Category: Politics

Activists take aim at anti-LGBTQ ‘hate group,’ Alliance Defending Freedom

By Julie Compton

Surrounded by the skyscrapers that tower over Times Square, a new billboard went up this week that in large black letters reads: “NO GAYS ALLOWED.” Just below, a smaller message states: “STOP Alliance Defending Freedom. Learn more at NoGays.org.”

The billboard is part of a new campaign that aims to draw attention to the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, which has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a designation the group disputes. Since its founding nearly 25 years ago, ADF has been linked to efforts seeking to criminalize homosexuality, restrict transgender people’s access to sex-segregated facilities and permit businesses to deny service to LGBTQ people.

Caleb Cade, a spokesman for Citizens for Transparency, the advocacy group behind the campaign, said the powerful nonprofit law group has fought for years to undermine lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights, often behind the scenes.

“We want to remind people that there are still really insidious forces at work against our community,” Cade told NBC News. “ADF has been leading that war for a long time, with tens of millions of dollars to do it.”

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Blasphemy Laws: An Excuse for Persecution

By The NYT Editorial Board

It is good news that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted and freed a Pakistani Christian woman who had already spent eight years on death row for blasphemy. In a 56-page ruling, the three justices said Asia Bibi, a farmworker in her early 50s, was the victim of mob justice aroused by unsubstantiated claims of what she said about the Prophet Muhammad in an exchange with women angry that she had sipped water from a cup used by Muslims.

Though the trial was a farce, overturning it took courage. In 2011, the governor of Punjab Province, Salman Taseer, who had campaigned for Ms. Bibi’s release and for changes in the blasphemy laws, was shot and killed by his bodyguard. Two months later, the minister of minorities, the sole Christian in the Pakistani government, who had also called for the changes, was killed. The announcement of the Supreme Court ruling on Oct. 31 set off protests across Pakistan and a warning from Islamist firebrands that the justices were risking death. Ms. Bibi has been in hiding since her release and may have to flee Pakistan.

But this is not a story about the triumph of tolerance over antiquated law. Ms. Bibi was freed not because the court found that the blasphemy law violated her rights or was in any other way inherently wrong, but because the trial was flawed. Blasphemy, broadly defined as speaking insultingly about God or religion, remains a capital crime in Pakistan and illegal in many other lands, in the East and the West.

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Rubio cites Bible verse amid recount criticisms: ‘You cannot count what is not there’

By Emily Birnbaum

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday tweeted a Bible verse amid his criticism of the Florida recounts, writing, “You cannot count what is not there.”

“What is crooked cannot be made straight, and you cannot count what is not there. Ecclesiastes 1:15,” Rubio wrote.

Rubio, who frequently posts Bible passages, posted the quote as he continues to accuse Democrats of attempting to “steal” elections in Florida as the races for governor and Senate undergo recounts mandated by law.

Rubio for days has accused election officials and Democrats in Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach Counties of malign activity, sometimes without presenting evidence of these claims.

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The Trump administration’s anti-birth control agenda, explained

By Anna North

One day after the midterm elections, the Trump administration released final rules allowing employers to opt out of providing health insurance that covers birth control.

The administration has been chipping away at the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, which requires most employers to offer insurance that covers birth control, for more than a year. Under President Barack Obama, religious employers could already seek an exemption to the mandate.

But in October 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released interim rules allowing almost any employer, religious or not, to get an exemption. The final rules are essentially identical to the interim versions and are intended to be permanent, though they are likely to be challenged in court.

More broadly, HHS under President Donald Trump has made rollbacks of birth control coverage a core part of its agenda. These rollbacks have been “part of their plan to dismantle ACA from the very beginning,” Mary Alice Carter, executive director of Equity Forward, a reproductive rights watchdog group, told Vox.

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New Hampshire State Rep. Sherry Frost Says She’s Also an Atheist

By Hemant Mehta

I’ve been asked why I keep track of the atheists in politics. Is it really that important? It is to me in part because, for years, I couldn’t name a single atheist in public office. Knowing that an atheist can get elected says a lot about the acceptance of atheists in our society in general. Visibility matters!

Furthermore, the label is also a sign that someone probably shares my views on a lot of other issues — though that’s not always the case. I look forward to the day when I can divide the atheists in politics into those I support and those I want voted out. We’re not there yet.

Anyway, it turns out there’s another state representative who’s an atheist.

I didn’t know this until last week. But she contacted me out of the blue having seen articles I had written about those non-religious candidates (along with some of the bigger wins and losses).

She wanted me to know she was an atheist, too.

