Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

In the News (October 2018)

Vol. 35 No. 8 October 2018

Court approves ‘In God We Trust’ on money

A federal appeals court on Aug. 28 said printing “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency is constitutional, citing its longstanding use and saying it was not coercive.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minn., rejected claims by 29 atheists, children of atheists and atheist groups that inscribing the national motto on bills and coins violated their First Amendment free speech and religious rights.

While other courts have allowed the motto’s use on currency, Circuit Judge Raymond Gruender said it also did not constitute an establishment of religion under a 2014 Supreme Court decision requiring a review of “historical practices.”

Michael Newdow, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and an FFRF member, in an email called it “utterly revolting” that “the history of governmental denigration of a suspect class should trump [the] principle” that neutrality be the “touchstone” for analyzing claims under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Judge nixes prayer policy for Pennsylvania House

A federal judge has halted the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy banning people who don’t believe in God from giving the invocations made at the start of each day’s legislative floor session.

U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher Conner sided with the freethinkers, represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who challenged the policy that has limited the opening prayers to those who believe in God or a divine power.

Conner said the restrictions on who may serve as guest chaplain violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on making laws that establish a religion.

Muslim court canes women for relationship

Two Malaysian women accused of pursuing a sexual relationship were caned in an Islamic court.

The women, who were convicted of “sexual relations between women,” were each struck six times with a rattan cane in front of witnesses in the Shariah High Court in the state of Terengganu, officials said.

The women, aged 22 and 32, were caned by a female prison officer, Malaysian news outlets reported.

Voters more open to nonreligious candidates

Just 25 percent of Americans say it’s very or extremely important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs, according to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Only 19 percent consider it very or extremely important that a candidate shares their own beliefs, and nearly half say that’s not very important or not important at all.

But, still, a majority of Americans (57 percent) want the influence of religion on government policy to extend beyond traditional culture war issues and into policies addressing poverty. Americans are more likely to say religion should have at least some influence on poverty than on abortion (45 percent) or LGBT issues (34 percent).

At the highest levels of political office, it’s still rare for a politician to profess that he or she is an atheist; surveys indicate that roughly 10 percent of Americans are explicity atheist. Only one member of Congress, Rep. Jared Huffman, identifies currently as a nonbeliever.

Foster care, adoption program ends in Buffalo

Catholic Charities of Buffalo will end its foster care and adoption program because state rules that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation conflict with church teachings.

The agency has a contract with the Erie County Department of Social Services that expires in March. The state Office of Children and Family Services licenses Catholic Charities and other providers of these services.

The state requires contracting organizations to allow same-sex couples to adopt or to raise foster children. That directive, however, goes against the church’s position that marriage is between a man and a woman, Catholic Charities said in a statement.

Scotland no longer a faith-based country

The Humanist Society of Scotland undertook a survey to better understand the current spiritual and religious beliefs among the Scots. The results show the degree of change that has taken place in the country over the past few years. With over 1,000 participants, 59 percent of the individuals identified themselves as nonreligious. By gender, 62 percent of the women and 55 percent of the men stated they were nonreligious. Other results show that 51 percent of the individuals said they don’t believe life exists after death, 60 percent say that angels don’t exist,  65 percent believe evil spirits don’t exist, and 67 percent don’t believe in divine miracles.

Atheist ‘churches’ can improve your well-being

According to a recent study published in the journal Secularism and Nonreligion, atheist “churches” can improve one’s well-being. Researchers showed that congregational-style meetings improve your well-being the same way it does if you go to church. The findings suggest that religious beliefs aren’t as important as previously thought when it comes to well-being.

The most important aspect of the services in terms of community building and friendship formation was socializing before and after services.

Results were published in the journal Secularism and Nonreligion.

“Secular congregations may be a good alternative for non-religious people who want the health benefits religious communities traditionally offer,” said Dr. Michael Price.

Batman is an atheist, DC Comics confirms

Batman apparently doesn’t believe in God. That revelation comes at the conclusion of Batman #53.

Batman’s religious confessions begin with Bruce Wayne, who is Batman’s alter ego, talking about his own theological background, raised as a Christian by his father. Though Wayne never quite believed in Christianity as a small child, he accepted it. That’s until his parents were murdered and he lost his faith.

Christian-only town votes to allow non-Christians

After being hit with a lawsuit for not allowing non-Christians to live in their town, members of the Bay View Association (which is associated with the United Methodist Church) in Michigan recently voted to allow non-Christians to purchase homes in their neighborhood.

The lawsuit filed last year by the Bay View Chautauqua Inclusiveness Group said the housing association was guilty of violating the First Amendment, the federal Fair Housing Act, Michigan’s Constitution and civil rights laws.

They argued that Bay View isn’t affiliated in any meaningful way with the UMC. They operate independently from it and they’re owned by a for-profit company. They also pay taxes, which proves it’s not church property. And it maintains “state-delegated police power.”

Judge: Christian flag barred from city flagpole

A federal judge on Aug. 29 rejected a Boston resident’s demand that the city be forced to fly a flag with a prominent cross over an event he says he wants to hold on City Hall Plaza next month.

U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper rejected Hal Shurtleff’s request.

In his request for an injunction, Shurtleff argued Boston was violating his First Amendment rights to get his Christian flag on one of the three flagpoles on City Hall Plaza. Casper noted that the city has told Shurtleff he could hold his event there and unfurl any flag he wanted, just not from a city flagpole.

Devout parents arrested after son dies during fast

A Reedsburg, Wis., father and mother were arrested after their 15-year-old son died during a 40-day fast, according to the Reedsburg Police Department.

Kehinde Omosebi, 49, walked to the police department to report the death of his son on Sept. 2. When officers went to the family’s home, they had to force their way in through doors that had padlocks on the inside and found the boy “extremely emaciated and deceased,” Becker said.

An 11-year-old child was also found extremely emaciated but alive along with the mother, 48-year-old Titilayo Omosebi, who was also emaciated.

The father described himself as a “religious minister affiliated with Cornerstone Reformation Ministries.” The family started their fast on July 19.

No food was found in the home, and the mother and 11-year-old child were brought to a hospital for medical treatment, but Titilayo Omosebi refused, citing religious restrictions.

Fired for not going to bible study, worker sues

A 34-year-old man has filed an $800,000 lawsuit against a Albany, N.Y., construction company, claiming the owner fired him after he refused to attend weekly bible study.

Ryan Coleman’s lawsuit states that he discovered only after he was hired as a painter for Dahled Up Construction that the job entailed more than just fixing up homes. According to Coleman and his lawsuit, owner Joel Dahl told him all employees were required to partake in regular bible study sessions led by a Christian pastor during the work day, while on the clock.

Coleman told Dahl that the requirement was illegal, but Dahl wouldn’t budge, according to the lawsuit. In order to keep his job, Coleman obliged for nearly six months but ultimately told Dahl he couldn’t go, the suit says.