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

In the News (Nov. 2019)

Vol. 36 No. 09 November 2019

Judge halts Michigan’s pro-gay adoption rules

A federal judge in Grand Rapids, Mich., halted a new state policy that bans state contracts with foster and adoption agencies that refuse to work with gay couples.

The state’s settlement and comments made by Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel about the policy show “that the state’s new position targets St. Vincent’s religious beliefs,” U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker wrote in his Sept. 24 opinion.

In his opinion, Jonker said Nessel “is at the very heart of the case” in part because of comments she made on the campaign trail in which she described supporters of the state’s prior policy as “hatemongers” and said she “could not justify using the state’s money” to defend “a law whose only purpose is discriminatory animus.”

Justice Dept. sides with Catholics over firing

The U.S. Department of Justice has defended a Roman Catholic archbishop’s decision that led to the firing of a gay, married teacher, stating that the First Amendment prohibits courts from interfering in how a religious group applies its teachings.

The Justice Department’s civil rights division filed a statement of interest in a lawsuit brought by Joshua Payne-Elliott, an educator fired in June from his job at Cathedral High School, which is part of the Indianapolis archdiocese.

Payne-Elliott says the archdiocese interfered illegally in his teaching contract by demanding that the school fire him. The school was supportive of the teacher but faced serious repercussions if it disobeyed Archbishop Charles Thompson’s mandate.

Tennessee county gives $15K to bible museum

A bible museum in Collierville, Tenn., is getting $15,000 in taxpayer money.

Members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners each are allotted $200,000 a year to “give back to the community,” which can be used to fund a variety of projects, including cultural programs, community development activities and infrastructure improvements. On Sept. 23, Commissioner David Bradford said he would give $10,000 from his funds for the Bible Museum on the Square. Commissioner Mick Wright said he would add $5,000 more. The board then unanimously voted in favor of those grants.

FFRF did send a letter to the County Board prior to the meeting, stating that the grant “violates taxpayers’ religious liberty by forcing them to support a liberty they don’t believe in.”

Broader rights sought for marriage officiating

The Center for Inquiry argues that a Texas law is unconstitutional because it gives religious celebrants the ability to solemnize a marriage but denies nonreligious celebrants that same right.

In Texas, those allowed to conduct marriage ceremonies are a licensed or ordained Christian minister or priest, a rabbi, a person who is an officer of a religious organization and authorized by that group to conduct a ceremony and a current or retired judge. Officiating at a wedding without authority is a Class A misdemeanor.

CFI says the law deprives couples of the opportunity to have a meaningful but nonreligious ceremony.

U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle rejected the CFI arguments in an August decision, saying the law at most provides an “indirect or incidental” benefit to religion.

Two more members join Freethought Caucus

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., and Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., have recently joined the Congressional Freethought Caucus.

Both Wild and Casten won their seats in 2018.

The caucus was announced in 2018 by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., the only openly nonreligious member of Congress. The two additions bring the total to 12 members.

The other members of the caucus are: Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

Family hid dinosaur fossil for 150 years

A God-fearing family in Victorian England buried a giant dinosaur fossil out of concern it could threaten the family members’ Christian beliefs. After about 150 years, the family finally unearthed the prehistoric fossil.

The Ichthyosaurus fossil was discovered in 1850 by the family of Julian Temperley in England. The Burnham & Highbridge Weekly News reported the family members were builders’ merchants and unearthed the relic while digging in a quarry.

After returning the fossil to their home, the family decided to bury it as they didn’t want to feel they were “denying God” and the creation story by displaying it. This was several years before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.