Category Archives: News Item

Our weekly posting of an item about religion from the current news.

Religion in the News

For the first time in years a French politician used religion as a means to gain a vote. In France there is a clear line between the church and state. It is not only an odd way to promote presidency, but the way Marine Le Pen went about gained more press. She refused to put on a headscarf to meet with a Muslim leader in Beirut, however, she met with a Roman Catholic leader and Lebanese Maronite leader where there was press and cameras to capture the moment. Many people commented on this believing she was sending a clear message: Christians- good, Muslims- bad. In any case, these publicized meetings resulting in the resurgence of religion in France.

This relates to our readings and the way that religion can play a role in both society and politics. While France is not considered to be a religion country, there is still an awareness of the role of religion. Politicians are trying to take new angles and use religion for their benefit.

Trump Allowing Religious Freedom or Discrimination?

I always have trouble reading and analyzing political articles, but I found a piece on Townhall called “Freeing Religion from Government’s Grip” by Robert Knight that I felt extremely interested in. Townhall is a conservative news and opinion paper, which is not something that I particularly feel connected to. That being said, I think it is extremely important to understand all sides to a situation, just like what we are doing in class.

This article explains President Donald Trump’s opportunity to end attacks on religious “conscience” with the swipe of a pen on a few documents. The article proceeds to explain the order President Trump can put into place, and the author agrees with President Trump’s views on abortion, same-sex marriage, and healthcare. President Trump is in favor of “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” which is an order that allows companies to run depending on their religious beliefs. This means that businesses would be allowed to discriminate service based on their own religious beliefs. For example, currently business are not allowed to refuse service based on the customer’s life views (e.g. religious background, skin color, sexual orientation, etc.). This is interesting when bringing up the idea of secularization, which we have been discussing in class, because it gives citizens even more freedom to do as they please when it comes to religion, even if it is to discriminate.

A Dangerous Step

Under the current political climate, certain legal actions have been taken that could potentially take away protections and rights from members of the LGBTQ community, causing a wave rightfully felt fear among many. There have been pushes by conservative Republicans and members of the religious right to enforce ideals of religious freedom and expression within public institutions. An article posted to a regional ABC News site writes that Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed State Bill 17 into law on March 16th. The bill was designed to protect the freedom of religious expression in public schools. While the protection of essential American freedoms are all well and good, this particular bill was written in such a way that causes concern for the affect of these religious expressions on other students. It would allow students to present religious or political beliefs through their clothing, homework, artwork, public messages. The article references other sources, stating that “Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said the bill would allow student groups to discriminate against LGBT students ‘under the guise of religion.'”(WTVQ News Desk). While inherent American rights should be protected, in prioritizing religious freedom, how can the rights–and lives–of LGBTQ members be equally protected? Freedom of religious expression should not outweigh inherent human rights that ought to protect individuals from hate and discrimination. Religious expression should not be neither an excuse nor a platform to preach hatred.

Americans Rate Religious Groups, and Most Gain, Including Muslims

With all that’s been going on this last year like the presidential election and Trump’s travel ban, a new survey shows that Americans are actually feeling warmer towards people in every religious group – including Muslims – than they did 3 years ago. The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center who polled 4,248 adults. Muslims and atheists – who have long been targets of prejudice in the US – received substantially warmer ratings on the scale than they did in a survey in 2014: Muslims rose to 48% from 40%, and atheists to 50% from 41%. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Mormons also increased in percentage. The only group that did not improve their standing from 3 years ago were Evangelical Christians. This is interesting since Evangelical Christians back up hundreds of senators in Congress. Another interesting point, is that after the presidential campaign, Muslims reported a wave of harassment on the streets and on their mosques. Jewish institutions reported the same. It seems as though the US is becoming a more pluralist society, however as we can see in many ways it is not. The fact that the survey showed that more Americans are feeling more ‘warmly’ to other religious groups is a positive thing, however, I hope their actions reflect that as well.

Practicing Their Faith

Recently, a federal appeals court agreed that a Texas school board can have students offer prayers at their board meetings. (, Associated Press) The American Humanist Association and another party had filed a lawsuit against the school district because of this practice, but their case was dismissed by a lower court ruling. (, Associated Press) Then, this ruling by the federal appeals court basically upheld the lower court’s ruling. (, Associated Press) The appeals court declared that prayers at meetings for legislative bodies are not the same as praying in public schools. (, Associated Press) Therefore, it does not violate the first amendment’s prohibition of a state or government religion. (, Associated Press) Some may still argue that this practice is cutting it close though. However, in the end this is just a group of people who want to express and practice their faith in their own way. Asking God to bless everyone there and to insure their meetings are productive isn’t a bad thing, and for some, prayers aren’t just something meant for church only. For them, it’s about practicing their faith more individually in day-to-day life. Practicing one’s faith in these little ways is becoming more and more common as people tailor religion to suit their lives more.

Ancient Israeli Artifacts Give Insight to Life of Jesus

Washington Post– How Did Jesus’ Early Followers Live?

