The Week in Review: March 6 thru 12

Justice Department Announces New Interagency Initiative to Combat Religious Discrimination

from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department announced the launch of “Combating Religious Discrimination Today,” a new interagency community engagement initiative designed to promote religious freedom, challenge religious discrimination and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes.  The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in partnership with other federal agencies, will host a series of community roundtables across the country that focus on protecting people and places of worship from religion-based hate crimes; combating religious discrimination, including bullying, in education and employment; and addressing unlawful barriers that interfere with the construction of places of worship.

The inaugural roundtable, which is taking place today in Newark, New Jersey, will focus on addressing bullying and religious discrimination in schools.  It will examine how students encounter bullying and harassment based on their actual or perceived religion, as well as discrimination based on religious clothing, holidays and expression.

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Mayor of Richmond, VA – who’s also a pastor – Accused of Diverting City Resources to His Church

by Simon Brown at Americans United for Separation of Church and State

The mayor of Virginia’s capital city stands accused of diverting city resources toward the church he heads, and he seems to think he can violate the First Amendment while simultaneously claiming that the Constitution shields him from punishment.

In addition to being mayor of Richmond, the Rev. Dwight C. Jones (D) is also senior pastor at First Baptist Church of South Richmond. He was elected mayor in 2008 and since that time city offices have been salted with employees who are also members of First Baptist.

At this point, it is difficult to say whether or not the city employees who are also members of the church are qualified for their positions. But even if they are, there is a problem: A number of church members who work for the city are accused of conducting church business on the job.

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The Term ‘Religious Liberty’ Has Replaced ‘Gay Marriage’ Among Republican Buzzwords

by Anne Li at FiveThirtyEight

It was so casual, the way Marco Rubio slipped same-sex marriage, unprovoked, into his closing statement at the Feb. 13 Republican debate.

“We are going to be a country that says that life begins at conception and life is worthy of the protection of our laws,” he said. “We’re going to be a country that says that marriage is between one man and one woman. We are going to be a country that says the Constitution and the rights that it talks about do not come from our president, they come from our creator.”

In 2008, and especially in 2012, such a statement would not have surprised anyone. But this year, same-sex marriage no longer seems as prominent an issue in the GOP campaign. Though “preserving and protecting traditional marriage” remains in the official GOP platform, the Conservative Political Action Conference this month approved the Log Cabin Republicans as a conference sponsor after having been accused of discriminating against the pro-gay-marriage organization by rejecting their request to participate in previous conferences.

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SCOTUS Strikes Down Alabama Ruling on Same-Sex Adoption Case

by Garrett Epps at The Atlantic

The Alabama Supreme Court has had a rough week. On Friday, the court issued a one-sentence order admitting that “Erm, um, well, urm, okay, fine! Whatever! We really don’t have the authority to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges. Are you people happy now?” The order came accompanied by 170 pages of bloviation, which read a bit as if Robert E. Lee had tried to spin General Orders No. 9 as a strategic victory.

Monday, in a different but related matter, the U.S. Supreme Court piled on by in effect issuing what I’ll call a Writ of Duh in a same-sex adoption case.

The Court summarily reversed the Alabama court, without hearing argument or full briefing. Monday’s unsigned per curiam decision was unanimous. Though some justices almost certainly still object to the Obergefell decision, none of them was willing to be identified with the state court’s ham-fisted attempt to punish an adoptive parent caught in an ugly same-sex divorce and custody battle.

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In Response to the Delta County School District Decision to Allow the Gideons to Hand out Bibles in Schools, FFRF Teams up with the Satanic Temple to Insist upon Equal Access to Hand out Several Atheist and Secularist Books

by the Freedom From Religion Foundation

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants the go-ahead to distribute its literature in Colorado public schools to counter the Religious Right.

In spite of repeated FFRF requests, the Delta County School District has refused to have the Gideons stop distributing bibles in the local public schools. So FFRF and its allied organizations are asking permission to hand out freethought materials there. These include brochures and booklets such as “Top 10 Public School State-Church Violations and How to Stop Them” and “What’s Wrong With The Ten Commandments?”

