobile gaming app and the pair began corresponding over WhatsApp.

He accused her of sending blasphemous caricatures of holy prophets, making remarks about “holy personages” on WhatsApp and using her Facebook account to transmit blasphemous material to other accounts. 

Ateeq, who has stated that she is a practicing Muslim, denied all the charges. During the trial, Ateeq told the court that she believed the complainant intentionally dragged her into a religious discussion so he could collect evidence and take “revenge” after she refused to be “friendly” with him.

The court found her guilty, gave her a 20-year sentence and ordered her to be hanged.

Michigan faith agencies can deny LGBT adoptions

Faith-based adoption agencies that contract with the state of Michigan can refuse to place children with same-sex couples under a proposed settlement filed in federal court Jan. 25, months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for a Catholic charity in a similar case, the Associated Press reported.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said the high court’s ruling against Philadelphia is binding on the state and limits its ability to enforce a nondiscrimination policy.

In 2019, Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities sued the state, challenging a deal Attorney General Dana Nessel announced to resolve an earlier lawsuit brought against the state by lesbian couples who said they were turned away by faith-based agencies.

OK lawmaker wants bible as official state book

An Oklahoma lawmaker has filed a bill that would make the bible the official state book of Oklahoma.

“We are people of great faith,” state Rep. Tammy Townley said in a statement. “The Holy Bible is an integral part of numerous faiths and is deeply important to many Oklahomans. Even when we don’t always agree with each other, we always know that we have a foundation higher than politics that we can rely on to remain unshakeable when times are tough.”

Townley, the author of House Bill 3890, used to own a Christian bookstore.

The bill will be available for consideration during Oklahoma’s upcoming legislative session, which begins Feb. 7.

California sues ‘sharing ministry’ health plan

California on Jan. 12 sued what the state’s attorney general called “a sham health insurance company operating as a health care sharing ministry.”

The lawsuit names The Aliera Companies and the Moses family, which founded Sharity Ministries Inc. Sharity, formerly known as Trinity Healthshare Inc., is a nonprofit corporation.

But the state says Aliera is a for-profit corporation that collected hundreds of millions of dollars in premiums from thousands of Californians and others around the United States through unauthorized health plans and insurance sold through Sharity/Trinity.

Instead of paying members’ health care costs, the state alleges the company routinely denied claims and spent just 16 cents of every dollar in premiums on health care expenses.

Survey: Most Germans find religion unimportant

A new poll shows a significant majority of Germans say religion plays no role in their life. Fewer than one in eight German adults believe that faith makes the world a better place, although younger people were more positive.

Just 33 percent of those polled said that religion was important to them. Only 12 percent said they thought religion could make the world a better place, and just 25 percent saying it had any political significance.

Eastern Germans were even less devout than Germans as a whole. Some 30 percent of respondents described themselves as “devout” or “very devout,” while 35 percent said they were “not devout at all.”

Jewish couple sues over agency discrimination 

A Tennessee Jewish couple had planned to adopt a child in Florida, but when they were set to begin a family-training course required in their state, the agency that had been scheduled to provide the training backed out, saying the couple did not share its Christian beliefs, a lawsuit says. The adoption ultimately fell through.

The lawsuit, filed in Tennessee on Jan. 19, comes two years after Gov. Bill Lee signed a law that allows state-funded child-placement agencies to decline to assist in cases that “would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” Civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers had opposed the measure, saying it could be used to discriminate against families of various faiths or identities. 

The couple’s lawsuit names the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and its commissioner, Jennifer Nichols, as defendants. The complaint alleges that state funding of child-placement agencies, such as Holston United Methodist Home for Children, that discriminate “against prospective or current foster parents based on the religious beliefs of the parents” violates the Tennessee Constitution.

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