The Week in Review: February 14 thru 20

Abortion ban linked to dangerous miscarriages at Catholic hospital, report claims

by Molly Redden at The Guardian

The woman inside the ambulance was miscarrying. That was clear from the foul-smelling fluid leaving her body. As the vehicle wailed toward the hospital, a doctor waiting for her arrival phoned a specialist, who was unequivocal: the baby would die. The woman might follow. Induce labor immediately.

But staff at the Mercy Health Partners hospital in Muskegon, Michigan would not induce labor for another 10 hours. Instead, they followed a set of directives written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that forbid terminating a pregnancy unless the mother is in grave condition. Doctors decided they would delay until the woman showed signs of sepsis – a life-threatening response to an advanced infection – or the fetal heart stopped on its own.

In the end, it was sepsis. When the woman delivered, at 1.41am, doctors had been watching her temperature climb for more than eight hours. Her infant lived for 65 minutes.

This story is just one example of how a single Catholic hospital risked the health of five different women in a span of 17 months, according to a new report leaked to the Guardian.

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American Atheists and the Center for Inquiry Push U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Real Religious Freedom, Preserve Access to Contraception

by American Atheists

In an amicus brief filed yesterday, American Atheists urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject attempts by religious employers to use the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to deny contraceptive coverage to employees, even through third-party providers.

In this case, Zubik v. Burwell, religious employers claim that simply telling the government that they are opting out of providing contraceptive coverage directly, thereby allowing employees who wish to receive no-cost coverage to receive it directly from insurance providers, substantially burdens their (the employers’) religious beliefs.

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The Islamic State’s Latest Shock Tactic: Showing Children on Suicide Missions

by Greg Miller at The Washington Post

The boy appears to be no older than 12. He hugs his father, climbs into an armored vehicle packed with explosives, then kisses his father’s hand before departing on a mission that ends in a fireball on the horizon.

That attack in Aleppo last month was one of at least 89 cases over the past year in which the Islamic State employed children or teenagers in suicide missions, according to new research that indicates the terrorist group is sending youths to their deaths in greater and greater numbers.

The father-son sequence was memorialized in propaganda photos released last month by the Islamic State, adding to an expanding collection of online eulogies that provides insight into how the organization uses children in both combat operations and mass-casualty attacks on civilians in Iraq and Syria.

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Put an Atheist on the Supreme Court

by Lawrence Krauss at The New Yorker

Who should replace Antonin Scalia? On Monday, the Times reported that the Justice himself had weighed in on the question: last June, in his dissenting opinion in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges, Scalia wrote that the Court was “strikingly unrepresentative” of America as a whole and ought to be diversified. He pointed out that four of the Justices are natives of New York City, that none are from the Southwest (or are “genuine” Westerners), and that all of them attended law school at Harvard or Yale. Moreover, Scalia wrote, there is “not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans), or even a Protestant of any denomination” on the Court. (All nine Justices are, to varying degrees, Catholic or Jewish.)

Scalia’s remarks imply that an evangelical Christian should be appointed to the Court. That’s a strange idea: surely, the separation of church and state enshrined in the Constitution strongly suggests that court decisions shouldn’t be based on religious preference, or even on religious arguments. The Ten Commandments are reserved for houses of worship; the laws of the land are, or should be, secular. Still, I’m inclined, in my own way, to agree with Scalia’s idea about diversity. My suggestion is that the next Supreme Court Justice be a declared atheist.

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FFRF victorious against religious California school board

by the Freedom from Religion Foundation

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has won a judgment against a California school board for its blatantly religious meetings.

U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruled against the Chino Valley Unified School District for overtly and consciously inserting religion into official proceedings. FFRF filed a lawsuit along with 22 local residents on Nov. 13, 2014, challenging the School Board’s prayers, bible readings and proselytization at its official gatherings. At one typical meeting, Board President James Na “urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him,” after which another board member closed with a reading of Psalm 143.

On Thursday, Bernal issued his decision in favor of the state/church watchdog organization.

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Georgia Senate Passes Discriminatory Anti-LGBT ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill By Huge Margin

by David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement

The Georgia First Amendment Defense Act just passed the Senate by a vote of 38-14. The bill now makes its way back to the Georgia House, which only needs to agree on it. In all likelihood, given that a previous version passed unanimously, it will. The anti-gay “religious freedom” legislation could be signed into law by GOP Gov. Nathan Deal as soon as Monday, after the House reconvenes.

The bill, known as FADA, like many that have been making their way around the nation’s legislatures this year, makes anti-LGBT discrimination legal by providing special protections for people who wish to claim their religious faith prohibits them from performing certain acts, including baking a cake for a same-sex wedding, or allowing a child to be adopted by a same-sex couple.

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Alabama Teacher Distributed Bibles to Her Fifth Graders in Class, Says Atheist Group

by Hemant Mehta at Patheos

It’s bad enough when school districts allow a passive Bible distribution, letting students to pick up a copy of the Christian holy book, you know, if they want one, no pressure at all. (Bad, because non-Christian groups have to fight tooth and nail for the same sort of access.)

At Piney Chapel Elementary School, a public school in Alabama, a teacher took it much further than that. The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Sam Grover explained as much in a letter to the District:

We understand that this teacher placed a stack of bibles on her desk and instructed students to take one. The teacher told students that all fifth graders within the school were receiving bibles in this manner…

If all teachers were doing this, then the whole damn school is breaking the law.

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Disbelieve it or not, ancient history suggests that atheism is as natural to humans as religion

by The University of Cambridge

Despite being written out of large parts of history, atheists thrived in the polytheistic societies of the ancient world – raising considerable doubts about whether humans really are “wired” for religion – a new study suggests.

The claim is the central proposition of a new book by Tim Whitmarsh, Professor of Greek Culture and a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. In it, he suggests that atheism – which is typically seen as a modern phenomenon – was not just common in ancient Greece and pre-Christian Rome, but probably flourished more in those societies than in most civilizations since.

As a result, the study challenges two assumptions that prop up current debates between atheists and believers: Firstly, the idea that atheism is a modern point of view, and second, the idea of “religious universalism” – that humans are naturally predisposed, or “wired”, to believe in gods.

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The girl who said ‘no’ to being a child bride

by Sarah Buckley at BBC News

Balkissa Chaibou dreamed of becoming a doctor, but when she was 12 she was shocked to learn she had been promised as a bride to her cousin. She decided to fight for her rights – even if that meant taking her own family to court.

“I came from school at around 18:00, and Mum called me,” Balkissa Chaibou recalls.

“She pointed to a group of visitors and said of one of them, ‘He is the one who will marry you.’

“I thought she was joking. And she told me, ‘Go unbraid, and wash your hair.’ That is when I realised she was serious.”

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Bill banning child marriage fails in Pakistan after it’s deemed ‘un-Islamic’

by Ishaan Tharoor at The Washington Post

Pakistani lawmakers had to withdraw a bill aimed at curbing the practice of child marriage after a prominent religious body declared the legislation un-Islamic.

The bill, which proposed raising the marriage age for females from 16 to 18, also called for harsher penalties for those who would arrange marriages involving children. Despite the laws in place, child marriages, particularly involving young female brides, are common in parts of the country. It’s estimated that some 20 percent of girls in the country are married before they turn 18.

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