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Religion



All Reason.com articles with the "Religion" tag.



Published: Wed, 24 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Wed, 24 May 2017 18:57:50 -0400

 



Atheism More Prevalent Among Americans Than the Polls Generally Show

Mon, 22 May 2017 16:50:00 -0400

(image) Although acceptance of atheists is increasing, their fellow Americans still eye them with considerable suspicion. The percentage of Americans who declare themselves religiously unaffiliated has risen from 5 percent in 1972 to 25 percent now. But depending upon the poll, the share of Americans who call themselves atheists varies from a low of 3 percent to around 11 percent.

Given the social stigma attached to atheism, researchers at the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) hypothesized that polls might underreport the number of Americans who are nonbelievers. To test this hypothesis, they used the unmatched count technique, in which poll respondents are randomly divided into two groups. The control group is asked how many of a number of harmless statements—"I am a vegetarian," "I can drive a motorcycle," "I own a dog," etc.—are not true statements about them. The second group is asked to respond to one additional, more sensitive statement: "I believe in God."

Respondents are not specifically indicating which statements are true for them, only the total number that is. This type of polling has been used, for example, to estimate the size of the LGBT community and the extent of antigay feeling.

The researchers ran two slightly different unmatched count technique surveys involving 4,000 Americans. In their report, "How many atheists are there?," they conclude that about 26 percent of Americans likely do not believe in God.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, PRRI research director Daniel Cox notes that public attitudes toward the LGBT community have become more accepting as more Americans report having a gay friend or family member has increased. He suggests that the same dynamic is happening as more atheists come out of their nonbelief closets.

Interestingly, PRRI's 2013 American Values Survey reported that "fewer than 6-in-10 (58%) libertarians believe that God is a person with whom one can have a relationship, one-quarter (25%) believe God is an impersonal force in the universe, and 16% report that they do not believe in God."

For more background, see my article, "The New Age of Reason: Is the Fourth Great Awakening finally coming to a close?"

Also see ReasonTV's report on the Rally for Reason, a 2012 gathering of nonbelievers on the National Mall:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rAd72Gkfd4k" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">




White Working-Class Millennials Are Less Christian, More Republican Than Their Elders

Tue, 09 May 2017 15:40:00 -0400

A large new report from PRRI and The Atlantic examines white, working-class Americans in an effort to explain what motivated them "to support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of roughly two to one" in the 2016 presidential election. The findings tend toward conventional wisdom—except when it comes to white working-class millennials. It turns out this group breaks from their older counterparts in some unexpected ways. Less than half of young, white, working-class adults identify as Christian. For the report, "white working class" is defined as non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs. Overall, 71 percent of white working-class Americans identify as Christian, according to the PRRI/Atlantic report. And among "seniors"—defined as those 65 and older—the percentage calling themselves Christians jumps to more than 80 percent. But among white working-class young adults—defined here as those in the 18- to 29-year-old age range—just 48 percent identify as Christian, with 16 percent describing themselves as evangelical Protestants, 16 percent as mainline Protestants, 10 percent as Catholic, and 6 percent as another Christian religion. This is about equal to the percentage that said they have no religious affiliation. At 47 percent, religious unaffiliation for white working-class young adults was significantly higher than religious unaffiliation among 18- to 29-year-old Americans overall (36 percent). White working-class millennials are more Republican than their elders... but less conservative In general, young Americans tend to skew toward Democratic Party affiliation. But for the youth of the white working class, the Republican Party is way more popular than the Democratic, according to the PRRI/Atlantic report. More than half of young white working-class voters—57 percent—identify as Republican or at least lean toward the GOP, while just 29 percent identify as or lean toward Democrats It's no surprise that white working-class young folk might lean more Republican than their richer, non-white, or college-educated counterparts. But here's a departure from conventional wisdom: The youngest adults of the white working class are more likely to lean Republican than the oldest members. In fact, 18- to 29-year-olds here lean more Republican than any other white working-class cohort studied. For both seniors and those in the 50- to 64-year-old cohort, 51 percent identified as or leaned Republican and 36 percent identified as or leaned Democrat. The older-millennial/younger-Gen X group—which included white working-class Americans ages 30 to 49—contained slightly fewer Republican Party voters than did the older generations (47 percent) and slightly fewer Democratic Party voters (34 percent). This group was the most likely to identify as politically independent, with 16 percent identifying as such. Just 10 percent of the younger group, 8 percent of those ages 50-64, and 9 percent of seniors in the report identify as political independents. But while the youngest adults of the white working-class are more likely than their elders to describe themselves as Republican, they are less likely to consider themselves conservative. "White working-class young adults are less than half as likely as white working-class seniors to identify as conservative," according to the report. Less than a quarter—23 percent—of white working-class young people call themselves conservative, while 26 percent identify as liberal and 40 percent identify as moderate. White working-class millennials don't think Donald Trump gets it—but their parents love him. Just 34 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old cohort in question agree that President Trump understands the problems facing their communities. Older members of the white working class are much more likely to endorse this statement, with 47 percent of the 30- to 49-year-old crowd and 46 percent of the majority-boomer group on board. Seniors, however, are more like young adults with regard to Trump here; ju[...]



