Category: News & Politics

The Virginia GOP wants to get this creationist elected to Congress

By Casey Michel

A few years ago, Cynthia Dunbar played a central role in the great Texas textbook controversies, moving to inject creationism into the curricula and eliminate Thomas Jefferson from American history — all while blasting public schools as “tyrannical” and calling for making the judicial branch “subordinate” to Congress.

Now, she’s gunning for the Republican nomination for Virginia’s 6th congressional district.

And she appears favored to win — but not without stirring a brand new round of controversy that stems from watching the district GOP re-write the rules to all but ensure her nomination.

With Dunbar’s rise, national voices on both sides of the aisle are perking up about the controversy. After all, whoever comes out of Saturday’s convention for the Republican nomination seems close to a lock to win in November — except Dunbar, who Republicans fear will torpedo their chances at holding onto the solid red district.

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Mauritania Passes Law Mandating Death Penalty for “Blasphemy”

By Hemant Mehta

Mauritania has long been one of the worst countries in the world for freethinkers. Those guilty of “blasphemy” have been threatened with the death penalty, which is disturbing on its own but even more so when you realize how blasphemy is always in the eye of the beholder.

But now that punishment will become mandatory.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union reports:

The National Assembly passed a law on April 27, 2018 that replaces article 306 of the Criminal Code and makes death penalty mandatory for anyone convicted of “blasphemous speech” and acts deemed “sacrilegious”. The new law eliminates the possibility under article 306 of substituting prison terms for the death penalty for certain apostasy-related crimes if the offender promptly repents. The law also extends the scope of application of the death penalty to “renegade acts.”

The law also provides for a sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 600,000 Ouguiyas (approximately EUR 13,804) for “offending public indecency and Islamic values” and for “breaching Allah’s prohibitions” or assisting in their breach.

That law has prompted a coalition of groups to urge officials there to reverse the law immediately. They also referenced a blogger accused of blasphemy who has been sentenced to death, had his conviction overturned, but still remains in police custody.

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Probing Pence: Did his Hillsdale College commencement speech get anything right?

By Andrew Seidel

Every year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation gets complaints about graduations in public schools. Preachers delivering sermons, staff and students scheduled to deliver prayers, the graduation being held in a church — you name the violation, we’ve seen it. None of these is an issue for a commencement ceremony at a private religious college, such as Hillsdale College in southern Michigan, which, however, had a problem of its own.

The trouble with Hillsdale’s commencement, which was full of religion, was that it was also full of lies and alternative facts (but perhaps I repeat myself). The source of this problem was Vice President Mike Pence, who addressed the graduating class.

One of Pence’s favorite lines, which he used when he accepted the Republican nomination and trotted out again for the graduates, nicely illustrates the Pence problem: “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican — in that order.” Pence considers himself a Christian before anything else, including someone who values facts and truth (but perhaps I repeat myself yet again).

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Inside the Fight Against America’s Wave of Anti-LGBT Adoption Bills

By Samantha Allen

On May 11, Oklahoma became the eighth state to allow state-licensed child welfare agencies to cite religious beliefs in order to discriminate against LGBT people looking to foster or adopt children.

The Sooner State won’t be the last, either: Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer has already said that he “look[s] forward to signing” a similar bill that has already cleared the legislature.

Both of these laws are notable losses for LGBT advocates in a year that has mostly seen the failure of anti-LGBT bills, as The Washington Post noted this April.

Legal challenges already underway could reverse the rising tide of anti-LGBT adoption bills: Troy Stevenson, executive director for the advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma, told The Daily Beast that they have retained counsel and are “definitely filing” a lawsuit, but still determining the best timing.

The American Civil Liberties Union already has a lawsuit underway against a similar anti-LGBT adoption law in Michigan, which took effect in June 2015.

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Tony Perkins appointed to US panel on international religious freedom

By Jack Jenkins

(RNS) — Tony Perkins, the head of the conservative Christian lobbying group Family Research Council, has been appointed to a U.S. government commission dedicated to “defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.”

On Monday (May 14), the Congressional Record revealed that Perkins had been appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on the recommendation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission created in 1998 through the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act, and issues an annual report every May 1 on international religious freedom issues.

“I am grateful to Majority Leader McConnell for appointing me to this prestigious position. From my post at USCIRF, I look forward to doing all that I can to ensure that our government is the single biggest defender of religious freedom internationally,” Perkins, an evangelical Christian and frequent faith adviser to President Trump’s administration, said in a press release.

