Category: Politics

Iowa religious liberty bill is a neon ‘unwelcome’ sign

By Kathie Obradovich

Conservative state senators took a novel approach this week to promote their bill on religious liberty:  They argued that former President Bill Clinton and the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy were champions of the idea.

Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, even read part of a speech that Clinton gave when he signed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in 1993:

“What this law basically says is that the government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion,” Clinton said in 1993. “This judgment is shared by the people of the United States as well as by the Congress. We believe strongly that we can never, we can never be too vigilant in this work.”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, states that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it shows a compelling interest. The government would also have to show that it is using the least restrictive means possible.

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SC Rep.: If You Take Prayer Out of School, “You Replace It With Metal Detectors”

By Hemant Mehta

During a public forum last night at the Savannah Grove Baptist Church in South Carolina, several state representatives brought up a still-not-dead bill they sponsored that would allow public school teachers to pray with students. It’s an act that’s already been declared unconstitutional because it’s a form of religious coercion, but that hasn’t stopped these religious opportunists from pleasuring the Religious Right.

H. 3345 was first proposed in December of 2016, but it still resides in the Education and Public Works committee, where it’s been for more than a year. The text is pretty straightforward:

A teacher employed by a public school district may express a religious viewpoint, and also may conduct or participate in any student-led prayer or student-organized prayer groups, religious clubs, or other religious gatherings organized by students of a public school

To put it another way, a football coach could have a pre-game prayer to Jesus Christ. A math teacher could lead the class in prayer before a big exam. And overt proselytizing in the classroom wouldn’t be punished.

It would just be government-sponsored Christian indoctrination.

And that’s why South Carolina Republicans love it.

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TX School District That Hosted Events at Megachurch Will Finally Obey the Law

By Hemant Mehta

The man in the center of the picture below isn’t a pastor. He’s Superintendent Rick McDaniel of the McKinney Independent School District in Texas, and he was leading a prayer inside Prestonwood Baptist Church during a mandatory beginning-of-the-year convocation for staffers.

When the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to the District to warn them about the violation of church/state separation, they were told the church was the only place in town that could hold all 3,000 staffers. That didn’t resolve the fact that the superintendent was leading the staff in prayer behind a podium with a cross on it… but FFRF was told the event would likely move to a secular convention center that would be opening up very soon.

It wasn’t just the staff-only event. Graduations were also held at this church for years. If they kept doing that, the District could have been hit with a lawsuit because it was clear Christianity was a part of all of these gatherings.

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Satan Strikes A Blow for Choice

By Adam Lee

The Satanic Temple has done it again, turning one of the religious right’s best weapons against them.

As you may know, the Satanic Temple is a non-theistic religion which believes in Satan as a metaphor for independence and freedom of thought, not a literal supernatural being. They hold as one of their tenets that “one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” Whenever Christians are demanding special rights, they can be counted on to show up and ask for the same privilege.

I wrote about the Satanic Temple in 2014, when they announced that they were seeking to overturn abortion restrictions using the Hobby Lobby ruling as precedent. In 2015, they found their test case in Missouri.

Missouri has an exceptionally harsh set of restrictions on abortion, including a three-day waiting period, the longest in the nation, with no exception for rape or incest. The law also has an ultrasound provision and requires the woman to certify receipt of a booklet, written by the state, which says “the life of each human being begins at conception.”

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Private school vouchers are a threat to religious freedom

By Maggie Garrett

(RNS) — In his newly released federal budget, President Trump calls for funneling $1 billion in taxpayer funds into private school voucher programs. It’s a bad idea for several reasons.

First, public money should fund public schools, which serve 90 percent of American students. Public schools are a unifying factor in our diverse country and their doors are open to all students, regardless of their religion. Private schools, however, serve only a few, select students.

Vouchers also don’t work. Numerous studies have shown that students attending private schools with vouchers don’t do better academically — and sometimes do worse — than their peers. Voucher programs also often fund unaccredited, poor-quality schools that take in a lot of taxpayer money but offer little education in return. In some cases, voucher schools — most frequently it is the lowest-quality schools — are almost entirely funded by taxpayer-funded vouchers.

