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In the News (March 2023)

Colorado baker loses appeal in another case

The Colorado baker who won a partial U.S. Supreme Court victory after refusing to make a gay couple’s wedding cake because of his Christian faith lost an appeal on Jan. 26 in his latest legal fight, involving his rejection of a request for a birthday cake celebrating a gender transition.

Religion News Service reports that the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that that the cake Autumn Scardina requested from Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop is not a form of speech. The cake was to be pink with blue frosting.

The appeals court said Phillips’ shop initially agreed to make the cake, but then refused after Scardina explained that she was going to use it to celebrate her transition from male to female.

“We conclude that creating a pink cake with blue frosting is not inherently expressive and any message or symbolism it provides to an observer would not be attributed to the baker,” said the court.

Phillips, who is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, maintains that the cakes he creates are a form of speech and plans to appeal.

One-third of Americans now not attending church 

A new report, which looked at in-person worship attendance patterns before the beginning of the pandemic and again in 2022, found that a third of those surveyed never attend worship services. That’s up from 25 percent before the start of the pandemic.

The pandemic has likely led people who already had loose ties to congregations to leave, said Dan Cox, one of the authors of the new study and a senior fellow in polling and public opinion at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Researchers compared answers from between 2018 and 2020 to answers from 2022 to understand how attendance patterns changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new study focused on attendance at in-person services versus online services. 

The report also noted the decline in attendance most affected groups that had already started to show a decline before the pandemic — particularly among younger adults, who were already lagging before the pandemic and showed the steepest drop-off since.

New Congress is still overwhelmingly Christian 

Since 2007, the share of Christians in the general population has dropped from 78 percent to its present level of 63 percent, yet Christians make up 88 percent of the voting members of the new 118th Congress, which is only a few percentage points lower than the Christian share of Congress in the late 1970s, according to a report by Pew Research Center. 

Only one member of the new Congress — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — identifies as religiously unaffiliated. Rep. Jared Huffman describes himself as humanist, and 20 are categorized as having unknown religious affiliations. Most of these members declined to state a religious affiliation when they were asked by CQ Roll Call.

But, the 469 Christians (out of 534 total members) at the start of the 2023-24 session comprise the lowest number since Pew began analyzing the religious affiliation of the House and Senate for the 2009-10 session.  

Clergy sue to block Missouri’s abortion ban

A group of religious leaders who support abortion rights filed a lawsuit on Jan. 19 challenging Missouri’s abortion ban, saying lawmakers openly invoked their religious beliefs while drafting the measure and thereby imposed those beliefs on others who don’t share them, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuit filed in St. Louis is the latest of many to challenge restrictive abortion laws enacted by conservative states after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. That ruling left abortion rights up to each state to decide.

The Missouri lawsuit brought on behalf of 13 Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist leaders seeks a permanent injunction barring the state from enforcing its abortion law and a declaration that provisions of its law violate the Missouri Constitution.

Church wants members to sign anti-gay pledge

A Jacksonville, Fla., Baptist Church is making members sign an oath against LGBT relationships as part of church membership.

Heath Lambert, First Baptist Church’s senior pastor, has been an outspoken proponent of “traditional” family values. Now, his church has given members until March 19 to sign the “Biblical Sexuality Agreement” oath or to immediately resign their membership. Lambert says that real Christians do not have a problem with it.

According to Lambert, he did not make the decision on his own and that the entire congregation wanted to move forward with the agreement.

The “Biblical Sexuality Agreement” states: “As a member of First Baptist Church, I believe that God creates people in his image as either male or female, and that this creation is a fixed matter of human biology, not individual choice. I believe marriage is instituted by God, not government, is between one man and one woman, and is the only context for sexual desire and expression.”

Faculty wants prez to resign over controversy 

The faculty of Hamline University have called on President Fayneese Miller to resign, saying they no longer have faith in her ability to lead the St. Paul, Minn., school after what they see as the mishandling of a Muslim student’s complaint about an instructor showing a painting of the Prophet Muhammad.

Meeting Jan. 24, the faculty voted 71-12 to ask for the president’s resignation in what has become an international scandal over academic freedom and Islamic art.

The university was criticized for not renewing the contract of the instructor who showed a 14th-century painting of the Prophet Muhammad in her online art history class last semester.

During the class, adjunct professor Erika López Prater showed students a treasured painting depicting the prophet receiving a revelation from the Angel Gabriel. The professor notified students, both in class and on her syllabus, that she would show the image and allowed those students who believe images of the prophet are forbidden not to participate. Student Aram Wedatalla, however, complained to administrators that the showing of the painting was offensive and hurtful and that the instructor’s “trigger warning” was proof she shouldn’t have shown the images.

Federal court dismisses LGBTQ students’ lawsuit

An Oregon federal district court ruled Jan. 12 that there is no legal remedy for LGBTQ students who claim they were discriminated against at their religious universities. 

The judge dismissed the class-action lawsuit filed in March 2021 on behalf of about 40 students and former students at religious schools nationwide. The case, Hunter v. the U.S. Department of Education, claimed that the department failed to protect LGBTQ+ students at religious schools from discrimination.

Federal District Court Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., ruled the plaintiffs had “satisfactorily alleged” that they had been injured by religious exemption.

Aiken ruled that the plaintiffs had not “alleged the elements necessary to state a legal claim on the merits of their action,” and cited previous federal court rulings that religious exemptions are constitutional and rejected the idea that such exemptions are motivated by an intent to discriminate.

Christians were large part of Brazil riots

The storming of the capital city of Brasília on Jan. 8 by thousands of supporters of Brazil’s former president, Jair Bolsonaro, demonstrated that a “well-organized segment of the country’s citizenry is willing to see a military dictatorship take power,” according to a Religion News Service report. 

Following the destructive riot, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration has detained around 1,800 people who invaded government buildings.

Hundreds of Christian organizations were involved with or had members take part in the attempted coup. Numerous videos posted on social media showed rioters praying, shouting Christian slogans and singing gospel hymns as they stormed the buildings. 

“Those are people who think they are heroes, so they recorded their actions and showed their faces. They had a clear religious rhetoric. We can see them citing the bible or speaking in tongues in different videos,” said Vinicius do Valle, a political scientist.

W.Va. Senate OKs ‘IGWT’ displays in schools

Public schools in West Virginia may be required to display the phrase “In God We Trust” in every building if a bill passed by the state Senate on Jan. 31 becomes law.

“We know there’s a lot of kids that have problems at home, tough times at home that we don’t know anything about,” said Sen. Mike Azinger, who introduced the bill. “Maybe they’ll look up one day and say, ‘In God We Trust’ and know they can put their hope in God.”

The bill now goes to the state’s House of Delegates. It would require public K-12 schools and public institutions of higher learning to display the official U.S. national motto on durable posters or in frames placed in a “conspicuous place” in each building.

FFRF sent out an action alert to its members in West Virginia asking them to tell their senators to vote it down.

Pakistan increases penalty for blasphemy 

The National Assembly of Pakistan has passed legislation that imposes life imprisonment for insulting the Prophet Muhammad’s companions, family and wives.

The bill was met with unanimous approval by the members. Under the new law, those found guilty of insulting Muhammad’s companions, family and wives will face a minimum of 10 years imprisonment, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. This marks an increase from the previous maximum punishment of three years.

The Pakistani Senate also unanimously passed a resolution that made the teachings of the Quran mandatory for all university students.