Freedom from religion foundation, Inc | Subscribe
Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News (May 2022)

A page from one of Charles Darwin’s long-missing notebooks included the “tree of life” sketch.
(Photo courtesy of Cambridge University)

Darwin’s notebooks, missing since 2000, returned

Two “stolen” notebooks written by Charles Darwin have been mysteriously returned to Cambridge University, 22 years after they were last seen.

The small leather-bound books are worth millions and include the scientist’s “tree of life” sketch.

“I feel joyous,” the university’s librarian Jessica Gardner told the BBC.

The notebooks were left anonymously at the Cambridge University library in a bright pink gift bag containing the original blue box the notebooks were kept in and a plain brown envelope. On it was printed a short message: “Librarian, Happy Easter X.”

The notepads date from the late 1830s after Darwin had returned from the Galapagos Islands. On one page, he drew a spindly sketch of a tree, which helped inspire his theory of evolution.

Says Jim Secord, emeritus professor of history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University: “They’re some of the most remarkable documents in the whole history of science.”

The manuscripts were last seen in November 2000 after “an internal request” to remove them from the library’s special collections strong-room to be photographed. 

Court: Pastor can touch inmate at execution

The Supreme Court on March 24 boosted the religious rights of death row inmates, ruling 8 to 1 in favor of a Texas murderer who wants his Baptist pastor to touch him and pray aloud at the time of his execution.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority that the rights of John Henry Ramirez were protected by federal law and that Texas could accommodate his requests without compromising the lethal injection process. The lone dissenter was Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote a lengthy description of Ramirez’s crime in his opinion.

Lower courts had ruled against Ramirez, 37, who was convicted of stabbing to death Pablo Castro in a 2004 robbery in Corpus Christi, Texas, that netted pocket change. 

On Sept. 8, the Supreme Court stopped Ramirez’s planned execution as the inmate waited in a holding room next to the death chamber. It set an expedited hearing in the case for Nov. 9.

“There is a rich history of clerical prayer at the time of a prisoner’s execution, dating back well before the founding of our nation,” Roberts wrote. 

Discrimination at work differs based on religion

Christians, Muslims, Jews and the nonreligious all face workplace discrimination because of their religion (or nonreligion), but they experience it differently, according to a report by Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program, as reported by Religion News Service.

Evangelical Christians say they feel singled out when taking an individual stand based on their moral views, the report found.

Muslims and Jews say they’ve felt targeted by anti-Islamic and antise-mitic rhetoric. 

Among nonreligious participants, 27 percent perceived religious discrimination in the workplace. As for the nonreligious, respondents felt compelled to downplay or hide their identities.

Rachel Schneider, one of the report’s authors, said the study showed  people often experienced workplace discrimination in the form of microaggressions — such as stereotyping — not just in the hiring, firing and promotion process.

Support for LGBTQ rights is higher than ever 

Americans’ support for LGBTQ rights is higher than ever, according to a new report by Public Religion Research Institute.

Those findings, released March 17, are part of PRRI’s 2021 American Values Atlas project, a seven-year survey measuring Americans’ support for LGBTQ rights policies.

Since PRRI began polling on the issue, the number of Americans who support same-sex marriage has increased among all political and religious groups from 54 percent to 68 percent, according to the report.

That includes 87 percent of those who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated (up from 77 percent in 2014); 76 percent of white Protestants (up from 62 percent); and 74 percent of white Catholics (up from 61 percent). Trailing behind are 35 percent of white evangelical Protestants (still up overall from 28 percent).

Judge: Former clerk violated couples’ rights

A federal judge has ruled that Kim Davis, a former Kentucky clerk, violated the constitutional rights of two same-sex couples who were among those to whom she wouldn’t issue marriage licenses. That refusal sparked international attention and briefly landed her in jail in 2015.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning issued the ruling March 19 in two longstanding lawsuits involving Davis, the former clerk of Rowan County, and two same-sex couples who sued her. With the decision, a jury trial will still need to take place to decide on any damages the couples could be owed.

“It is readily apparent that Obergefell recognizes plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment right to marry,” the judge wrote, referencing the landmark same-sex marriage Obergefell decision. “It is also readily apparent that Davis made a conscious decision to violate plaintiffs’ right.

Poll: Religious objections to vaccines not sincere

Most adults in the United States do not believe that requests for religious exemptions in the workplace are sincere, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Two-thirds of U.S. adults say most people who claim religious objections to a Covid-19 vaccine “are just using religion as an excuse to avoid the vaccine,” while about a third  say they think the objectors “sincerely believe getting a vaccine is against their religion.”

However, 64 percent of Americans do not think those with religious objections to the Covid-19 vaccine — regardless of the sincerity of their beliefs — should lose their jobs. Around a third disagree, saying the employers should “require employees who have religious objections to get the vaccine if they want to keep their job.”

Disbelief in evolution linked to prejudice, racism

A disbelief in human evolution was associated with higher levels of prejudice, racist attitudes and support of discriminatory behavior against Blacks, immigrants and the LGBTQ community, according to University of Massachusetts Amherst research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers theorized that belief in evolution would tend to in-crease people’s identification with all humanity, due to the common ancestry, and would lead to less prejudicial attitudes.

In eight studies involving different areas of the world, the researchers analyzed data from the American General Social Survey (GSS), the Pew Research Center and three online crowdsourced samples. In testing their hypothesis about the associations of different levels of belief in evolution, they accounted for education, political ideology, religiosity, cultural identity and scientific knowledge.

“We found the same results each time, which is basically that believing in evolution relates to less prejudice, regardless of the group you’re in, and controlling for all of these alternative explanations,” lead author Stylianos Syropoulos said.

The happiest nations are strongly secular

According to the World Happiness Report, the happiest nation in the world is Finland. The report is based on an analysis of a host of sociological, economic, and psychological factors. Finland has held that ranking for five straight years.

Following Finland are Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, Norway, Israel and New Zealand. 

“All of them are among the most secular/least religious nations on Earth,” writes Phil Zuckerman, a secular studies professor at Pitzer College. “Aside from outlier Israel — which is growing more religious as it grows more brutal and undemocratic — all of these top-10 happiest nations have experienced dramatic degrees of secularization over the last century.”