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In the News (August 2019)

Catholic school gets millions in public money

An Indiana Catholic school that is under fire for terminating a gay teacher received over $1 million in public funding in 2018, according to a report reviewed by HuffPost. The school said it fired the teacher so that it would not be forced to cut ties with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Though Cathedral High School is private and religious, student scholarships to the school are heavily subsidized with public money through the state’s school voucher program. Over 230 students received $1,136,258 in taxpayer dollars to attend the school during the 2018-19 school year, according to a report from the Indiana Department of Education. In total, over the past three years, the school has received $3,457,075 through the voucher program.

Alabama law lets church hire its own police

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law June 19 a measure granting the Briarwood Presbyterian Church the right to set up its own law enforcement agency to cover its sanctuary, seminary and sprawling school campuses, despite criticism from FFRF and others that the measure was unconstitutional.

Church officials say they need their own police force to protect its 4,100 members, 2,000 students and two campuses, especially in light of armed attacks on schools and churches.

Critics say the megachurch already has private security, and under the new law it would gain state authority that could be abused if officers are answerable only to church officials.

Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, expects the law will be challenged in the courts.

Evangelicals say ‘fake news’ a ‘big problem’

A new survey finds that white evangelical Protestants are more concerned about made-up or “fake” news than any other major religious group and are also the most likely to blame journalists for creating it.

According to a report by Pew Research, 59 percent of white evangelicals say they believe made-up news and information is a “very big problem” for the United States, with an additional 27 percent describing it as a “moderately big problem.”

Fifty percent of white mainline Christians, 42 percent of black Protestants and 46 percent of Catholics describe “fake news” as a very big problem. Forty-nine percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans also said the same, as did 50 percent of the general public.

Vatican to let some married men be priests

The Roman Catholic Church on June 17 cracked open the door to ordaining married, elderly men to the priesthood to meet the pastoral needs of Catholics in remote areas of the Amazon.

The proposal would respond to the dearth of priests in the region by ordaining “viri probati,” or men of proven character, as they are known in Latin. It is the kind of exception to the celibacy requirement that church experts say — and church traditionalists worry — could be a step toward the ordination of married men in other areas of the world.

Greece finally gets rid of its blasphemy laws

As of July 1, blasphemy is no longer a crime in Greece.

The change comes as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of the Criminal Code. The two previous articles outlawing “blasphemy” have been dropped. At the same time, oaths of affirmation have been overhauled so that everyone recites the same civil affirmation, as opposed to any religious oath.

N.Y. ends religious exemptions for vaccines

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill June 13 ending vaccination exemptions based on religious beliefs in an attempt to address the growing measles outbreak, the worst the country has experienced in decades.

Cuomo said plugging the loophole should help slow the increase in measles cases in New York, the state hardest hit by the uptick in the contagious virus due to low vaccination rates in ultra-Orthodox communities.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature approved the measure, which also eliminates other nonmedical exemptions for schoolchildren across the state.

Survey: Clergy sex abuse an ongoing problem

More than 15 years after U.S. bishops pledged “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, reports of previously unpublicized misconduct continue to receive wide media coverage.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that about 90 percent of U.S. adults have heard at least “a little” about recent reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic priests and bishops, including a clear majority who say they have heard “a lot.” And, overall, about 80 percent of U.S. adults say the recent reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic priests and bishops reflect “ongoing problems that are still happening” in the church.

Court: ‘In God We Trust’ can stay on money

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a group of atheists trying to get “In God We Trust” off our money. This was the most recent case brought forth by FFRF Member Michael Newdow, most famous for his almost successful battle over “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Last August, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously against more than two dozen atheists, their children, and two groups named in the lawsuit. They said the phrase didn’t violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), or the Equal Protection component of the Fifth Amendment.

The judges inaccurately said that the motto was part of an established tradition in the country going back to our founding and that the phrase wasn’t unfairly coercive.

Public detective calls for execution of LGBTQ

The Knox County Attorney General’s Office said it is looking into a church sermon by a Knox County Sheriff’s detective that called for the government to arrest and execute LGBTQ community members.

In an hour-long video of the sermon online, Detective Grayson Fritts, also a pastor at All Scripture Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., tells his congregation he believes federal, state and county governments should arrest, convict and “speedily” execute LGBTQ people on no more grounds than a cellphone photo showing participation in a Pride event.

FFRF wrote the Knox County DA’s office about this disturbing incident.

W. Va. AG says church is withholding info

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said church leaders in his state “can and should do better” in producing documents his office has requested in relation to a sexual abuse investigation.

Morrisey told ABC News in an interview released June 6 that the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has yet to produce several documents that he has requested through both two subpoenas and a lawsuit.

Morrisey’s office has requested medical records for all priests accused or suspected of sexual abuse, including whether they were sent to “treatment facilities,” which many diocese have historically used as a method of sidelining accused priests, ABC News reported, citing a source familiar with the case. Morrisey’s office also reportedly has not received all copies of complaints against priests.

Catholics spent $10M to stymie sex abuse suits

The U.S. Catholic Church has spent $10.6 million in recent years on lobbyists to prevent victims of clerical sex abuse from suing for damages.

According to a report, the money was doled out from 2011 through 2018 in eight Northeastern states where bills to reform statute of limitations laws were either in the works or being considered.

In Pennsylvania, where currently victims of child sex abuse can come forward with criminal allegations until the age of 50 and can file civil claims until age 30, the church spent $5,322,979 to keep those limitations in place, according to the report, “Church Influencing State: How the Catholic Church Spent Millions Against Survivors of Clergy Abuse.”

Survey: Arabs becoming less religious

More and more Arabs are saying they are no longer religious, according to the largest and most in-depth survey undertaken of the Middle East and North Africa.

The finding is one of a number on how Arabs feel about a wide range of issues, from women’s rights and migration to security and sexuality.

Since 2013, the number of people across the region identifying as “not religious” has risen from 8 percent to 13 percent. The rise is greatest in the under 30s, among whom 18 percent identify as not religious, according to the research.

More than 25,000 people were interviewed for the survey — for BBC News Arabic by the Arab Barometer research network — across 10 countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2018 and spring 2019.