On Churches in Politics, Trump Does ... Nothing

Mon, 08 May 2017 00:01:00 -0400

With hundreds of executive branch jobs yet to be filled, the Trump administration needs a lot of people. One person it especially needs is Goldilocks, who might save the president from his habit of doing too much or too little but seldom getting anything just right. In the executive order he signed Thursday titled "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty," Donald Trump had a rare opportunity to pursue a small yet significant change that would have accomplished both of his stated purposes. Instead, he ceremoniously unveiled a heaping platter of nothingburgers. In February, at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump extolled religious freedom and promised: "I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that. Remember." If you're not familiar with the Johnson Amendment, don't feel bad. It's safe to assume Trump wasn't either until he ran for president. Enacted into law in 1954, it prohibits churches and other nonprofit organizations from taking part in political campaigns, on pain of losing their federal tax exemption. The basic reason for it is sound. Political contributions are not tax-deductible, because Americans don't want to indirectly subsidize them. If churches were allowed to engage in active electioneering, citizens could give money to churches to help their favored candidates and then deduct those "religious" donations on their 1040s. This policy would have a couple of bad effects, besides the loss of revenue. One would be to encourage churches to become partly or solely political entities, at the expense of real political entities. In fact, it would be only a matter of time before partisan activists would form "churches" that hold no services and need no pews. They would exist purely to help candidates get elected. That would work to the detriment of real churches, fostering cynicism about their true function. It would jeopardize popular support for their tax treatment, which was granted partly in deference to the separation of church and state. We've long had a rough bargain between religious institutions and government. The deal is that because they, unlike other organizations, are not allowed to get financial aid from the government, neither should they be required to provide financial aid (in the form of taxes) to the government. The exemption also encourages charitable activities, by secular as well as religious groups, which are seen as good for society because they help those in need and lessen the burden of public aid. But the Johnson Amendment also bars political activities that don't cost a dime. If a pastor recommends a vote for a candidate during the course of a Sunday sermon that would be given regardless, no money is spent, and no indirect government subsidy occurs. As a literal matter, though, that pastor's statement violates the law. "It doesn't evade campaign finance regulation, it doesn't create a path for deductible campaign spending, and it ought to be protected," University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock told me. It's pure political speech, which the First Amendment was designed to cover. Securing this zone of freedom is what Trump might have proposed but didn't, quite. His fuzzy order directs the Treasury Department not to "take any adverse action" against a religious leader or church who has "spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective." It's the equivalent of strumming an air guitar. The IRS has long taken a relaxed view of the Johnson Amendment, cheerfully ignoring sermons that veer into political endorsements. But Trump didn't even explicitly reaffirm that tolerant policy. The reasonable answer is to write it into law—leaving no doubt about what is permitted and shielding clergy against any future IRS decision to get tough. What Trump did, though, was an empty gesture. Even his usual defenders couldn't defend him this time. The National Organization for Marriage said it "falls far shor[...]



