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In the News (Oct. 2021)

Evolution now accepted by majority of Americans

Public acceptance of evolution in the United States has reached 54 percent, according to a study based on a series of national opinion surveys conducted over the last 35 years.

The study identified aspects of education, such as taking college courses in science and having a college degree, as the strongest factors leading to the acceptance of evolution.

“It’s hard to earn a college degree without acquiring at least a little respect for the success of science,” said study co-author Mark Ackerman, a researcher at Michigan Engineering.

Over the past decade, the percentage of American adults who agreed that humans evolved from earlier species of animals increased from 40 percent to 54 percent.

The current study consistently identified religious fundamentalism as the strongest factor leading to the rejection of evolution.  As of 2019, 34 percent of conservative Republicans accepted evolution compared to 83 percent of liberal Democrats.

Study: Christians see LGBT gains as threatening

New research suggests that many Christians, especially conservative ones, think that Christians are hurt by advances for LGBT people.

Even though the majority of LGBT individuals identify as Christian, many Christians don’t understand this. Instead, they “perceive a zero-sum relationship with LGBT people: believing that social advances for sexual and gender minorities are harmful and threatening to Christians,” write  Clara L. Wilkins and Lerone A. Martin, authors of the study.

For example, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions described the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage as an “effort to secularize” the country “by force and intimidation.”

8-year-old charged with blasphemy in Pakistan

An 8-year-old Hindu boy is being held in protective police custody in eastern Pakistan after becoming the youngest person ever to be charged with blasphemy in the country.

The boy’s family is in hiding and many of the Hindu community in Rahim Yar Khan have fled their homes after a Muslim crowd attacked a Hindu temple after the boy’s release on bail in mid-August. 

The boy is accused of intentionally urinating on a carpet in the library of a madrassa, where religious books were kept. Blasphemy charges can carry the death penalty.

Court: Parole program violated atheist’s rights

A Colorado parole officer and the operator of a Christian transitional program violated an atheist’s First Amendment rights if they forced him to either participate in religious programming or go to jail, the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals decided on Aug 6.

The court reinstated the lawsuit of atheist Mark Janny, who ultimately was subjected to 150 days in custody because he refused to attend morning prayer and bible studies at Fort Collins Rescue Mission, where his parole officer had directed him to live.

“A state actor violates the Free Exercise Clause by coercing or compelling participation in religious activity against one’s expressly stated beliefs,” Judge Carolyn B. McHugh wrote in the court’s opinion.

Gen X the last raised with traditional religion

“Generation X — those born between 1965 and the early 1980s — is the last generation to come of age and even perpetuate an overwhelmingly Christian and largely devout religious landscape in terms of church attendance and beliefs about God,” writes Ryan Burge in his article, “Don’t blame the boomers for decline of religion in America.”

Burge is assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and a researcher of religious trends.

Burge writes that, in the late 1980s, only about 11 percent of Gen Xers said that they had no religious affiliation, but that increased to around 20 percent by the mid-2000s, but has mostly stayed the same since then.

“That’s clearly not the case for millennials, who dropped about 10 percentage points in 20 years in reporting their certainty about a supreme being,” he writes. “It’s still very early to come to any firm conclusions about Generation Z, but there’s ample reason to believe that they are half as likely as Gen X to express a certain belief — leaving millennials as the generation that was the great divide.”

The new head chaplain at Harvard is an atheist 

Greg Epstein, author of Good Without God, was unanimously named the president of Harvard University’s organization of chaplains. 

According to The New York Times, he will coordinate the activities of more than 40 university chaplains, who lead the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious communities on campus. 

“There is a rising group of people who no longer identify with any religious tradition but still experience a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life,” said Epstein, who was raised in a Jewish household and has been Harvard’s humanist chaplain since 2005. “We don’t look to a god for answers. We are each other’s answers.”

N.Y. removes religious exemption from mandate

New York’s Public Health and Health Planning Council approved emergency regulations Aug. 26 requiring that hospital workers be vaccinated for Covid-19, while removing religious exemptions. 

The requirement applies to hospitals, nursing homes, diagnostic and treatment centers, adult care facilities, certified home health agencies, hospices, long-term home health care programs, AIDS home care programs, licensed home care service agencies and limited licensed home care service agencies.

“We’re not constitutionally required to provide a religious exemption,” said Vanessa Murphy, a Department of Health attorney. “You see that with the measles and the mumps requirement for health care workers.”

FBI: Atheists not often targeted in hate crimes

On Aug. 30, the FBI released its report, “Hate Crime Statistics, 2020,” the  latest compilation about bias-motivated incidents throughout the nation. 

Anti-atheism and anti-agnosticism were on the receiving end of only 7 incidents out of 7,759 total reported cases, which is less than 0.01 percent.

Anti-Black crimes occurred the most, with 2,755 incidents. Second-most was anti-white crime, with 773 incidents. As for anti-religion crime, anti-Jewish crimes led the way with 676 incidents. Anti-Muslim was next with 104 incidents.

The 2020 data was submitted by 15,136 law enforcement agencies.

The report shows that 61.9 percent of victims were targeted because of the offenders’ race/ethnicity/ancestry bias, 20.5 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ sexual-orientation bias, 13.4 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ religious bias, 2.5 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ gender identity bias, 1 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ disability bias, and 0.7 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ gender bias.

Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalizes abortion

On Sept. 7, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional, setting a precedent that could lead to legalization of the procedure across the conservative Catholic country of about 130 million people.

The unanimous ruling follows years of efforts by a growing women’s movement in Mexico that has repeatedly taken to the streets of major cities to demand greater rights and protections, The New York Times reports.

The decision does not automatically make abortion legal across Mexico, experts said, but it does set a binding precedent for judges across the country. Abortion rights advocates said they planned to use the ruling to challenge laws in the vast majority of Mexican states that mandate jail time or other criminal penalties for women who have the procedure.

For now, analysts said, women arrested for having an abortion can sue state authorities to have the charges dropped. Activists also plan to push state authorities to free women now serving prison terms for having had abortions.

Atheists most vaccinated
‘religious’ group 

New data from the Pew Research Center shows that atheists are most vaccinated “religious” group in the country.

Fully 90 percent of atheists are vaccinated, compared to just 57 percent of white evangelicals and 73 percent of the country’s adults overall.

The numbers show some interesting trends. Agnostics lag slightly behind atheists, while “nothing in particular” Nones are about average. Catholics score above average, and Hispanic Catholics even better than agnostics. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, has been urging people to get vaccinated and has been working to end religious exemptions to vaccinations even before the pandemic.