The construction of a highway into Jerusalem is in the works. With this construction, Israeli archaeologists have stumbled upon several important, ancient artifacts from the Byzantine era. Primarily, these artifacts included 9 coins with faces of Byzantine emperors on them. They are thought to have been left in the wall of a building for safe keeping around 614, near the end of Persian invasion of the Holy Land. Studiers of the artifacts think that the person who left the coins most likely intended to come back for their belongings but never had the chance. The building was a structure in an “unearthed village” that provided refuge for Christian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

The article illuminates how these coins serve to help us understand how Jesus and his prophets lived back then. Although it doesn’t prove his particular existence, it does provide evidence of how and where he and his followers may have had lived by giving archeologists a look into the ancient Christian world. This also validates this particular place to be of Christian, Jewish and Muslim significance.

This historical and religious development is related to what we are learning in class because it proves both the historical importance of ancient religions, and its decline in the modern day. The fact that this village of Christian refuge had been completely forgotten, and only was rediscovered because of highway development speaks to the secularization theory. Despite the religious significance, the highway will open in a few months as planned. The article even points out that indeed, “Christian presence across the Middle East is diminishing and believers often face persecution”.

Neil Gorsuch and Religion

Neil Gorsuch is Trump’s Supreme court nominee. Being a Supreme court judge is a live long position so if Neil does get Congress approval then he could be effecting our lives for many years to come. Both sides of the aisle though, have something against Gorsuch as reported by CNN. Gorsuch worships at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado and the church isn’t strictly conservative. It bars guns from its campus and installed solar panels and it condemns harsh rhetoric about Muslims and welcomes gays and lesbians. Some conservative congressmen feel that Gorsuch’s religious ideals don’t aline with what they want. Bryan Fischer, a host on the American Family Radio Network. stated, “Be advised, Gorsuch attends a church that is rabidly pro-gay, pro-Muslim, pro-green, and anti-Trump.” On the other side of the aisle, democrats are calling Gorsuch on religious freedoms and his take on the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores. The case was about if Hobby Lobby had to provide health insurance that covered contraceptive to their employees. The owners of Hobby Lobby are religious and feel that they shouldn’t be forced to provide contraceptive if they don’t believe in it. Gorsuch states that “All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others. For some, religion provides an essential source of guidance both about what constitutes wrongful conduct and the degree to which those who assist others in committing wrongful conduct themselves bear moral culpability.” Basically, Gorsuch feels that some beliefs are religious, and protected; other beliefs on the very same issues are secular, and should be brushed aside.

Religion & Politics: The EU Headscarf Ban?

Throughout the semester we have been bringing up the idea that religion and politics are very intertwined. Lately we have been discussing this even more as we have been learning about the four, now six, social narratives in the sociology of religion.

An article in the Religion News Service from earlier today stated that apparently some companies in Brussels are banning women from wearing Islamic headscarves (hijabs) and other religious “accessories” under certain circumstances in the work environment. The article stated that a Belgian company was caught banning employees who deal with customers from wearing religious garments. If this were to continue, many Muslim women and other women who choose to cover their hair will be taken out of the workforce, hurting their economy and the women’s families. This is seen by the European Union as religious discrimination, which it is, and it is surprising to see Belgian companies being so discriminatory because the country itself is such a hub for global citizens. The article did not say, however, how the case would be handled. The article itself was very brief but I found it to be relevant to our recent conversations about the relationship between politics and religion.

EU headscarf ban ruling sparks faith group backlash

The EU Ban of Headscarfs in the Workplace

This week the European Court of Justice made a decision that would allow workplaces to prohibit employees from wearing religious and political symbols. A ban as such would affect many people of different religions, but would disproportionately affect Muslim women. The two cases that led the case to the European Court of Justice were both concerning Muslim women being fired solely because of the presence of their headscarves, and the companies negative connotation with headscarves. Although the ruling does not explicitly target the headscarves of Muslim women, it is framed in such a way that makes them more exploited by the ban. However, Muslim women will not be the only ones affected. Jennifer Rankin and Philip Oltermann, co-writers of the article quote Maryam H’madoun of the Open Society Justice Initiative stating that “[the ban] will lead to Muslim women being discriminated in the workplace, but also Jewish men who wear kippas, Sikh men who wear turbans, people who wear crosses”. Having the EU make decisions like this that hinder religious freedom projects a sense of instability and a cause to worry. With the political climate in the U.S. and the increasing presence of “alt right” politics in various nations of the world, it is hard for one to not be frightened by what may come of these actions if they are not stopped or brought to all of the attention of the broader public.

Europe Becoming More Secular

Recently, Europe’s highest court ruled that “workers can be prohibited from wearing any kind of religious symbol to work.” (Neffinger, In Belgium, a woman claimed she was fired from her job at a security company due to religious discrimination because she wore a hijab to work. (Neffinger, The high court ruled against her however, saying that prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols isn’t direct discrimination. (Neffinger, The court did add, however, that the ban has to apply to all religious symbols in order for it to be counted as not being religious discrimination. (Neffinger, Some would say this is fair, others would say this is still a blow to religions. Also, one has to wonder if this an example of Europe’s growing secularization. Fewer and fewer people attend religious services in Europe now more than ever. (Berger, Davie, Fokas, Pg. 11) There are also less clergy, and “the churches have largely lost their former importance in public life.” (Berger, Davie, Fokas, Pg. 11) Also, “European politics [have eschewed] the sort of religiously tinged rhetoric” that is found elsewhere. (Berger, Davie, Fokas, Pg. 11) Is this case an example of these politics or is it something else completely? The point is that religion is fading in many aspects of European life and this might be one of the ways in which it’s happening.