Trump's Religious Freedom Order Doesn't Roll Back LGBT Protections

Wed, 03 May 2017 22:05:00 -0400

(image) Once again, fears that the Trump administration is going to roll back federal LGBT protections may end up proving to be misguided.

The LGBT community and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) erupted in a new round of activism and concern when Politico reported yesterday President Donald Trump was planning to sign a new religious liberty executive order on Thursday.

Politico reported based on unnamed sources that this order was similar to one that Trump had previously rejected. That initial order catered to religious conservatives by carving out massive exceptions from federal discrimination laws and demanded certain religious positions be accommodated.

Let's be clear about that first draft from a libertarian perspective: This was not what libertarians would classify as a "religious freedom" executive order. As I explained back in February when it came around, that proposed order would have classified particular religious beliefs—that marriage is for heterosexual couples, that sex is immutable and determined at birth, and that life begins at conception—as beliefs protected by government order. It literally declared particular beliefs that the government would recognize over others and therefore violated the Establishment Clause. There were parts of the executive order that libertarians would support, like exempting religious organizations from having to pay for employees' birth control or abortions. But overall the order had serious, fundamental constitutional issues and it was good that Trump didn't sign it.

So, when Politico reported that the order was back, LGBT organizations and the ACLU sounded the alarms again. The ACLU held a rally today and has threatened to sue to try to block the order before even learning its contents.

We won't fully know the contents until tomorrow, but what the White House has released is much, much, much less than what was presented back in February. NBC reporter Kelly O'Donnell got a briefing at the White House with the basics of the order, which will be presented tomorrow. The summary:

  • It is the policy of the administration "To protect and vigorously promote religious liberty"
  • Calls on the IRS to show "maximum discretion" in the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which limits the power of religious leaders (and many charity groups) from endorsing political candidates
  • Calls for "regulatory relief" for businesses and employers who have religious objections to being required to fund birth control or preventative services.

And that's it. There are no special protections being extended to those who oppose gay marriage or recognizing transgender people. That first item, though, is very vague in the summary. It could end up meaning very little, but we'll have to see what the actual order says tomorrow.




MOABs, Russkies, Prog Rock, Jesus, Jackie Robinson, and the F-word: Matt Welch Hosts on Sirius XM 9-12 AM ET

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0400

(image) This morning from 9-12 ET I will be guest-hosting on Sirius XM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick show, which you can find at 121 on your channel-finder. (I will also be hosting next Monday and Tuesday at the same time, and in fact hosted Tuesday of this week as well.) It's a loose-limbed and interactive format, so call anytime at 1-877-974-7487 to give me some ideological backup (and fashion critiques), though of course it will also be jam-packed with guests. To wit:

* Delaware Dave Weigel, the beloved if commenter-controversial former Reasoner-turned WashPost politics guy. We will be talking mostly about his marvelously named forthcoming book The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, with maybe some politics sprinkled in.

* Michael Weiss, editor in chief of The Interpreter, and author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. We will be talking about the Russkies.

* Benjamin K. Bergen, cognitive scientist and author of the new What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves. We will be talking about self-censorship in book titles.

* Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb, academics and co-authors of the new book Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography: The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero. We will be mashing up Good Friday and Jackie Robinson.

* And finally, Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week and The Slurve. We will be discussing our own personal Jesuses.




Brickbat: God Bless You

Thu, 06 Apr 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) An anonymous group wanted to donate $50,000 for a new turf field at the high school in Indiana's Greenfield-Central Schools. But school board members balked at the group's one request: to use the hashtag #BlessTheWorld to acknowledge their gift. School board members were afraid of using the word "bless." "There was some apprehension about if that was a gray area. If that was a breach of the separation of church and state that is often quoted from the first amendment," said Superintendent Harold Olin. The group withdrew its donation.




Brickbat: Sacred and Profane

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Ruslan Sokolovsky faces up to seven and a half years in prison for playing Pokemon Go inside a church in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Officials have charged Sokolovsky with inciting religious hatred and insulting the feelings of religious believers.




