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

In the News (June/July 2020)

Vol. 37 No. 05 June/July 2020
Steeple                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Trump tells states to let churches open

President Trump on May 22 called on states to allow places of worship to open immediately and threatened to “override” any governors who do not comply with his demand, although legally that is doubtful.

Trump said places of worship are “essential services,” much like grocery stores.

Restrictions in place in some states have become a point of contention for conservative religious leaders, an important constituency in Trump’s political base.

“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” Trump said of states that do not allow churches, synagogues and mosques to open on that weekend. “America, we need more prayer, not less.”

Public health officials continue to warn against mass gatherings or settings in which people will be in close quarters, and note that religious gatherings have been the source of several outbreaks.

Supreme Court: It’s OK to  restrict church services

The Supreme Court denied a request from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services.

The ruling on May 29 was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four liberal members.

It allowed California Gov. Gavin Newsom the right to restrict attendance at religious services in the state to 25 percent of the capacity because of the coronavirus.

“Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling. “Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.”

Turkish government site lets citizens change religion

Turkey’s e-State government website portal has a new feature that allows citizens to change their religion on official identification and government records.

Those looking to change their religion on official records are required to fill out a short information form and submit an e-signature, it said.

Turkey is country with a 98 percent Muslim population, but studies suggest that the country’s young population is increasingly distancing itself from religion.

Hospital seeks to end Catholic partnership

Hoag Memorial Hospital of Newport Beach, Calif., has sued to get out of a partnership with a Catholic hospital system, stating that it doesn’t agree with the Catholic Church’s restrictions on health care.

Hoag, which started as a Presbyterian institution in 1952, has been in a partnership with Providence St. Joseph Health since 2012. “The deal was controversial from the start, in part because the Catholic partners imposed an abortion ban on Hoag’s doctors even though they’d been promised that the deal would have no impact on their practices,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

However, just weeks after the deal was made final in early 2013, abortions were banned at Hoag.

The lawsuit was filed May 4 in Orange County Superior Court, after it became clear that Providence would resist the hospital’s efforts to dissolve the partnership.

Survey of nonreligious Americans released

A 2019 survey by American Atheists and CFI shows that of people who consider themselves nonreligious or secular, 57 percent of them consider themselves strong atheists, while almost 95 percent consider them atheists to some extent.

Participants in the survey also cited their priorities for what secular organizations should focus on. The three top priorities were to maintain secular public schools, oppose religious exemptions that allow for discrimination, and allow access to abortion and contraception.

On the downside, 29 percent of the nonreligious participants had negative experiences in education due to their nonreligious identity, and nearly 22 percent had negative experiences at work.

On the plus side, 22 percent of participants were involved with a local secular organization.

The survey included nearly 34,000 people and can be accessed at secularsurvey.org. (FFRF is planning its own membership survey later this summer. Please take part in it to have your voice heard!)

Coronavirus kills more than 70 clergy in NYC

At least 75 New York City congregations have had clergy who have been killed by the coronavirus.

Rabbis, Catholic priests and Christian ministers, ranging in age from 42 to 96, have succumbed to COVID-19 in the past two months, and dozens more have been confirmed ill, according to a survey of religious orders, media reports and obituaries.

The dead include Holocaust survivors, pastors of some of the city’s largest churches, and clergy who preached through their final days. At least 60 rabbis have died, according to a tally of Jewish media reports, with at least 20 deaths in the Hasidic enclave of Borough Park, where the NYPD had broken up several large funerals for violating social-distancing rules.

Nigerian humanist held for blasphemy

A prominent Nigerian humanist accused of blasphemy has been arrested and taken to Kano.

Mubarak Bala, the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was taken from his home on April 28 in  Kaduna state and brought to Kano, where a warrant for his arrest was issued.

Sharia law is applied in 12 states across the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria, including Kano, where blasphemy is punishable by death.

In a statement, Humanist UK, said: “We condemn in the strongest terms the arrest of our humanist colleague Mubarak Bala by the Nigerian authorities, who have accused him of ‘blasphemy’, which can carry the death penalty.”

McCorvey: I was paid to speak against abortion

Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff in the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, says in a Netflix documentary that she became an anti-abortion activist because she was being paid.

The documentary, “AKA Jane Roe,” shows her journey from abortion rights plaintiff and advocate to anti-abortion campaigner. Before her death in 2017, McCorvey told the director that she hadn’t changed her mind about abortion, but said what she was paid to say.

“I was the big fish,” McCorvey says in the documentary. “I think it was a mutual thing.  I took their money and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say.”

McCorvey became well-known as Jane Roe in the case that legalized abortion in the United States. She was pregnant when the case was filed and gave birth to a girl who was given up for adoption.

Texas mayor: Women can’t lead prayer at meetings

The mayor of Wylie, Texas, told a fellow City Council member in an email that women shouldn’t be allowed to lead prayer at public meetings because he believes it goes against biblical teachings, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Wylie Mayor Eric Hogue quoted two New Testament scriptures in the email sent to council member Jeff Forrester in which he suggested that the council instead select young men to give the invocation.

“All I ask is that those leading the public prayer be young men,” Hogue, who has been mayor for 12 years, wrote on May 17. “As a preacher for the Cottonwood Church of Christ, we take the two verses below literally.”

He then cites a passage in 1 Corinthians that, according to his email, says: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

He follows up with a passage from 1 Timothy: “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

Wisconsin county won’t let atheist couple marry

The Center for Inquiry reports that Wisconsin has discriminated against a nonreligious couple by denying them the right to marry by mutual declaration, which is a privilege granted to those who are religious.

The county clerk in Winnebago County refused permission to marry by mutual declaration because they were not religious, CFI states. “Federal courts have ruled that excluding secular celebrants from solemnizing is unconstitutional under the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of Equal Protection,” writes CFI in its news release. CFI and American Atheists sent a warning letter to the clerk, along with a request for public records involving self-solemnization and how state officials implement this law.