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

In the News (May 2020)

Vol. 37 No. 04 May 2020
Cardinal Pell                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Atheist loses appeal over citizenship oath

On April 3, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2018 ruling that reciting the phrase “so help me God” in the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance was not unconstitutional.

Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo had filed a federal lawsuit against the United States in 2017. The French citizen, who has lived in the United States since 2000, said she could not “in good conscience include those words in her oath.”

U.S. District Judge William Young said in his ruling that the phrase was a “well-established tradition” and was merely ceremonial.

Pastor dies from disease after keeping church open

A prominent Virginia pastor died April 11 from the coronavirus after telling his congregation in March, “I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus.”

Bishop Gerald Glenn founded New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield and spoke about the coronavirus on March 22, days after Virginians were urged to avoid large non-essential gatherings of more than 10 people.

“I am essential,” he said of remaining open, adding, “I’m a preacher — I talk to God,” according to the New York Post.

Atheists most politically active group in U.S.

Atheists are near the top or at the top in political participation, according to an analysis of the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey by Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University.

In all six scenarios offered by the survey, atheists were first or second in likelihood to participate. A quarter of atheists attended a march or protest compared to just 4.4 percent of white evangelicals. Four in 10 atheists have contacted a public official or donated money to a candidate. That’s tied with Jews, but is much higher than most Christian groups in the sample.

At every level on the education spectrum, atheists and agnostics are more politically active than Protestants or Catholics. More education leads to higher levels of political activity among all religious groups, but the relationship is even stronger for atheists than other groups.

Cardinal Pell freed after conviction overturned

Australia’s highest court on April 7 overturned the sexual abuse conviction of Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic leader ever found guilty in the church’s clergy pedophilia crisis.

Pell, 78, who was the Vatican’s chief financial officer and an adviser to Pope Francis, was sentenced to six years in prison last March for molesting two 13-year-old boys after Sunday Mass in 1996.

He was freed after a panel of seven judges ruled that the jury ought to have entertained a doubt about his guilt. The judges cited “compounding improbabilities” to conclude that the verdicts on five counts reached in 2018 were “unreasonable or cannot be supported by the evidence.”

Pell had receded from the public mind during his time in prison, and with the exception of his die-hard supporters, most Australians had come to accept his guilt as an established fact.

Michigan drops opposition to secular celebrants

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) withdrew its lawsuit against Michigan after the state attorney general reversed the government’s opposition to let secular celebrants  officiate weddings.

The Center for Inquiry reports that in May 2018, it “challenged Michigan’s marriage laws for unconstitutionally granting exclusive authority to solemnize marriages to religious ministers, while denying that authority to Secular Celebrants trained and certified by CFI, which advances reason, science, and humanist values.

But the new state administration that took office in 2019 interpreted the existing statutes as expressly permitting CFI’s Secular Celebrants to perform marriages, leading the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan to dismiss the case as a settled matter.”

Poll: Majority has prayed for end of coronavirus

A majority of Americans have prayed for the end of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center.

According to the survey, published April 6, 55 percent of U.S. adults say they have prayed for an end to the spread of coronavirus. Evangelicals are among the most likely to say that they have prayed for an end to the virus, with 82 percent saying they’ve done so. Among religious “Nones” — those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” — 36 percent say they have prayed about the virus. And 15 percent of those who generally seldom or never pray say they have prayed for an end to the crisis.

Muslims clash with           police over lockdown

On April 3, Pakistani Muslims at a Karachi mosque clashed with baton-wielding police trying to enforce new curbs on gatherings to prevent Friday prayers and contain coronavirus infections, officials said.

According to Reuters, television footage showed dozens of people chasing two police vehicles and pelting them with stones as an officer fired in the air to disperse the crowd.

Health experts warned that the pandemic could easily overwhelm the weak public health systems in the region.

But Muslim-majority Pakistan and Bangladesh, and India, home to the world’s largest Muslim minority, have struggled to persuade conservative religious groups to maintain social distancing.

South Carolina school district owes AHA $450K

In South Carolina, the Greenville County School District must pay more than $450,000 to the American Humanist Association after losing a six-year legal battle over graduation prayers.

In August 2019, U.S. District Judge Bruce Hendricks stopped the district from including prayers at graduation ceremonies.

The school board claimed the ruling was unclear, caused “confusion,” and favored secular speech over religious speech.

The school district owes AHA $446,466 in attorneys’ fees and $9,776 for other expenses. The district said it would appeal the fees.