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

In the News (May 2021)

Vol. 38 No. 04 May 2021

Secular voters outnumber other religious groups

Secular Democrats have a strong voting bloc that outshines all other political/religious/racial groupings, according to an analysis of voting patterns.

Researcher and professor Ryan P. Burge used data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to come up with a chart to show how different religious groups voted in the 2020 November elections. The chart above shows various faith-based and nonreligious voting blocs as a share of the entire population.

Overall, the “nothing in particular” group, including Republicans, Democrats and independents, outweighs all white evangelicals by 18.7 percent to 17.5 percent. 

The largest individual political voting bloc by a religious group is the 13.1 percent by white evangelical Republicans. However, combining the Democratic Nones (the “Nothing in particulars”), atheists and agnostics adds up to 17.6 percent of the population. 

Hemant Mehta, who writes the Friendly Atheist blog, said it would behoove Democratic candidates to try to gain the secular vote.

“It’s all the more reason Democratic candidates in large parts of the country should openly work for the secular vote by talking about the importance of church/state separation, LGBTQ rights, abortion access, quality science and sex education in school, and any number of other issues that unite most secular Democrats while also being opposed by so many conservative Republicans,” Mehta writes.

Religious makeup of Congress skewed 

While more than a quarter (26 percent) of U.S. adults are religiously unaffiliated — describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” also known as “Nones” — just one member of the new Congress (Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.) identifies as religiously unaffiliated, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, although Rep. Jared Huffman identifies as a Humanist.

Nearly nine in 10 members of Congress identify as Christian (88 percent), compared with two-thirds of the general public (65 percent). Congress is both more heavily Protestant (55 percent vs. 43 percent) and more heavily Catholic (30 percent vs. 20 percent) than the U.S. adult population overall.

Congress is more heavily Christian than U.S. adults ages 50 to 64, by a margin of 14 percentage points. 

Younger Blacks are less religious than their elders

Black adults attend church and participate in bible studies more than other U.S. adults, but younger Black Americans are less likely to identify with the Christian faith than older generations, a new Barna Group report shows. The research firm on April 16 released its “Trends in the Black Church” report. 

It shows Black Gen Zers, those who were born between the 1990s and early 2010s (67 percent), and Millennials (65 percent) have similar connections to Christianity. That makes them less Christian than older Black adults but more linked to that faith than their peers of other races.

While 74 percent of all Black adults say they are Christian, that percentage has declined sharply from 89 percent in 2011. Fifteen percent of African Americans say they are agnostic, atheist or of no faith. 

UK ‘Nones’ have lowest Covid-19 related deaths 

In the United Kingdom, those who reported having “no religion” (also known as “Nones”) had the lowest rate of death involving the coronavirus with 80.7 deaths per 100,000 males and 47.9 deaths per 100,000 females, according to a study done in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic (from March through May 2020).

The highest age-standardized mortality rates of deaths involving Covid-19 were Muslims, with 198.9 deaths per 100,000 males and 98.2 deaths per 100,000 females. People who identified as Jewish, Hindu or Sikh also showed higher mortality rates than other groups.

“For the most part, the elevated risk of certain religious groups is explained by geographical, socioeconomic and demographic factors and increased risks associated with ethnicity,” said Nick Stripe from the Office for National Statistics in the UK.

S.C. Blaine Amendment targeted in fed lawsuit

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a group of religious schools and independent colleges in South Carolina takes aim at the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment.

South Carolina’s Blaine Amendment says no public money can be used for the direct benefit of any religious or private school. Thirty-seven states have similar provisions in their constitutions.

South Carolina amended its Blaine Amendment in 1973 to eliminate the ban on “indirect” funding of private schools.

The lawsuit, which was filed April 14, argues the amendment discriminates against Black residents and Catholics by withholding education funding from nonpublic schools in South Carolina and has been used to keep COVID-19 relief from private, independent and religious schools, including historically black colleges and universities.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston and the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which names South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams and Department of Administration Budget Director Brian Gaines as defendants.

