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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News (Dec. 2022)

Atheists more politically active than evangelicals

“Atheists and agnostics are often left-leaning in their political persuasion, and their rapid ascendance in the American religious landscape is proving much more consequential to the Democratic Party than the GOP,” writes Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University.

Just 4 percent of people who align with the Republican Party say that they are atheist or agnostic. 

However, according the Cooperative Election Study (CES), 20 percent of Democrats today are atheist or agnostic, an increase of eight percentage points from 2008.

When it comes to political protests, there’s no doubt that secular Americans are more politically engaged than white evangelicals. In 2020, 18 percent of atheists and 16 percent of agnostics said that they had gone to a march or rally about a political issue, versus just 5 percent of white evangelicals. When it comes to donations, the gulf is even wider. In 2020, half of all atheists made a political donation, along with 43 percent of agnostics. In comparison, only about a quarter of white evangelicals made a political donation to a candidate or party.

45% say U.S. ‘should be’ a ‘Christian nation’

According to a new Pew Research Center poll, 45 percent of U.S. adults — including about 60 percent of Christians — think the country “should be” a Christian nation. 

About 60 percent of U.S. adults — including nearly 70 percent of Christians — say they believe the founders “originally intended” for the country to be a Christian nation. A third say the U.S. “is now” a Christian nation.

But, the new survey makes clear that there is far more support for the idea of separation of church and state than opposition to it among Americans overall.

At the same time, however, people who believe the United States should be a Christian nation are far more inclined than those who think it should not be a Christian nation to favor officially declaring Christianity to be the nation’s religion, to support government advocacy of Christian values, and to say the government should stop enforcing separation of church and state.

The survey also finds that nearly 80 percent of people who say the country should be a Christian nation also say the bible should have at least some influence on U.S. laws, including slightly more than half (54 percent) who say that when the bible conflicts with the will of the people, the bible should prevail.

Clergy, not atheists, can serve in Tenn. legislature

By a nearly 2-1 margin, Tennessee residents voted to allow minsters to hold office in the state Legislature, something that has been on the books for decades, but has never been enforced. But there was no vote on ending the same ban on atheists in serving in the Legislature.

In the Tennessee Constitution, it states in Article IX, section 1: “Whereas ministers of the gospel are by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no minister of the gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either house of the Legislature.” 

State Sen. Mark Pody, who sponsored the amendment, said it just “cleans up” the legalese. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban in 1978 when a delegate to a state constitutional convention challenged her opponent’s standing since he was a Baptist minister.

But the wording immediately following the minister ban has also been deemed unconstitutional. It says that “no person who denies the being of God . . . shall hold any office.” Tennessee is one of eight states that still bars atheists from public service, though the Supreme Court has also superseded that provision.

And yet, there’s been no effort to cut the atheist lines from Tennessee’s constitution. When asked why not at a legislative hearing in 2021, Sen. Pody said cleaning up the constitution should be done “one simple step at a time.”

Georgia court reinstates 6-week abortion ban

The Georgia Supreme Court on Nov. 23 reinstated the state’s ban on abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy, abruptly ending access to most abortions that had resumed days earlier.

In a one-page order, the justices put a lower court ruling overturning the ban on hold while they consider an appeal. Abortion providers who had resumed performing the procedure past six weeks again had to stop.

Attorneys and advocates who pushed to overturn the ban said the abrupt halt will traumatize women who must now arrange travel to other states for an abortion or keep their pregnancies.

Report shows dangers of mixing state and church

A new U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report shows how essential separating religion from government is for combating discrimination. 

The report, titled “A Global Overview of Official and Favored Religions and Legal Implications for Religious Freedom,” examines countries that either have an official state religion or that explicitly or implicitly favor one religious group. It finds a strong correlation between this official religious sponsorship and discrimination. 

Most countries that officially support a religion — 57 out of 78 — have discriminatory laws or policies “on the basis of religion that lead to discrimination or repression, or that hold the potential to do so.” The targets of this discrimination are typically “religious minorities, dissenters within the majority faith, nonreligious persons, women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.” Islam and Christianity make up 86 percent of such countries, with Buddhism a distant third. 

Curiously absent from the report is the United States itself, which has no official religion, but which has, at times and at least in some states, clearly met the standard of officially supporting one religion, Christianity, over others. Some U.S. states still have blasphemy laws on the books, and American Christian nationalists have in recent years passed and used laws to favor Christians under the law. 

Md. probe: 158 abusive priests, over 600 victims

An investigation by Maryland’s attorney general identified 158 Roman Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Baltimore who have been accused of sexually and physically abusing more than 600 victims over the past 80 years, according to court records filed Nov. 17.

Attorney General Brian Frosh announced that his office has completed a 463-page report on the investigation, which began in 2019. 

The report, titled “Clergy Abuse in Maryland,” identifies 115 priests who were prosecuted for sex abuse and/or identified publicly by the archdiocese as having been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. It also includes an additional 43 priests accused of sexual abuse but not identified publicly by the archdiocese, the court filing said.

While the court filing noted that more than 600 victims were identified, it also said “there are almost certainly hundreds more, as the Department of Justice’s Annual Crime Victimization Report has demonstrated that most incidents of sexual assault go unreported.”

Both boys and girls were abused, according to the court filing, with ages ranging from preschool through young adulthood.

The sexual abuse was so pervasive, the court filing said, that victims were sometimes reporting sexual abuse to priests who were perpetrators themselves.