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In the News (Sept. 2022)

Kansas votes to preserve abortion rights

Kansas voters on Aug. 2 resoundingly decided against removing the right to abortion from its state Constitution, a huge victory for the abortion rights movement in a strongly conservative state.

The defeat of the referendum was the most tangible demonstration yet of a political backlash against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that had protected abortion rights throughout the country. The decisive margin — 59 to 41 percent — came as a surprise.

“The voters in Kansas have spoken loud and clear: We will not tolerate extreme bans on abortion,” said Rachel Sweet, the campaign manager for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, which led the effort to defeat the amendment.

Registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats in Kansas — and abortion rights activists made explicit appeals to unaffiliated voters and center-right voters. In interviews last week in populous Johnson County, Kan., a number of voters said they were registered Republicans but opposed the amendment — a dynamic that almost certainly played out across the state, given the margin.

Massachusetts 7th state to end child marriage

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on July 28 signed a law that raises the legal age for marriage to 18, with no exceptions, ultimately ending child marriage in the state. The law went into effect immediately.

“This is a huge win for children in Massachusetts, which is now the seventh state to end child marriage by setting a minimum age of 18, no exceptions,” said Alex Goyette, Senior Public Policy Associate at the Tahirih Justice Center.

The state recorded nearly 1,200 marriages involving children under 18 between 2000 and 2018, including some as young as 13, according to data from the Department of Public Health.

“With this law, Massachusetts has gone from one of the least protective states in the country, setting no minimum marriage age by statute, to a true leader in the movement to end child marriage,” Goyette said. “This progress is a testament to the years of hard work done by advocates, legislators, and most importantly survivors, and sends a message to every other state that now is the time to end child marriage.”

Gen Z women less religious than men

In the United States, young women are less likely to identify with religion than young men, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Among those aged 18-25, 49 percent of women are “Nones,” compared to 46 percent of men.

While the difference between men and women identifying as Nones doesn’t disappear until those born in the 1990s (today’s 30-year-olds), the gender gap in church attendance has closed for earlier generations, too. 

For people born as early as 1973 (in their late 40s today), men and women are equally likely to say they never go to church. 

Survey data from October 2021 found that among those born in 1950, about 25 percent of men identified as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, compared to 20 percent of women of the same age. That same five-point gap is evident among those born in 1960 and 1970, as well.

Fundamentalism, brain damage found to be linked

A new study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility.

Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. But religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group. Fundamentalist groups generally oppose anything that questions or challenges their beliefs or way of life. 

IRS says Family Research Council a church group

The Family Research Council, a right-wing policy think tank and political pressure group, is now a church in the eyes of the IRS, according to ProPublica.

The FRC filed an application to change its status to an “association of churches,” a designation commonly used by groups with member churches like the Southern Baptist Convention, in March 2020. The agency approved the change a few months later.

The FRC is one of a growing list of activist groups to seek church status, a designation that comes with the ability for an organization to shield itself from financial scrutiny. 

Once the IRS blessed it as an association of churches, the FRC was no longer required to file a public tax return, revealing key staffer salaries, the names of board members and related organizations, large payments to independent contractors and grants the organization has made. 

On Aug. 2, Congressional House Democrats asked the IRS to review the tax-exempt status as the change “strains credulity” because the group operates primarily as “a political advocacy organization.”

Pope apologizes for abuses of Indigenous 

Pope Francis on July 25 apologized to Canada’s Indigenous community for the role the Catholic Church played in overseeing decades of abuse at some of the nation’s residential schools. The schools, which were run by both churches and Canada’s federal government, removed about 150,000 Indigenous children from their families — and used hunger, sexual violence and religious indoctrination to forcibly assimilate the students.

The Catholic Church has reportedly only paid $1.2 million of its share of reparations to survivors (as of April), despite operating 70 percent of Canadian residential schools and agreeing to pay $25 million Canadian dollars to compensate survivors.

Ark Encounter ticket sales down in June

Attendance at Ark Encounter had a slight downturn this past June compared to the same time period last year, and the numbers are significantly lower than they were before the pandemic, according to a report by Hemant Mehta on his OnlySky blog.

Ark Encounter had 102,639 paying visitors in June, which is lower than the 109,694 it had last June, and much lower than the 124,230 it had in June of 2019, before the pandemic.

The Ark’s parent company, Crosswater Canyon, received between $1 million and $2 million from the Paycheck Protection Program. And founder Ken Ham also raised more than $1 million in a separate fundraiser to offset Covid-related losses.

The attendance figures are much smaller than the 1.4 to 2.2 million visitors that Ark Encounter’s parent company predicted it would be pulling in several years ago.

Christian mission ousted from reservation 

On July 22, the Oglala Sioux tribe issued a statement demanding that the Jesus is King Mission leave the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota after pamphlets were distributed that promoted that Jesus, not Tunkasila, is the “true god.” 

“The Jesus is King Missionary was found distributing material that literally demonizes the Lakota culture and faith,” said the Oglala Sioux in a statement. “This is unacceptable and completely disrespectful. Hate has no place on Oglala land. . . . Thus, President Kevin Killer and the council demand that Missionary Matthew Monfore and the Jesus is King Mission leave the Oglala Lakota Sioux Nation immediately and cease any further hate speech actions.”

Report: Taliban abuses, limits freedom of women

Women in Afghanistan have faced an onslaught of violence and human rights abuses since the Taliban’s return to national power a year ago, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

Shortly after sweeping into Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban offered assurances that it would respect the rights of women, but journalists and activists quickly questioned that narrative and began to amass evidence of abuse.

The 98-page report reveals the extent to which the Taliban has limited the freedoms of women and girls by imposing harsh, arbitrary, punishments — from forcibly detaining women for appearing in public without a male chaperone, to physical and psychological torture in confinement.