Category: News & Politics

By Hemant Mehta

A Pennsylvania judge has ruled that a government agency had every right to reject an atheist advertisement, putting a temporary end to a saga that’s dragged on for more than six years.

In 2012, atheist Justin Vacula and the Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society attempted to place the following ad on buses in the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS).

If that seems like quite literally the least offensive atheist ad ever, that’s kind of the point. This was a year when a lot of atheist groups were buying bus ads and billboards promoting their views, so Justin went in a different direction by trying to run an ad with the word “atheist,” links to a couple of websites, and pretty much nothing else.

COLTS took the bait by rejecting the ad. They actually called it too “controversial.”

Seriously. Too controversial. The COLTS policy at the time allowed them to reject ads “deemed controversial” or which would otherwise “spark public debate.”

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By Laura Meckler

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court, has defended the use of taxpayer money for religious schools and backed student-led prayers at high school football games, siding with religious interests in the debate over government entanglement with religion.

In private practice, Kavanaugh backed the government when it sought to support religious interests and challenged schools when they attempted to exclude religious groups.

Together, legal experts say, these cases suggest he would continue the court’s steady shift from a strict separation between government and religion to a far more permeable relationship — a matter with implications for public and private schools.

Kavanaugh is the product of religious education. He graduated from Georgetown Preparatory School in Maryland’s Montgomery County, a Jesuit school where every class begins with a prayer. His daughters attend Blessed Sacrament, a Catholic school in Northwest Washington.

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By Clare Foran and Joan Biskupic

Washington (CNN) – President Donald Trump announced on Monday his decision to nominate Brett Kavanaugh to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire.

Kavanaugh, 53, currently serves as a judge on the powerful US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Here’s where he stands on some hot-button issues:


Because he was a swing-vote in favor of abortion rights, Kennedy’s departure from the court has sparked alarm among abortion rights activists that Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, could be overturned. In addition, Trump has long vowed to appoint justices who would reverse Roe and allow states to determine whether abortion should be legal.
Kavanaugh has not expressed outright opposition to Roe v. Wade.
One of his opinions likely to draw scrutiny from senators is a his dissent from a ruling of the DC Circuit last October that an undocumented immigrant teen in detention was entitled to seek an abortion.

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By Sarah McCammon and Domenico Montardo

Lots of controversial cases at the intersection of religion and the law wind up before the Supreme Court.

And, for most of U.S. history, the court, like the country, was dominated by Protestant Christians. But today, it is predominantly Catholic and Jewish.

It has become more conservative and is about to get even more so with President Trump’s expected pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is stepping down from the court at the end of July.

Everyone on Trump’s shortlist, but one, is Catholic. So what, if anything, do the current justices’ and potential nominees’ faiths tell us — and how has the religious makeup of the Supreme Court changed?

“It’s extraordinary and unprecedented in American history,” said Louis Michael Seidman, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church. “There was a time when, for example, there was tremendous anti-Catholic bias … and, of course, there was a time when there was a lot of anti-Semitism, and a lot of that has gone away.”

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By Jay Michaelson

When President Donald Trump nominates a justice to the Supreme Court on Monday night, he will be carrying out the agenda of a small, secretive network of extremely conservative Catholic activists already responsible for placing three justices (Alito, Roberts, and Gorsuch) on the high court.

And yet few people know who they are—until now.

At the center of the network is Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, the association of legal professionals that has been the pipeline for nearly all of Trump’s judicial nominees. (Leo is on leave from the Federalist Society to personally assist Trump in picking a replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy.) His formal title is executive vice president, but that role belies Leo’s influence.

Directly or through surrogates, he has placed dozens of life-tenure judges on the federal bench; effectively controls the Judicial Crisis Network, which led the opposition to President Obama’s high court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland; he heavily influences the Becket Fund law firm that represented Hobby Lobby in its successful challenge of contraception; and now supervises admissions and hires at the George Mason Law School, newly renamed in memory of Justice Antonin Scalia.

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GRANT COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) – On Saturday the Ark Encounter celebrated its two-year anniversary.

As hundreds of people made their way inside to visit the Ark, just outside the entrance, around 150 protesters gathered for a rally and march.

Saturday’s protest was put on by the Tri-State Freethinkers. Jim Helton is one of the co-founders of the group.

