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

In the News (September 2020)

Vol. 37 No. 07 September 2020

S.C. to allocate $32M to pay for private tuition

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced July 19 he is allocating $32 million for grants to pay for private school tuition.

The grants, called Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE), will come out of the $48 million McMaster’s office received in discretionary funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

McMaster said the money will go to private schools to distribute, and it is intended for current private school students or those who wish to transfer to a private school.

The announcement received immediate backlash from state teacher organizations, two state senators and FFRF.

Opponents of the plan filed a lawsuit, which was heard by an Orangeburg circuit judge, who temporarily enjoined the funding.

The plaintiffs then filed a petition to take the case directly to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

It’s something attorneys on both sides support, saying that reaching a resolution to the case is critical as the start of school approaches.

Survey: Do you need to believe in God to be good?

A new Pew Research Center survey showed that people’s thoughts on whether belief in God is necessary to be moral vary by economic development, education and age.

Across the 34 countries in which residents were surveyed, 45 percent said it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. But there are large regional variations in the answers.

Less than half of those surveyed in both Canada and the United States say belief in God is necessary to be moral (26 percent and 44 percent, respectively).

There is an inverse relationship between GDP per capita and the percentage of the public that draws this connection between belief in God and morality.

In most European and North American countries surveyed, individuals with more education are less likely to say that belief in God is necessary to be moral.

Transgender man sues Catholic hospital

Jesse Hammons, a 33-year-old transgender man, had his hysterectomy canceled by the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center because it conflicted with the medical center’s Catholic beliefs, according to a story in the Washington Post.

So, on July 17, Hammons filed a lawsuit against the medical center, claiming the hospital’s denial violated the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause and discrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act.

The Post reported that a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Hammons, stated that “The case follows a pattern of Catholic hospitals across the country denying care to transgender patients as Catholic medical systems have continued to expand nationwide and as the Trump administration has removed nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in health care.”

Photo forces Falwell to take leave at Liberty

Jerry Falwell has taken a leave of absence as president of Liberty University, an evangelical Christian college, after posting a photo of himself and a woman, both with their pants unzipped.

The university said in a statement on Aug. 7: “The Executive Committee of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the full Board, met and requested that Jerry Falwell Jr. take an indefinite leave of absence from his roles as president and chancellor of Liberty University, to which he has agreed, effective immediately.”

The college has a strict code of conduct for student behavior at the university, including barring premarital sex and the consumption of media either on or off campus “that is offensive to Liberty’s standards and traditions.”

Christian Nationalists less likely to wear masks

A new study shows that those who embrace Christian Nationalist ideology are more likely to flout measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a mask or social distancing.

    According to the study, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, “Christian Nationalism is the leading predictor that one engaged in more frequent incautious behavior related to COVID-19” and the “second strongest predictor that Americans took fewer precautions like wearing a mask or sanitizing/washing one’s hands.”

     The authors of the study, Samuel Perry, Andrew L. Whitehead and Joshua B. Grubbs, concluded that “Christian Nationalism ideology is positively associated with Americans’ frequency of engaging in incautious behaviors.”

Chicken-killing ritual faces legal challenge

In New York, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish chicken-killing ritual is a major health risk during the coronavirus pandemic, animal advocates write in new legal papers.

The Alliance To End Chickens as Kaporos has waged a five-year battle against the Kaporos ritual, which takes place on public streets in Brooklyn and elsewhere prior to Yom Kippur. Up to 100,000 live chickens are brought in packed crates and sacrificed to “cleanse the practitioner of sins.” In new papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on July 6, the group seeks to revive a lawsuit against the city Health Department in light of the pandemic.

“A pandemic-causing virus, such as COVID-19, can be caused by a live animal wet market, which involves uncontrolled and poorly understood interactions between humans and intensely confined filthy, sick and diseased animals, which is what Kaporos is and does,” attorney Nora Constance Marino writes in the suit.

FFRF has written the city of New York several times over this animal cruelty issue in the name of religion.

Murder prompts criticism of blasphemy laws

On July 29, Tahir Naseem, 57, of Illinois, was on trial for blasphemy in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. A man walked into the busy courtroom and shot Naseem multiple times at close range, killing him.

Video showed the murderer saying that the Prophet Muhammad told him to kill Naseem in a dream.

“He is the enemy of Islam . . . the enemy of Pakistan,” the gunman said.

The murder of an American standing trial for blasphemy in Pakistan has sparked renewed pressure on Islamabad to reform laws that human rights groups say target minorities.

The State Department said Naseem was a U.S. citizen and called in a tweet for “immediate action” in response to his killing.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been the target of fierce criticism from international human rights groups. 

Satanic Temple suit moves forward against city

A lawsuit filed by the Satanic Temple over its efforts to erect a monument in a Minnesota park is moving forward, despite a federal court’s dismissal of most of the counts outlined in the complaint.

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright dismissed nine of the 10 counts in the suit against the city of Belle Plaine, several of which alleged violations of free speech and the free exercise of religion.

The suit alleged the city broke what amounted to a promise by rescinding the permit to let the temple place a monument in Veterans Memorial Park. The temple had already paid to have the monument built, at a cost of $40,000, its lawyer said.

The group has been fighting with the city for more than three years after city leaders accepted a steel silhouette of a soldier kneeling at a cross in the park.

Arizona ‘Nones’ advance to November election

Three Arizona “Nones” advanced to their respective November general elections. 

Arizona state Rep. Athena Salman won her primary on Aug. 4. She had the most votes in the three-way race, where the top two advance to the November ballot. Salman is a two-term representative and serves as Minority Whip.

Arizona state Sen. Juan Mendez easily won his primary against a more moderate Democrat. Mendez, one of only a few openly atheist state senators, is in his second term as state senator following two terms as a state representative.

Delina DiSanto won the Democratic primary in Arizona’s Fourth Congressional District. DiSanto, who is a registered nurse running in her first race, is a self-described “recovering Catholic,” according to the Freethought Equality Fund PAC.