Another Blow Against the Petty Tyranny of Blue Laws

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 00:01:00 -0400

I am in Austin this week for the South by Southwest conferences, and I had planned to pick up some whiskey this Sunday before flying back home to Jerusalem, where brown spirits cost much more. Then a friend pointed out that my plan was not feasible in Texas, which is one of 11 states that still prohibit liquor sales on Sunday. Until recently there were 12 such states, but last week Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill allowing liquor stores to operate on Sundays. He thereby eliminated an arbitrary inconvenience that over the years has been justified in the name of piety, paternalism, and protectionism, none of which is a morally acceptable reason to use force against peaceful people. Minnesota's new law, which follows similar moves by 16 other states since 2002, takes effect on July 1. But Jim Surdyk, proprietor of Surdyk's Liquor & Cheese Shop in Minneapolis, did not wait to exercise his new freedom. He was open for business last Sunday, prompting a $3,500 fine and threats against his license. It is not hard to understand Surdyk's impatience. In the 159 years since Minnesota became the 32nd state, it has never deigned to let people buy packaged beer, wine, or liquor on Sunday. Minnesotans who wanted to have drinks at home on the Christian Sabbath had to plan ahead or make a run to neighboring Wisconsin, which has allowed Sunday sales since 1874. You might wonder whether it is constitutional to foist a religious day of rest on people who choose not to observe it. According to the Supreme Court, it is. The Court's reasoning highlights the petty tyranny of blue laws. In the 1961 case McGowan v. Maryland, seven department store employees challenged their criminal convictions for daring to sell people "a loose-leaf binder, a can of floor wax, a stapler, staples and a toy" on a Sunday. The Court rejected their argument that Maryland's blue law violated the First Amendment's ban on "an establishment of religion." "There is no dispute that the original laws which dealt with Sunday labor were motivated by religious forces," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the majority opinion. But he added that "as presently written and administered, most of them, at least, are of a secular rather than of a religious character." Warren's secularization of Maryland's blue law was a bit of a stretch, given that the statute explicitly addressed "Sabbath Breaking" and repeatedly referred to the "Lord's day," demanding that people not "profane" it through inappropriate activities. But the chief justice argued that the state had a legitimate interest in promoting "the health, safety, recreation and general well-being" of its residents by mandating not only "a periodic respite from work" but "a general cessation of activity, a special atmosphere of tranquility, a day which all members of the family or friends and relatives might spend together." More recently this pious paternalism has given way to a nakedly protectionist argument. The main opponents of Sunday sales nowadays are independent liquor stores whose owners worry that competition will force them to work harder without guaranteeing a commensurate increase in revenue. "Small-business owners argued that allowing Sunday sales would stretch six days of purchases over seven days and increase their operating costs," the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. "They also worried it would bring more chain and big-box stores," which "can undercut smaller stores on pricing." The point of banning Sunday sales, in other words, is not to protect consumers from themselves but to protect merchants from their competitors. High-handed promotion of "the general well-being" has been replaced by an open conspiracy against consumers. Jim Surdyk, the Minneapolis liquor retailer who dismayed city and state officials by selling on Sunday before he was legally permitted to do so, has a more customer-friendly attitude. "You have to[...]



