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In The News (May 2018)

Church membership drops to all-time low

The percentage of adults in the United States who belong to a church has plunged by 20 percentage points over the past 20 years, hitting a low of 50 percent in 2018, according to a Gallup poll.

Gallup said church membership was 70 percent in 1999 — and close to or higher than that figure for most of the 20th century.

Since 1999, the figure has fallen steadily, while the percentage of adults with no religious affiliation has jumped from 8 percent to 19 percent.

The decline is driven by cultural and generational factors, said Nancy Ammerman, a professor of the sociology of religion at Boston University.

“Culturally, we are seeing significant erosion in the trust people have for institutions in general and churches in particular,” she told the Associated Press. “We are also seeing a generational shift as the ‘joiner’ older generation dies off and a generation of non-joiners comes on the scene.”

Kansas Supreme Court upholds abortion rights

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on April 26 that the state’s constitution protects a woman’s right to an abortion, which blocks a 2015 Kansas law that banned a second-trimester abortion procedure.

The ruling now stands as the law with no path for an appeal. Because it turns on the state’s constitution, abortion would remain legal in Kansas even if the Roe v. Wade case that established a national right to abortion is ever reversed. That could pave the way for legal challenges to abortion laws in other states that are trying to strictly control the procedures.

The ruling comes as more than 11 states across the Midwest and south have been passing laws that ban abortion procedures after six weeks, often before women even know they are pregnant.

Texas begins fight over religious exemptions

A Texas Senate committee on March 25 approved a bill to give state-licensed professionals — including doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and barbers — broad protection for actions taken according to their religious beliefs.

Opponents said the bill, and more than a dozen similar measures that have not yet been acted upon, would give religious people, particularly conservative Christians, the power to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender people as well as anyone they don’t want to do business with or serve.

Christian nationalism viewed as a threat

Almost half of the voting public believes that Christian nationalism is a threat to the interests of the country within the next 10 years, a recent poll from Morning Consult shows.

“There is a strong movement to preserve white Christian power in America right now, and a real feeling of fragility about the changing demographics of America,” said Rachel Laser, president of the nonpartisan Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Many experts say conservative leaders have — to varying degrees — embraced sentiments that run contrary to the Constitution’s call for separation of church and state, from the insistence on saying “Merry Christmas” to Trump’s campaign call for a ban on Muslims entering the country.

Stoning in Brunei for adulterers, homosexuals

On April 3, Brunei statutes allowing stoning and amputation against adulterers and those caught having gay sex went into effect.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Brunei, with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison, but the new laws allow for penalties including whipping and stoning. The new laws also introduce amputation of hands or feet as a punishment for robbery.

Texas bans chaplains from execution chamber

Texas officials on April 3 banned any chaplain from entering the state’s execution chambers.

The ban came less than one week after the Supreme Court stayed the lethal injection of an inmate prevented from having a Buddhist spiritual adviser with him.

Only security personnel may enter the execution chamber in future executions, Texas Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Desel said. Under the new protocols, chaplains will be available to the inmates until they are transferred to the execution chamber. Ministers and spiritual advisers also may observe executions from the witness rooms.

Saudi Arabia declares all atheists terrorists

Human Rights Watch reports that Saudi Arabia has new laws that define atheists as terrorists.

In a series of royal decrees and overarching legislation to deal with terrorism, Saudi King Salman has clamped down on all forms of political dissent and protests that could “harm public order.”

Article I of the new provisions defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

Mormons: Kids of LGBT parents can be baptized

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said April 4 that it would allow children of same-sex couples to be baptized, an incredible reversal of church policy from one of the religious groups that had long sought to be a bulwark against gay rights.

The decision rolled back a 2015 rule that had ripped congregations apart by declaring that church members in same-sex marriages were apostates and subject to excommunication, and that children of same-sex couples were banned from rituals like baptisms and baby-naming ceremonies.

New Jersey to permit death with dignity

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on April 12 signed legislation that will allow terminally ill adults to end their lives peacefully, with dignity, and at their own discretion. The bill makes New Jersey the eighth state to allow such end-of-life decisions with the assistance of medical professionals.

“Allowing residents with terminal illnesses to make end-of-life choices for themselves is the right thing to do,” said Murphy. “By signing this bill today, we are providing terminally ill patients and their families with the humanity, dignity, and respect that they so richly deserve at the most difficult times any of us will face.”

The law will take effect on Aug. 1.