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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News (Oct. 2022)

Abortion rights will be on ballot in Michigan

The Michigan Supreme Court on Sept. 8 ordered a proposal enshrining the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution be added to the November ballot.

The decision from the state’s highest court came after a four-member Michigan elections board deadlocked over whether to allow the initiative. Two Republican members on the Board of State Canvassers declined to certify the question, which required three votes, citing objections to the spacing and readability of the proposal text.

In her majority opinion, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack called the actions of the opposing members on the elections board “a sad marker of the times.”

“They would disenfranchise millions of Michiganders not because they believe the many thousands of Michiganders who signed the proposal were confused by it, but because they think they have identified a technicality that allows them to do so, a game of gotcha gone very bad,” she wrote.

Bible museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls are forgeries

All of the Dead Sea Scrolls held by the Museum of The Bible in Washington, D.C., are forgeries made to resemble the actual scrolls, most of which are held in the Shrine of the Book in Israel. The actual scrolls were discovered in 1947.

The museum opened in 2017, with 16 fragments claimed to have been found in the Qumran caves close to the Dead Sea. But there were always questions about their authenticity. The following year, the museum admitted five of the fragments were forged and removed them from display, but still had faith in the other 11.

But, a team of independent researchers compiled a report showing that the remaining fragments were all forgeries, as well. The investigation spanned six months and saw the contested scrolls undergo examination with a battery of advanced technologies, including 3-D microscopes, scanning electron microscopy and microchemical testing.

The Museum of the Bible was established by Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green.

Report: Nonreligious LGBTQ people hide beliefs

A survey of nonreligious people reveals that LGBTQ persons regularly conceal their nonreligious beliefs and are more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to encounter stigma and discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives — education, employment, mental health services and within their families — due to their beliefs.

The report, “Nonreligious Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People in America,” released Aug. 16, details the extent to which nonreligious LGBTQ people experience both religious oppression and anti-LGBTQ sentiment, as well as the level of depression among those raised in religious households.

The research, based on a survey of nearly 34,000 nonreligious people in the United States, found that LGBTQ participants were about 16 percent more likely than non-LGBTQ respondents to mostly or always conceal their nonreligious identities from their families of origin. 

Turkish star jailed over religious schools joke

A Turkish court has placed pop music singer Gulsen under house arrest, the state-run news agency Anadolu said Aug. 29.

The pop star was jailed pending trial on charges of “inciting or insulting the public to hatred and enmity” after she made a joke about religious schools in Turkey, according to Anadolu.

On Aug. 29, the Istanbul criminal court released Gulsen on the condition of “not leaving the residence” after her lawyers appealed her arrest. 

Charges against the singer have not been dropped, however, and the prosecutor will write an indictment asking the judge to launch hearings.

In April during a concert, Gulsen spoke of one of her musicians: “He graduated from Imam Hatip (religious schools). That’s where his pervert side comes from.”

Gulsen apologized for the offense the joke caused, but said her comments were seized on by those wanting to deepen polarization in the country.

Judge unseats official who trespassed at Capitol

A judge in New Mexico on Sept. 5 ordered a county commissioner convicted of participating in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol removed from office under the 14th Amendment, making him the first public official in more than a century to be barred from serving under a constitutional ban on insurrectionists holding office.

The ruling declared the Capitol assault an insurrection and unseated Couy Griffin, a commissioner in New Mexico’s Otero County and the founder of Cowboys for Trump, who was convicted earlier this year of trespassing when he breached barricades outside the Capitol during the attack. 

On Jan. 6, 2021, Griffin and a videographer clambered over barricades at the Capitol and made their way onto the inauguration stage in front of the building. There, Griffin spent more than an hour addressing the mob, at times speaking through a bullhorn. He later said that he had been attempting to lead them in prayer.

Atheist fired after not attending prayer session 

A North Carolina company’s mandatory daily Christian prayer sessions for its employees were becoming “less tolerable” for an atheist who refused to continue attending, resulting in his firing, federal officials said in a lawsuit. 

The worker’s boss told him that “he did not have to believe in God, and he did not have to like the prayer meetings, but he had to participate” before the worker was fired in the fall of 2020, according to a complaint filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the home repair business. 

The company is being sued for religious discrimination and is accused of punishing workers who did not want to attend the meetings, which also involved bible readings, the agency said. 

This comes after another worker was fired in January 2021 after she felt the prayer meetings, which went on for nearly an hour, were becoming “cult-like” and stopped attending due to her agnostic beliefs, according to the lawsuit. 

Michigan court: Abortion ban unconstitutional

A Michigan Court of Claims judge ruled Sept. 7 that the state’s 1931 abortion ban violates the state Constitution, according to a copy of the ruling obtained by ABC News. The ruling permanently bars the attorney general and county prosecutors from enforcing the ban in the state, effectively legalizing abortions in Michigan.

The ruling from Judge Elizabeth Gleicher came as part of a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Dr. Sarah Wallett, the organization’s chief medical officer, against Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Michigan state House of Representatives and Senate, challenging the ban.

The 1931 law makes it a felony to provide an abortion unless it is medically necessary to save the life of a pregnant person. The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest. The law also states that if the pregnant person dies, the provider would be charged with manslaughter.

The ruling found the state’s abortion ban unconstitutional as it violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Michigan Constitution and would deprive pregnant women of their right to bodily integrity, autonomy and the equal protection of the law, Gleicher wrote in the order.

Judge: HIV drug mandate violates religious freedom

A federal judge in Texas ruled Sept. 7 that requiring employers to provide coverage for PrEP medications — which prevent the transmission of HIV — violates the religious rights of employers under federal law.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides a religious exemption from purchasing health insurance that complies with the Department of Health and Human Services’ preventive care mandate under the Affordable Care Act, which requires PrEP coverage.

O’Connor said the government must provide this religious exemption to eight defendants — six individuals and two businesses — who claim that being required to provide such insurance coverage violates their “sincerely held” Christian and “nonreligious” beliefs rejecting “homosexual behavior, intravenous drug use, and sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman.”

By requiring them to provide insurance that covers PrEP, as well as the HPV vaccine and sex education, the government “would make [them] complicit in those behaviors,” O’Connor concluded.

Fargo reinstates pledge after public backlash

Following a public outcry, the Fargo (N.D.) School Board voted 8-1 to resume reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of board meetings.

The decision, made during a special meeting Aug. 18, was prompted by the backlash that followed a decision by the board on Aug. 9 to stop reciting the pledge. Board President Tracie Newman recommended the board reinstate the pledge.

Prior to the vote, several board members mentioned they had received hateful and sometimes threatening calls and emails from all over the country.

Board member Nyamal Dei, who cast the lone “no” vote at the meeting, shared a voicemail recording in front of the board. The recording contained vulgar, hateful and racist language throughout.

Board member Katie Christensen, who attended the meeting by phone, said she had been called disgusting things and received threats. She said she had reported some of the threatening messages to the police.