“Our goal is to change the law so that it is equality for everybody,” explained Helton. “That we can’t use religion to discriminate.”

People from different states and around the country participated in the rally. Seth Andrews traveled from Oklahoma.

“We want to remind people that the Noah story and the story of sinful humanity, this is not rooted in reality,” said Andrews. “It’s not rooted in fact. It’s not rooted in the evidence. We want to be about better things, about humanism and humanity.”

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By Jacqueline Thomsen

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) on Friday vetoed a bill that would have banned conversion therapy in the state, local CBS affiliate WABI reported.

LePage said that the measure could be considered a threat to religious liberty, and that there is no evidence that the therapy is taking place in Maine.

“This is so broad that licensed professionals would be prohibited from counseling an individual even at the individual’s own request,” LePage said in his veto message.

LePage also said that “parents have the right to seek counsel and treatment for their children from professionals who do no oppose the parents’ own religious beliefs.”

“At no time should such treatment take the form of mental or physical abuse and such treatment should always be subject to the statutory requirements of the standard of care for that profession,” he wrote.

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By Sarahbeth Caplin

This shouldn’t come as a shock, but Vice President Mike Pence wants to make clear that he wholeheartedly supports the United States’ “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to illegal immigrants — even those who are fleeing certain death from their countries of origin.

Even worse, he’s using Scripture to do it. (I guess he learned nothing after the Jeff Sessions debacle…)

In a speech in Guatemala, [Pence] said the U.S. was working to reunite families “from your nations who’ve been caught trying to illegally enter the United States — because we believe that we can — as the old book says — “do justice and love kindness.”

But Pence also cautioned: “If you want to come to the United States, come legally, or don’t come at all.”

How about that? Love thy neighbor… but if you’re in danger of being murdered back in your homeland and seek asylum in the U.S., then we may have to love you from afar. Oh well. #ChristianLove

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By Hemant Mehta

Mark Harris, a Republican running for Congress from North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, said in a 2013 sermon that a woman only had one title according to the Bible: “Helper.” He also suggested it may not be the “healthiest pursuit” for women to ever prioritize their careers.

The sermon, which Harris gave as pastor of First Baptist Charlotte, was unearthed by a Democratic PAC called American Bridge, and it shows the sort of complementarian conservative Christian mindset that voters should immediately reject in 2018:

“In our culture today, girls are taught from grade school that we tell them that what is most honorable in life is a career, and their ultimate goal in life is simply to be able to grow up and be independent of anyone or anything,” said Harris, then the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Charlotte, adding, “But nobody has seemed to ask the question that I think is critically important to ask: Is that a healthy pursuit for society? Is that the healthiest pursuit for our homes? Is that the healthiest pursuit for our children? Is that the healthiest pursuit for the sexes in our generation?”

In an earlier portion of Harris’ sermon, Harris tells parishioners that “only one title is given to a woman in all of scripture… the title given to a woman is ‘helper.’”

Even many Christians would cringe at hearing all that…

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By Alice Su

Rayyan Hadidi was 18 years old when he lost his faith. It was July 2006, and he was on his way to school when he stumbled upon a cheering crowd that had gathered near a local mosque. The group, made up mostly of mosque leaders and worshippers, had encircled two men accused of volunteering with the Iraqi police force, which many saw as a puppet of the American occupiers. Al-Qaeda gunmen brandished their arms, preparing to execute the men, as the crowd shouted, “Allahu akbar.” Hadidi stared at the two men, flinching when he made eye contact with one of them just before they were both shot.

“I couldn’t forget this, ever. The way they were looking, the ones who were dying,” Hadidi told me when we met this spring in a café across the street from the University of Mosul. Like many Arabs in Mosul, he grew up as a conservative Sunni who fasted and prayed regularly. Islam was as much an inherited cultural identity as it was a blueprint for dreamed-of justice and a better life under God’s laws, an escape from the authoritarianism of Saddam Hussein and the chaos of post-invasion Iraq. His family, like most others in Mosul, accepted the word of the Quran without question.

But the execution haunted Hadidi. He began reading philosophy, history, and writing that was critical of Islam—dangerous stuff that he shared with his conservative family, who eventually cut off communication with him. Repelled by the extremism he’d witnessed, Hadidi told me that he began working with the American forces, which led to threats on his life from militants. He fled to Turkey in 2011, where he took to social media to write about the shortcomings of political Islam.

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