Forgive the long absence. I’ve been working on my first book, and will be doing so for months to come, but I just wanted to get an update out there.
- Two men were killed and a third injured when they confronted a white supremacist who was harassing a young Muslim woman and her friend on a Portland, Oregon commuter train last week. The men stepped forward to protect the women and the alleged attacker stabbed the men. At least one far-right lawmaker in Oregon is calling for an increase in right-wing militia activity to protect white supremacists in the wake of the murders.
- Republican Greg Gianforte won Montana’s special election last week. He will fill the state’s only House seat which was vacated when Ryan Zinke was tapped to run the Interior Department. Although Gianforte’s assault of a reporter the night before the election is what really put him in the national spotlight, his election is also significant because it means the House of Representatives will welcome another young Earth Creationist into its ranks. He believes the Earth is less than 10,00 years old, and has contributed millions to an anti-evolution dinosaur museum. He also looks to the Bible for policy guidance on employment policy. Specifically, he has said that retirement is not biblical and cites Noah as an example of someone who worked well into old age.
- The Supreme Court has once again failed to act on a case that has been pending for most of this term. The case is Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and involves a baker who ran afoul of a local civil rights ordinance when he refused to serve same sex couples based upon his religious beliefs. The owner argues that requiring him to serve lgbtq individuals just as he serves the rest of the population would violate his right to exercise his religion. The Civil Rights Commission, lgbtq advocacy organizations, and civil liberties groups stress that religious belief is not a license to discriminate. The Supreme Court has considered the case numerous times over the last several months in its weekly conferences in which it chooses the cases it will hear arguments on, but has said nothing on what could be a major religion/state case.
- The US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld a lower court’s stay of Trump’s second travel ban attempt. In effect, it continues the ban on the ban. The case will go to the Supreme Court, but, because the Court’s term ends in June, and it is no longer hearing arguments (aside from emergency applications), it would appear that this will carry over to the October 2017 term. (Unless the administration goes for an emergency order, and then all bets are off-We’ll see.)
- The Muslim observance of Ramadan began at sundown on May 26. This month-long holiday includes a fast during daylight hours which is broken by a large celebratory meal at the end of each day. The longer the days, the longer the fast and the later the meal. Ramadan commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed. The President issued a statement, as is traditional, but spoke a lot in his Ramadan remarks about Muslim terrorists, which is not. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also announced that, for the first time in over twenty years, the State Department would not be holding a ceremony marking the beginning of the holiday.
- The State Department very quietly lifted restrictions on refugees entering the US that the Trump administration had put in place in its earliest days.
- A Newport News, VA public elementary school principal and his secretary were put on administrative leave after it was found that they took a first-grader into an empty classroom and anointed him with holy water and oil and said prayers over the boy. The child was said to have behavioral issues. Reports also indicate that the mother works as a volunteer at the school and was in the building at the time. The school claims that she did not object, but another school employee became aware of what was happening and reported it.
- The Trump administration would appear to be close to eliminating a portion of the Affordable Care Act that requires that religious employers maintain health insurance policies for their employees that cover contraceptives. Religious entities are already exempt from paying for contraceptive coverage and from filing any paperwork that allows their employees to receive coverage through an alternative mechanism (it’s up to the employee, the government and the insurer to sort everything out). But the objecting groups don’t want anyone who works for them to have access to contraceptives because, the groups argue, this makes them complicit in committing a sin which violates their religious beliefs. The President has signed an Executive Order in their favor. Health policy analysts and women’s rights advocates estimate that, under this reasoning, potentially millions of women could lose access to contraceptive coverage. There will be lawsuits challenging the action.
That’s it for now. But, with a theocratic-leaning, staunchly anti-separationist administration in the WH and in control of Congress, it’s a bit like playing whack-a-mole; there will always be more.
As always, for links to articles, more updates, and commentary, I encourage you to like my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, and check out my blog. And please share freely as I try to grow my audience and increase understanding of the crucial importance of separation of religion and state.
Thanks for reading.