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

In the News (December 2019)

Vol. 36 No. 10 December 2019

In U.S., decline of Christianity continues

In the past decade, the number of people who describe themselves as Christian has dropped 12 percentage points, according to Pew Research Center polling from 2018 and 2019.

Currently, 65 percent of American adults describe themselves as Christians, down from 77 percent a decade ago. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” is at 26 percent, up from 17 percent in 2009.

According to the survey, 43 percent of U.S. adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51 percent in 2009. And one-in-five adults (20 percent) are Catholic, down from 23 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, all subsets of the religiously unaffiliated population (the “Nones”) have seen their numbers swell. Self-described atheists now account for 4 percent of U.S. adults, up modestly but significantly from 2 percent in 2009; agnostics make up 5 percent of U.S. adults, up from 3 percent a decade ago; and 17 percent of Americans now describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” up from 12 percent in 2009.

Bangladeshi court indicts 8 in publisher’s death

A court in Bangladesh indicted eight men for the murder of Faisal Abedin Deepan, a former publisher of atheist author Avijit Roy’s works. (Roy was hacked to death in 2015.)

Deepan was found dead in his office in October 2015. He was killed by members of the group Ansar al Islam. Another publisher of Roy’s books was also attacked that day, but survived.

Judge Majibur Rahman read out the charges to six of the suspects, who pleaded not guilty. Another two remained fugitives, and the judge issued arrest warrants for them.

Religious discrimination case settled for $565K

San Diego is paying out $565,000 in a religious discrimination case in which a supervisor allegedly urged workers to attend church, said nonbelievers will “go to hell” and said supporters of same-sex marriage aren’t “children of God.”

Rasean Johnson claimed in a 2017 lawsuit that he was demoted in retaliation for complaining that his supervisor Sheila Beale pressured him to become more religious and criticized him to others for being a “nonbeliever.”

The lawsuit claims the city and his supervisor violated Johnson’s right to freedom of religion under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.

Attorneys for the city have agreed to pay $298,000 to Johnson and $267,000 to his attorneys in the case, Smith Steiner Vanderpool of San Diego.

A key claim in the lawsuit is that city officials retaliated against Johnson for filing a grievance in 2015. An investigation prompted by the grievance determined that his complaints about his supervisor had merit.

Survey: Americans want religion out of politics

Adults in the United States are clear in their belief that religious institutions should stay out of politics. Nearly two-thirds of Americans in the new Pew Research Center survey say churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters, while 36 percent say they should express their views on social and political questions. And three-quarters of the public expresses the view that churches should not come out in favor of one candidate over another during elections, in contrast with efforts by President Trump to roll back existing legal limits on houses of worship endorsing candidates.

In addition, Americans are more likely to say that churches and other houses of worship currently have too much influence in politics (37 percent) rather than too little (28 percent).

China leads world in percentage of atheists

From World Population Review, the six countries with the highest percentage of populations identifying as atheists are, in order: China, Japan, Czech Republic, France, Australia and Iceland.

Approximately 40-49 percent of China’s population says that they’re atheists. Confucianism, which is one of China’s oldest philosophical systems, is notable for its lack of a belief in a deity.

In the United States, approximately 10 percent identify as atheists or agnostics, which is an all-time high. Approximately 40 percent of those atheists/agnostics are ages 18-29, and 37 percent of them are ages 30-49. Millennials and Gen Z are the most racially, ethnically and religiously diverse generation. Out of the 96 countries ranked, the United States ranked 32nd for highest percentage of atheists.

Ohio students’ beliefs may usurp science facts

The Ohio state House of Representatives has passed legislation critics say will allow public school students to get full marks on science tests if their answers reflect “sincerely held religious beliefs,” even if they’re factually wrong.

Ohio House Bill 164, known as the Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act, includes a clause that reads: “Assignment grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns, and shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of their work.”

That potentially means that students can’t be marked down for an answer that is in line with their religious beliefs, even if it contradicts the best science.

The Ohio Senate has a Republican majority and the governor is also Republican, so its chances of passage are high.

Foreign aid to be based on religious freedom?

Aides to President Donald Trump are drafting plans to condition U.S. aid to other countries on how well they treat their religious minorities, according to an exclusive report in Politico.

The proposal is expected to cover humanitarian and development assistance and could also be broadened to include American military aid to other countries. Politico writes: “If the proposal becomes reality, it could have a major effect on U.S. assistance in a range of places, from Iraq to Vietnam. Its mere consideration shows how much the White House prioritizes religious freedom, an emphasis critics say is really about galvanizing Trump’s evangelical Christian base.”

Report: Pence’s office favored Christian groups

Over the last two years, political pressure, particularly from the office of Vice President Mike Pence, had “seeped into aid deliberations and convinced key decision-makers that unless they fell in line, their jobs could be at stake,” according to a report by ProPublica.

The efforts to influence USAID funding sparked concern from career officials, who worry the agency risked violating constitutional prohibitions on favoring one religion over another. They also were concerned that being perceived as favoring Christians could worsen Iraq’s sectarian divides.

USAID regulations state that awards “must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization, or lack thereof.”

Televangelist White joins Trump administration

Paula White, a “prosperity” televangelist based in Florida and personal pastor to President Trump whom he has known since 2002, has joined the Trump administration in an official capacity.

White will work in the Office of Public Liaison, the official said, which is the division of the White House overseeing outreach to groups and coalitions organizing key parts of the president’s base. Her role will be to advise the administration’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, which Trump established last year by executive order and which aims to give religious groups more of a voice in government programs devoted to issues like defending religious liberty and fighting poverty.