Evangelicals linked to searches for ‘bigger penis’

According to a recent paper in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, researcher founds a a “strong association” between the number of evangelical Christians in a state and the number of Google searches in those states looking for “bigger penis.”

Samuel L. Perry and Andrew L. Whitehead published the paper, titled, “Linking Evangelical Subculture and Phallically Insecure Masculinity Using Google Searches for Male Enhancement.” 

Using Google Trends, an analysis tool, the researchers focused on terms like “male enhancement,” “ExtenZe,” and “penis pump” and connecting them to the “preponderance of evangelicals in a state.”

U.N. report shows Islamophobia on the rise 

A March 11 report from the United Nations shows growing Islamophobia and excessive surveillance of Muslims in countries around the world, including the United States, according to an article by the Religion News Service.

The United Nations Human Rights Council report says that governments around the world should do more to combat Islamophobia.

The report notes that almost four in 10 Europeans held unfavorable views of Muslims in surveys conducted between 2018 and 2019. A survey of Americans conducted in 2017 found 30 percent held Muslims “in a negative light.” 

Ky. bill would let medics refuse to provide care

The Kentucky Senate will get a “rights of conscience” bill that would let medical professionals in Kentucky refuse to perform procedures that violate their religious or moral beliefs.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 11 approved Senate Bill 83 despite testimony from health care advocates and civil rights groups that warned the measure could permit discrimination. Medical ethics require doctors to treat everyone equally, regardless of their own personal beliefs, testified Dr. Keisa Fallin-Bennett, a family medical specialist.

“This bill protects discrimination based on personal identity and threatens the core of the Hippocratic Oath and the health of our citizens,” Fallin-Bennett said.

Court: Removing cross didn’t violate rights

In Kelly v. Montana Department of Transportation on March 23, a Montana federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations dismissing First Amendment objections to the removal of a “spiritual cross” that the plaintiff had erected alongside of a highway in memory of his stepson.

The magistrate held that “a spiritual cross erected on public land adjacent to a highway constitutes government speech.” Rejecting free exercise claims, the magistrate said in part:

Kelly does not allege that the defendants prohibited him from freely exercising his religious beliefs though private speech.” 

School can be liable for barring Christian group

University of Iowa administrators can be held liable for monetary damages for improperly barring a Christian student group that rejects homosexual relationships, a federal appeals court ruled in March, according to a report by the Associated Press.

The administrators do not enjoy qualified immunity from the lawsuit brought by Business Leaders in Christ because they violated the group’s clearly established constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

The case dates to 2017, when the organization barred a student from serving in its leadership after disclosing that he was gay and did not agree with its teachings on sexuality.

Study: Religion a driver of gender pay gap

Research published in the Academy of Management Journal indicates that religion perpetuates the gender wage gap, according to an article on PsyPost.com. 

The findings provide evidence that men tend to earn significantly more than women in societies with heightened religiosity.

The researchers examined the situation in the United States using data from Gallup and the Status of Women in the States report. They found that the gender wage gap tended to be greater in more religious countries and in more religious states within the United States. The collective mentality toward sexuality, the ability of women to attain power, and the differentiation of social roles for men and women helped to explain the relationship.

“The effect held true for all major world religions,” said Traci Sitzmann, an associate professor of management at the University of Colorado Denver and the corresponding author of the new study. “It didn’t matter if most believers in a country were Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or adherents to a folk religion. The wage gap was still greater in countries where religion played a major role in daily life.”

“The gender gap is projected to vanish in 28 years in the most secular states, compared with a stunning 109 years in the most religious states in the United States,” Sitzmann added.

Bill ending religious vaccine          exemption passes 1st step

A bill that would end Connecticut’s long-standing religious exemption from immunization requirements for schools, beginning with the 2022-23 school year, now awaits action in the state Senate, according to the Associated Press.

The legislation passed on a 90-53 vote in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on April 20. No date has been set yet for when the Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats, will vote on the same bill.

The House vote marked the furthest the legislation has progressed in Connecticut. Some Republican opponents argued the bill was unnecessary and an attempt to impede the religious liberties of children. Yet mostly Democratic supporters said it was a necessary step to prevent future outbreaks of disease.