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Omarosa on Mike Pence: ‘He thinks Jesus tells him to say things’

By Helena Andrews-Dyer

Former reality star turned White House aide turned reality star Omarosa Manigault is still going strong — and spilling tea — as a contestant on “Celebrity Big Brother.”

Omarosa, who previously declared on the show that she wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump again “in a million years,” said during Monday night’s episode that a Mike Pence administration would actually be worse.

“As bad as y’all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence,” she said. “So everybody that’s wishing for impeachment might want to reconsider their lives. We would be begging for days of Trump back if Pence became president.”

Why?

“He’s extreme,” Omarosa said of the vice president. “I’m Christian. I love Jesus. But he thinks Jesus tells him to say things. I’m like, ‘Jesus ain’t saying that.’ ” (In addition to being a “reality legend” Omarosa is an ordained minister.)

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Massachusetts bill would bar companies from citing religious exemptions

By Steve LeBlanc

BOSTON (AP) — Lawmakers are weighing a bill aimed at preventing corporations from being able to claim religious exemptions from state anti-discrimination laws for conduct that occurs in Massachusetts.

The bill is in part a reaction to the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that enabled the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby chain to be exempt from a federal mandate to offer contraceptives as part of its employee health care plans.

The bill states that “the powers of a business corporation do not include assertion — based on the purported religious belief or moral conviction on the part of the corporation, its officers, or directors — of exemptions from, or claims or defenses against, federal or state law prohibiting discrimination.”

Supporters say Massachusetts already prohibits many forms of discrimination in employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations on grounds that include race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information, disability, ancestry, or veteran status.

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Trump’s budget for NASA defunds the space station and includes vague plans for the Moon

By Loren Grush

The Trump administration wants NASA to move away from doing business in low orbit around the Earth and instead focus on sending astronauts back to the Moon. That’s according to President Donald Trump’s new budget request, out today, which details how the White House wants to fund NASA in fiscal year 2019.

The request instructs NASA to end direct funding for the International Space Station by 2025, while pursuing a coordinated campaign to put humans on the Moon by the mid-2020s, according to a copy of the detailed budget request reviewed by The Verge. However, there aren’t a lot of details for how the Moon plans will play out, and very little funding is allocated for developing all the hardware needed for putting people on the lunar surface again.

The budget confirms previous reporting from The Verge regarding the future of the space station. However, a new internal document from NASA, reported yesterday by The Washington Post, reveals that the space agency does not intend to get rid of the ISS once government funding ends, but instead turn it into something of a commercial real estate venture. The goal is for other countries and private space companies to pick up the slack and “operate certain elements or capabilities” of the ISS, so that NASA still has a platform to conduct science experiments, according to the document. “NASA will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit,” the memo states.

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Trump vowed to destroy the Johnson Amendment. Thankfully, he has failed.

By David Saperstein and Amanda Tyler

David Saperstein, director emeritus of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, is an ordained rabbi who served as U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom from 2015 to 2017. Amanda Tyler is the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

At the National Prayer Breakfast a little more than a year ago, President Trump vowed to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a federal law prohibiting houses of worship, charitable nonprofits and private foundations from endorsing, opposing or financially supporting political candidates and parties. Fortunately for religious congregations — and the entire charitable sector — he has not yet fulfilled his promise.

Trump’s failure to eliminate the Johnson Amendment is not for lack of will. Members of Congress pursued similar goals to the president, attempting to include language that would weaken the law as part of the tax reform bill, but that effort ultimately failed. And at one point, Trump described his goal of eliminating the prohibition on election activity as potentially his “greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions.”

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The complicated history of ‘In God We Trust’ and other examples Trump gives of American religion

By Julie Zauzmer

In his address to the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning, President Trump steered clear of policy and stuck instead to a spiritual theme: “America is a nation of believers,” he said.

Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has addressed the annual prayer breakfast, which is organized by Christians with the goal of preaching unity in faith across political divides.

At his first address to the breakfast last year, Trump made a policy promise — he said he would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment that bans churches from endorsing political candidates, a promise he has partially fulfilled by executive order but Congress failed to carry out through legislation. He joked, too, about praying for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s TV ratings.

This year, Trump struck a different tone. His theme was the heroism of everyday Americans, including military and police, teachers, even a 9-year-old with a serious illness. Trump repeatedly emphasized evidence that that American spirit is based in religion.

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