It is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideon’s International to distribute bibles as part of the public school day, FFRF contends. Even when distribution of religious material to students in school is done passively — from a table or some other fixed location — courts have ruled that that distribution may be unconstitutional.

But since the Delta County School District has told FFRF that it will give the Gideons continued access, the organization is taking it to the next level.

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Tennessee School Board Officials Are Thinking About Eliminating All School Clubs in Order to Ban LGBT Club

by John Wright at The New Civil Rights Movement

School board members in Franklin County, Tennessee, may consider eliminating all extracurricular clubs in an effort to get rid of a newly formed Gay-Straight Alliance.

The GSA at Franklin County High School in Winchester has been under attack since it first met in January, with parents comparing it to ISIS, and students vandalizing the club’s posters and wearing “Straight Pride” signs in protest.

Last month, anti-LGBT residents who spoke at a school board meeting warned that the GSA is part of a “radical gay political agenda” that seeks to recruit children.

In response to the controversy over the GSA, the Franklin County School Board has decided to draft new guidelines for student organizations. Under the federal Equal Access Act, officials must allow the GSA unless they eliminate all extracurricular clubs, from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to the Student Council.

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An Australian Bishop Has Called on Catholics to Stand up for Persecuted Atheists Around the World

from the Catholic Herald

The Bishop of Clifton has called on Catholics to stand up for persecuted atheists around the world.

In an article for the Universe, Bishop Declan Lang, who is also chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Department for International Affairs, said: “The Catholic community in England and Wales has a role to play in ensuring that the government maintains this position and continues to speak out when people are imprisoned, tortured or killed on account of their atheism.

“Doing so will not only be a practical expression of solidarity with those suffering the most appalling persecution, but will also promote freedom of religion or belief as a universal right to the benefit of all.”

Bishop Declan Lang based his article around the case of the atheist blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, in Bangladesh who was murdered by a mob two years ago for stating his beliefs.

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Christians Vandalized a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Columbus, OH

by Earl Rinehart at the Columbus Dispatch

Vandalism at Planned Parenthood’s East Columbus Surgical Center is an example of the alarming increase “in vitriolic, hateful rhetoric” over reproduction rights, the organization said.

Someone splashed red paint on the front door and painted “SATAN DEN OF BABYKILLERS GOD SEE ALLLL (sic) Mark 9:14″ on the front of the center at 3255 E. Main St. sometime overnight Sunday.

“These attacks are perpetuated by extreme individuals who continue to invoke lies and smear videos to demonize Planned Parenthood and the 80,000 Ohioans who come to us for basic health care,” Nicole Evans, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said in a statement. “The individuals responsible for this act hope to send a signal that using acts of violence will intimidate health-care professionals and the women we serve. They are wrong. Our doors will stay open.”

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Ted Cruz’s Newly Appointed Michigan Campaign Co-Chair Wants To Criminalize Homosexuality

by Kyle Mantyla at Right Wing Watch

As we have noted before, people who hate gays sure do seem to love Ted Cruz, and that trend continues as his presidential campaign continues to rack up support and endorsements from a variety of extremist anti-gay activists.

To this ever-growing list we can now add Michigan state lawmaker Gary Glenn, who has been tapped to serve as one of the campaign’s state legislative co-chairs.

Prior to winning his seat in the state legislature, Glenn served as president of the American Family Association of Michigan, the state arm of the anti-gay hate group the American Family Association, where he promoted a variety of anti-gay positions and even called for the criminalization of homosexuality.

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Oklahoma State Legislature Is Trying to Repeal the Separation Clause from Their State Constitution

by Randy Krehbiel at Tulsa World

A proposed ballot initiative that would repeal a section of the state Constitution which prohibits use of state assets for religious purposes was approved Wednesday by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Joint Resolution 1062 by Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, passed 86-10 after nearly 2½ hours of discussion that took up most of the House’s morning session.

The proposal to repeal Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution is billed as a response to a 2015 state Supreme Court decision that resulted in the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds.

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