Panera sued over religious discrimination

A Pennsylvania woman filed a lawsuit March 24 against Panera Bread Company, alleging that she was discriminated against and fired due to her pagan beliefs, according to a Religion News Service report. 

Tammy McCoy worked as a baker at a Panera in a Pittsburgh suburb in October 2019. According to the filing, she “never discussed her religion or religious beliefs at work.” 

According to the lawsuit, the McCoy’s religion came up last May, when McCoy was on break with the store’s assistant manager, Lori Dubs, and the manager, Kerri Ann Show. Show asked McCoy what her religion was, and Tammy responded, “I am pagan.”

The lawsuit describes a series of discriminatory actions, including complaints that McCoy’s hours were cut, and when she asked why, she was told that she “needed to find God” before returning to her “previous schedule.” She was reportedly docked pay for breaks that she did not take.

On July 27, 2020, McCoy said she was told to give notice that she was leaving her job. Both she and her husband, who also worked at Panera and was not otherwise mentioned in the case, were fired, according to the suit. 

The lawsuit, which was filed in a Pennsylvania federal court, states that McCoy’s civil rights were violated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

LGBTQ students sue Department of Education

On March 29, 33 LGBTQ students sued the Department of Education in a class-action lawsuit, according to NBC News. The students allege that they faced discrimination at 25 federally funded Christian colleges and universities in 18 states.

The Religious Exemption Accountability Project, or REAP, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ students at taxpayer-funded religious colleges and universities, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon on behalf of former and current students.

Many Christian colleges and universities receive federal funding and are still allowed to enforce policies that, for example, prohibit same-sex relationships on campus. Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bars sex-based discrimination, contains an exemption for religious entities. The ultimate goal of the lawsuit by the students is to strike down Title IX’s religious exemption.

White evangelicals skeptical of Covid vaccine

Vaccine skepticism is more widespread among white evangelicals than almost any other major bloc of Americans, according to a report by the Associated press.

In a March poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 40 percent of white evangelical Protestants said they likely won’t get vaccinated, compared with 25 percent of all Americans, 28 percent of white mainline Protestants and 27 percent of nonwhite Protestants.

The findings have aroused concern within evangelical circles, the AP writes. The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 local churches, is part of a new coalition that will host events, work with media outlets and distribute various public messages to build trust among wary evangelicals.

“The pathway to ending the pandemic runs through the evangelical church,” said Curtis Chang, a former pastor and missionary who founded ChristiansAndTheVaccine.com, the cornerstone of the new initiative. 

Chang contends that with white evangelicals comprising an estimated 20 percent of the U.S. population, resistance to vaccination by half of them would seriously hamper efforts to achieve herd immunity.

Alabama House votes to end yoga ban in schools

The Alabama House of Representatives voted 73-25 in March to approve a bill that will authorize school systems to decide if they want yoga to be allowed in K-12 schools, according to a report from the Associated Press. 

Yoga done in school would be limited to poses and stretches.  The bill says the use of chanting, mantras and teaching the greeting “namaste” would be forbidden.

The Alabama Board of Education voted in 1993 to prohibit yoga, hypnosis and meditation in public school classrooms. The ban was pushed by conservative groups.

Under the bill, the moves and exercises taught to students must have exclusively English names. Students would also have the option to not participate and instead do an alternative activity. The bill moves to the Alabama Senate.

Survey: Most know Biden’s religion, but not Harris

About 6 in 10 U.S. adults (58 percent) know that President Biden is Catholic, including 63 percent of those who are Democrats or lean Democratic and 55 percent of Republicans or Republican leaners, according to Pew Research Center survey results. 

The report, released March 30, looked at Americans’ views about the faiths of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The survey of more than 12,000 U.S. adults revealed a political divide in agreement on just how religious the two top officeholders are.

Two-thirds of American adults (65 percent) said they are not sure of Harris’ religion. The vice president identifies as a Baptist. 

About half of Americans say Harris is “somewhat religious” or “very religious” (46 percent).