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In the News (November 2018)

Freethought Caucus expands rapidly

The Congressional Freethought Caucus is growing quickly.

In April, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., the only openly nontheistic member of Congress, announced the formation of the Congressional Freethought Caucus to focus on promoting secular values and give a voice to freethinking voters. Other founding members of the Congressional Freethought Caucus include Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

In the few months since then, the caucus has doubled in size. With Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., joining in to defend science and rationality, the Congressional Freethought Caucus has now achieved double-digit membership.

EPA to dissolve office that advises on science

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to dissolve its Office of the Science Adviser, a senior post that was created to counsel the EPA administrator on the scientific research underpinning health and environmental regulations, according to a person familiar with the agency’s plans. The person spoke anonymously because the decision had not yet been made public.

The science adviser works across the agency to ensure that the highest quality science is integrated into the agency’s policies and decisions, according to the EPA’s website.

The move is the latest among several steps taken by the Trump administration that appear to have diminished the role of scientific research in policymaking while the administration pursues an agenda of rolling back regulations.

Atheist loses challenge against ‘so help me God’

The Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America  will continue ending with the words “so help me God,” after an unsuccessful legal challenge to its constitutionality.

Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo filed a federal lawsuit against the United States last year. Perrier-Bilbo, a French citizen, has lived in Massachusetts since 2000 and wanted to become an official U.S. citizen. Her application was approved and the oath was the final step. Because she’s an atheist, though, she said she could not “in good conscience include those words in her oath.”

But U.S. District Judge William Young of the District of Massachusetts said in his ruling that while Perrier-Bilbo had proper standing, her arguments weren’t convincing. Was the phrase “so help me God” a violation of the Establishment Clause? No, Young said, because it was ceremonial and a “well-established tradition.”

Senator sued for blocking atheists

American Atheists has filed a lawsuit against Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert for blocking four Arkansas residents on Facebook and Twitter after they made statements critical of his policy positions.

The lawsuit itself cites Rapert saying he blocks “liberal extremists,” rather than using neutral criteria.

It also mentions how, even though profanity is listed as a reason Rapert might ban someone from seeing his social media posts, users who curse but agree with his views have not been banned. Neither have people who agree with Rapert but “encourage others to commit criminal acts,” “disparage others for their religious views,” or “accuse others of crimes.”

Atheist group forms in Utah middle school

The Secular Student Alliance broke new ground by getting its first middle school chapter. Bailey Harris, 12, has begun one at Open Classroom Charter School in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Bailey, who was a speaker at FFRF’s convention in San Francisco and earned FFRF’s Richard and Beverly Hermsen Student Activist Award, has written a book, with her father Doug, My Name is Stardust, the first in a series.

Doug told Hemant Mehta (“The Friendy Atheist”) that “Bailey is most excited by the idea of creating a safe community for secular students at her school,” Mehta writes. “There are so many secular students that feel that they are alone and she believes that this will help them find each other and build a positive community. . . She feels that having SSA on campus will help secular students feel that they are a part of something special as well.”

Few young adults identify with Church of England

The Church of England is facing severely reduced numbers, with only 2 percent of British young adults identifying with it, while seven out of 10 of those under age 24 say they have no religion, according to the British Social Attitudes survey.

Church of England affiliation is at a record low among all age groups, and has halved since 2002, according to the survey. And far fewer actually attend church services on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, the trend toward a secular society has increased over recent years. The BSA survey found that 52 percent of people had no religion in 2017, compared with 41 percent in 2002.

While the figures are starkest among younger people, in every age group the biggest single group are those identifying with no religion.

Woman is denied her miscarriage prescription

A Michigan woman wants a pharmacy to discipline a Petoskey pharmacist and implement a company-wide policy for how pharmacists should handle religious and moral objections to dispensing medication after she was denied a prescription to help complete a miscarriage.

Rachel Peterson, 35, alleges a pharmacist at the Meijer store refused to fill her prescription for misoprostol in July because of his personal religious views. She says he also refused to transfer the prescription to another pharmacy.

Misoprostol can be used to prevent stomach ulcers and also can be used to induce labor during pregnancy, to aid in the completion of a miscarriage and in the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage. When combined with another drug, it can be used to induce an abortion.

Group to spend $1M probing cardinals

“The Better Church Governance Group,” an organization that includes six former U.S. cardinals on its board of trustees, announced that it would spend more than $1 million over the next year to investigate every current member of the College of Cardinals — the people who elect popes — in an effort to shine a light on anyone credibly accused of child sexual abuse or covering up that abuse.

The goal is to produce a comprehensive report by April of 2020, presumably while Pope Francis is still in office and before his successor is chosen.

Organizers say it will be conducted by a team of nearly 100 researchers, academics, investigators and journalists.

Court: Belfast bakery can refuse to bake cake

Britain’s Supreme Court supported the right of a Belfast bakery to refuse to bake a cake with a message supporting same-sex marriage, finding that its Christian owners could not be compelled to reproduce a message contrary to their beliefs.

Although the person who requested the cake was gay, a five-judge panel found that the bakery owners’ refusal was based not on sexual orientation, but on their Protestant faith’s opposition to gay marriage.

“There was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation,” said the judgment, which overturned the rulings of two lower courts.

It cited the United States Supreme Court’s decision in June in favor of a Colorado baker who had refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple, a narrow decision that left open the larger question of whether a business can discriminate against gay men and lesbians based on First Amendment rights.