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The Supreme Court Case That Could Bring Down the Wall of Separation Between Church and State

By Andrew L. Seidel

In the wake of the dumpster fire that was Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, there was speculation in legal circles that the U.S. Supreme Court would lay low: It would avoid taking on controversial cases or overturning long-standing precedent.

But the Court’s action earlier this month suggests that patience, restraint, and avoiding hot-button issues are not going to be its new watchwords.

On November 2, on the eve of the first Shabbat since the anti-Semitic massacre in Pittsburgh, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal to a decision striking down a 40-foot cross World War I memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland. The American Humanist Association (AHA) challenged the cross’ presence on government land, and the Fourth Circuit had ordered its removal. The Supreme Court often—though by no means always—overturns cases it agrees to hear. AHA has to win over at least one conservative justice, so many fear that the Court will allow the cross to stand.

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Jeff Sessions resigns, ending tenure marred by fights with faith groups

By Jack Jenkins

Methodists asked Jeff Sessions to repent. He resigned instead.

Sessions stepped down today (Nov. 7) as U.S. attorney general, ending a tenure marked by near-constant pushback from faith communities across the religious spectrum who opposed his policies and his attempts to defend them with Scripture.

He reportedly resigned at the request of President Trump, who has voiced frustration with Sessions since he recused himself early last year from the ongoing Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, citing his work on Trump’s campaign.

“I have been honored to serve as Attorney General and have worked to implement the law enforcement agenda based on the rule of law that formed a central part of your campaign for the presidency,” read the closing line of Sessions’ resignation letter to Trump.

Trump tweeted that Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew G. Whitaker, would serve as acting attorney general for now, thanked Sessions for his service and wished him well.

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Matthew Whitaker: acting attorney general said judges should be Christian

By Jon Swaine

Donald Trump’s new attorney general once said that judges should be Christian and proposed blocking non-religious people from judicial appointments.

Matthew Whitaker, who was made acting attorney general on Wednesday after Trump fired Jeff Sessions, said judges needed a “biblical view of justice” and questioned the judgment of secular lawyers.

Whitaker made the remarks at a conservative forum in April 2014, where he appeared as a candidate for the Republican US Senate nomination in Iowa. Video clips of the event were saved by People For the American Way, a liberal campaign group.

The Republican candidates were asked what justification they would use to block the confirmation of federal judges nominated by Barack Obama, who was then US president.

Whitaker said he wanted to know about a judge’s judicial philosophy, along with their views on natural law, natural rights and the US founding documents. But he added: “I don’t think that gets us far enough.”

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The Trump Administration Just Reissued Rules Allowing Employers “Religious Or Moral” Exemptions To Covering Birth Control

By Ema O’Connor

The Trump administration released two rules Wednesday evening that would allow employers with “religious or moral” objections to providing insurance coverage for birth control to be exempt from providing that coverage.

The rules are amended versions of rules that the administration first released in October 2017. Several organizations quickly took the administration to court over the original rules, and they were blocked by two federal courts. If the new rules are not blocked by the courts again, they are scheduled to go into effect in mid-January 2019.

The Department of Health and Human Services appears to have tailored the rules (the final versions have not yet been posted to the federal register) in the hopes that this time they will stick. A memo pertaining to the rules stated that the new versions contained changes based on “public comments” made in the federal register in 2017. It was not immediately clear what those changes were.

But HHS also says the new rules will affect more women than it previously estimated. An HHS spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in 2017 that the previous versions of the rules were not expected to affect more than 120,000 women’s contraception coverage; they now estimate that “that no more than 126,400 women of childbearing age will be affected by the expanded exemptions,” the memo states. “As noted above, this is less than 0.1% of the over 165 million women in the United States.”

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Ten Commandments amendment cruising to overwhelming passage

By John Sharp

Alabama voters overwhelmingly supported an amendment to the state’s 1901 Constitution authorizing public displays of the Ten Commandments.

“The people we were hearing from are super excited to have this opportunity to go down in history as the first state to acknowledged that we want God, that is the Christian God, in their Constitution,” said Dean Young, the chief advocate for the amendment and the campaign strategist last year for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. “This is the first time in the history of the country that a state has taken such a stand in acknowledging the God of the Old and New Testament.”

As the votes continue to come in tonight in Alabama, no measure nor state candidate is winning by a wider margin than the Ten Commandments, as more than 7 out of 10 voters backed the measure.

“This is a big deal. It’s a huge deal,” said Young, before the polls closed earlier Tuesday. “The highest levels across the nation in government are watching what Alabama is doing.”

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