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Freethought Today · April 2014

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News

Millennials quit church over LGBT issues

In a Public Religion Research Institute survey released Feb. 26, about a third of millennials who left organized religion said “negative teachings” or “negative treatment” related to gays and lesbians played a significant role.

Of adults between age 18 and 33, 17% said negativity about religion’s LGBT issues was “somewhat important” to leaving, and 14% said it was a “very important” factor.

A majority of the 4.500 Americans polled (58%) also said religious groups are “alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.” Among millennials, that percentage jumped to 70.

The polls was conducted in November and December 2013.


Religious bills draw vetoes in Virginia

Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s March 27 veto of a bill giving military chaplains wide latitude to proselytize brought predictable howls from conservatives.

The Family Foundation said in an e-mail that McAuliffe denied “good sense and the General Assembly’s voting record” in favor of acquiescing “to the ACLU’s wishes.” Bill sponsor Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun County, said the veto reflects a “sort of unspoken antagonism to Christianity that’s based on gay marriage and abortion,” the Virginian-Pilot reported.

In his veto message, McAuliffe said the bill “would seriously undermine the religious freedom of National Guard members by potentially exposing them to sectarian proselytizing.”

Chaplains can minister as they choose at voluntary services or in private settings but don’t “have the right to use official, mandatory events as a platform to disseminate their own religious views,” McAuliffe wrote.

The governor’s office said he intends to veto a student religious expression bill that passed 20-18 in the Senate and 64-34 in the House of Delegates. Religion Clause reported that the bill would protect voluntary student prayer and prayer gatherings before, during and after school; wearing of clothing or jewelry displaying religious messages; and expression of religious viewpoints by neutrally selected student speakers at graduation and similar events.

The Roanoke Times reported that McAuliffe’s office said he’ll veto the bill out of concerns about its constitutionality and unintended consequences.


Religion trumps rights in Mississippi

The Mississippi Legislature has approved a “turn away the gays” bill to let businesses and individuals refuse services to LGBT people on religious grounds. The Republican-controlled House and Senate both passed a conference report April 1 on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The House vote was 78-43. The Senate vote was 38-14.

Gov. Phil Bryant has not said if he’ll sign it. A similar bill was vetoed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. 

The Washington Blade reported that the bill also adds “In God We Trust” to the state seal.


Church ousts Scouts but keeps money 

Fr. John De Celles, pastor of St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church in Springfield, Va., ended parish support for Cub and Boy Scout groups because of Scouting’s new policy on gays. De Celles took the popcorn money and another $1,200 that Pack 683 had raised to sponsor a unit of Trail Life USA, founded in 2013 to offer “Christ-centered” Scouting, reported the Washington Post on March 1.

While De Celles had authority to transfer the money, that didn’t sit well with some. “He hurt these children for no reason so that he didn’t have to fund his own new program,” said Pack 683 parent Stephanie Curb.

“I don’t think it was the moral thing to do,” parent Melanie Frola said. The Frolas are leaving the parish because of the decision. Their son sold $84.66 worth of popcorn.

The Disney Co. announced Feb. 28 it will stop supporting the Boy Scouts of America in 2015 over the Scouts’ ban on gay leaders. Disney does not contribute directly, but employees can do volunteer work in exchange for donations to organizations of their choice.

One Florida Scout leader said some troops were getting up to $6,000 a year through Disney’s VoluntEARS program.


SCOTUS hears Hobby Lobby challenge

The Supreme Court heard arguments March 25 on challenges by Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Corp. to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The firms are Christian-owned and claim the law abridges their religious freedom.

Reuters speculated a majority could rule that corporations have a right to make religious claims, but that the contraceptive mandate does not merit one. The AP called the court  “divided.” 

The Wall Street Journal said: 

“Chief Justice Roberts appeared to tip his hand when he told [Solicitor General Verrilli] that the parade of horribles — all kinds of religious exemptions being claimed by all sorts of employers, punching holes in the uniform application of the laws — could be avoided by a ruling limited to closely held enterprises, like S corporations that pass their earnings through to their shareholders. That would leave the issue of, say, an Exxon claiming religious freedom rights to another day. Later, Justice Breyer suggested he might be open to that type of resolution.” 

Mother Jones reported April 1 that Hobby Lobby has invested millions in companies that manufacture contraception and abortion-inducing medication.

The report said several of its retirement plan mutual funds are invested in Teva Pharmaceutical and Actavis. 


Seek salvation, take home a weapon

The Kentucky Baptist Convention is leading “Second Amendment Celebrations” in which churches give away guns, which the Baptists are billing as “outreach to rednecks” to “point people to Christ,” said a March 1 story in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Chuck McAlister, the convention’s team leader for evangelism, said 1,678 men made “professions of faith” at about 50 such events last year. In Louisville, he said, more than 500 people showed up one January day for a gun giveaway at Highview Baptist Church, and 61 made decisions to seek salvation.

“How ironic to use guns to lure men in to hear a message about Jesus, who said, ‘Put away the sword,’ ” said Rev. Joe Phelps, pastor at Independent Highland Baptist Church.


Setback for abortion rights in Maryland

In Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, a Maryland U.S. District Court on March 7 enjoined enforcement of a 2010 county resolution that requires each “limited service pregnancy center” to post to post a sign in English and Spanish in its waiting room that reads:

(1) “the Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff” and (2) “the Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.”

The resolution expressed concern that “clients may be misled into believing that a center is providing medical services when it is not. Clients could therefore neglect to take action (such as consulting a doctor) that would protect their health or prevent adverse consequences, including disease, to the client or the pregnancy.”

So-called “crisis” pregnancy centers are typically operated by religious groups that try to talk women out of having abortions while misleading them about its risks. The court ruled the reolution was content-based and violated the First Amendment.


Scottish priests decline in Glasgow parishes 

A March 12 report in the Scottish Herald estimated that within 20 years, the Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow will have only 45 priests, less than half the number needed to staff current parishes.

Between 1991 and 2012, attendance at funerals in the archdiocese dropped 14%, along with a 39% decline at baptisms and declines of 41% at Sunday Mass and 54% at weddings.


Sentenced to hang on blasphemy charge 

A Pakistani judge sentenced a Christian to death for blasphemy, Reuters reported March 27. Sawan Masih was sentenced to hang after a Muslim said Masih insulted the prophet Muhammad a year ago in Lahore. The accusation against Masih sparked a riot during which than 100 Christian homes were torched.

At least 16 people are on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and at least 20 others are serving life sentences. No one has yet been executed for blasphemy.

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