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Gay ‘Conversion Therapy’ Is Now Illegal In Maryland

By Nina Golgowski

It’s now officially illegal to perform so-called gay “conversion therapy” on minors in Maryland.

The Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed into law Tuesday, threatens mental health or child care practitioners with disciplinary action if they are found attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of anyone under the age of 18.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the new law makes Maryland “a better place for countless young people.”

“No child should ever be subjected to the abusive practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy,’” he said in a statement. “This dangerous and inhumane form of child abuse has no basis in science and is uniformly rejected by every major mental health and child welfare organization.”

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Must Pensacola cross come down? Appeal arguments to be heard this week

By Lawrence Specker

It has been nearly a year since a judge ruled that a Christian cross long displayed in a Pensacola public park must come down. This week a higher court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the city’s appeal.

The case goes back to 2016 and has provoked official interest in Alabama, which is one of more than a dozen states to express support for Pensacola’s right to keep the 34-foot cross in Bayview Park. Its judicial handling also prompted criticism from Roy Moore during his run to become governor of Alabama.

The cross was erected in 1969 by the Pensacola Jaycees, replacing an earlier wooden version built by the National Youth Administration. In 2016 a quartet of plaintiffs — Amanda and Andreiy Kondrat’Yev, Andre Ryland and David Suhor — sued for its removal, charging that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The city argued that the cross did not represent a violation and should be left alone.

In June 2017, Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled in favor of plaintiffs. Vinson made it abundantly clear that the ruling was distasteful to him but that precedent in such cases was clearly established. “It is still the law of the land and I am not free to ignore it … the law is the law,” he wrote. 

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Nevada Lt. Gov. Candidate Pushed Scientology on Former Employees, They Say

By Hemant Mehta

Usually, when we talk about Republican politicians promoting religion, we’re talking about the Mike Pences of the world pushing their Christianity anywhere they can.

In Nevada, however, Brent Jones, a former assemblyman and current candidate for lieutenant governor, is apparently the subject of multiple lawsuits from employees of his bottled water company because, they say, he pushed Scientology on them.

Riley Snyder of the Nevada Independent has more:

… Jones and the parent company of Real Water, Affinitylifestyles.com, have been targeted in several discrimination lawsuits by former employees, including one centered on claims that the former lawmaker required her and other new employees to watch videos with Scientology undertones that promoted the controversial system of religious beliefs founded by writer L. Ron Hubbard.

While one district judge ruled in Jones’ favor and Jones himself denied these allegations, there’s plenty of evidence that Scientology propaganda made its way into training courses for staffers.

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For many evangelicals, Jerusalem is about prophecy, not politics

By Diana Butler Bass

(CNN) As I watched Donald Trump announce that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move our embassy to that city, I could only think of one thing: my high school youth group Bible study.

I know that sounds odd. Especially coming from a liberal Episcopalian like me. But there you have it. The President makes a world-important declaration about global politics, and an absurdly apocalyptic thought arises, “Jerusalem? The Last Days must be at hand!”

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I attended a “Bible church,” a nondenominational congregation that prided itself on a singular devotion to scripture. We read the Bible all the time: in personal Bible study and evening Bible classes. We listened to hour-long Sunday morning sermons. For us, the Bible was not just a guide to piety. It also revealed God’s plan for history. Through it, we learned how God had worked in the past and what God would do in the future.

Central to that plan was Jerusalem, the city of peace, and the dwelling place of God. It was special to the Jews because it was the home of Abraham and David. It was special to us because it was where Jesus had died and risen. We believed that ultimately, Christ would return to Jerusalem to rule as its king. We longed for this outcome — and we prayed that human history would help bring about this biblical conclusion.

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Why Trump’s new CDC director is an abysmal choice

By Laurie Garrett

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a new boss, Dr. Robert Redfield, who ignited controversy because of his dubious qualifications for the job and the over-the-top salary offer that came with it. Initially slated to earn $375,000 a year, Redfield faced questions from Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, and last week agreed to work for $209,700 instead.

“Dr. Redfield did not want his compensation to become a distraction from the important work of the CDC and asked that his salary be reduced,” Caitlin Oakley, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday night.

Redfield’s original salary was unusually, astoundingly high. Redfield’s boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar makes only $175,300, and most scientists and physicians working in HHS make less than $170,000 a year.

I scrutinized nearly 1,000 pages of payroll listings at the Department of Health and Human Services, and found few CDC employees who earn more than $150,000 annually. Some make considerably more than that, thanks to Title 42, a policy that gives federal agencies flexibility on salary limits in order to lure outstanding scientists and other professionals into government work.

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