More Evidence That What Counts as 'Religious Freedom' Is Always In Dispute

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 11:22:00 -0500

In a new feature for America magazine, I explore how worried people of faith should actually be that their religious freedom is under assault. Some believers' claims can seem outlandish, as when one woman incorrectly told CNN before the election that pastors can be taken to jail if they refuse to solemnize a same-sex wedding. Surely the state knows better than to, say, try to dictate a church's operations. Doesn't it? But as a recent court hearing in New York makes clear, the line between something the government would obviously never do because it would clearly be a violation of the First Amendment, on the one hand, and something the government obviously has the right to do and how dare you suggest your fairy tales should let you get out of following the law, you bigot, on the other hand, is moving all the time. In its 2012 decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the Supreme Court held that anti-discrimination laws could not be used to interfere with a religious institution's right to select its own faith leaders. The ruling rested on a principle known as the "ministerial exception." In the U.S., a company isn't allowed to refuse to hire someone to a leadership position (or most other positions) because of the applicant's gender or religion. But if that rule were enforced against religious organizations, a Catholic church could be prosecuted for not ordaining women (or, even more absurdly, Protestants, Buddhists, and atheists) as priests. If that prospect doesn't disturb you, try substituting "Islamic mosque" for "Catholic church" and "imam" for "priest." It's an important precedent. In fact, people sometimes point to Hosanna-Tabor as evidence that conservative Christians who are worried the government is coming for them should cool their jets. In my America piece, I quote the University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock noting that "The ministerial exception decision was unanimous. It's not going anywhere." But even a ruling from all nine justices doesn't foreclose the possibility of expensive lawsuits, as one Christian school is discovering. Earlier this week, St. Anthony School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York were forced to appear in a Manhattan courtroom to argue that the state can't interfere in their hiring and firing decisions. The suit was brought by a former principal, Joanne Fratello, who says her employment termination violated civil rights law. The key dispute is over what counts as a minister. A pastor clearly is, while a landscaper clearly isn't. But what about a school administrator? In this case, as in Hosanna-Tabor before it, there is copious evidence the role in question did involve at least some religious ministry. A summary judgment siding with the school last year noted that Fratello's responsibilities included leading students in daily prayers and meditations, overseeing the religious education curriculum, and generally acting as a spiritual shepherd to pupils and faculty. Before she was hired, she was required to submit a letter confirming she's a practicing Catholic. She also signed a contract certifying she "recognizes the religious nature of the Catholic school and agrees that the employer retains the right to dismiss [the] principal" for any one of a series of reasons, including rejection of tenets of the faith. But Fratello's attorney argues the ministerial exception should apply only to clergy and—importantly—only within the four walls of an actual house of worship. He wrote in a brief that "a Church itself" but "not Church-affiliated entities operating in the secular world" are protected from interference, later adding, "organized religion must not be allowed to trump American democracy's need for an [sic] non-indoctrinated and educated citizenry." If the lawyer gets his way, it would constitute the rolling back of a precedent set unanimously by the Supr[...]



Danish Man Who Burned a Koran on Facebook Will Be Prosecuted For Blasphemy

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 12:15:00 -0500

A man in Denmark will be prosecuted under the country's blasphemy laws for burning a Koran and posting video of the book's immolation to Facebook in 2015. The Associated Press reports that the man (whose name was not released) will be the first Dane since 1971 to be charged under a law forbidding "publicly mocking a religious community's religious doctrines or worship," and only the fifth person ever to be prosecuted for blasphemy in Denmark, according to The Independent. The man faces up to four months in prison but, if convicted, will more likely face a fine. Prosecutors had considered charging the publisher and editors of Jyllands-Posten—which in 2006 published cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammad that were met with violent reactions in various countries—but ultimately declined to do so. In recent years, Denmark had considered repealing its blasphemy ban, but in 2015 decided to reaffirm it during a session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council. A poll conducted in 2012 found 66 percent of Danish citizens supported the almost-never-used prohibition on blasphemy. Despite the rarity of blasphemy charges in Denmark, prosecutions against "hate speech" are quite common. Writing for Columbia University's Global Freedom of Expression platform, Jacob Mchangama argues that "scope creep" among such prosecutions appears to be happening in Denmark, and that Denmark's stance at the UN has international implications—especially among certain countries which punish blasphemy with heavy prison sentences, or even death: The conflation of blasphemy and hate speech goes to the heart of the debate at the UN between (primarily) democracies on the one hand and Muslim states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the other. In 2011 the annual and highly divisive OIC resolutions on "Defamation of Religion" (an attempt to create a global blasphemy ban under international human rights law) were ended by the passing of Resolution 16/18 at the Human Rights Council. The resolution is essentially a compromise brokered by the United States and the OIC and protects individuals, rather than religions, from religious discrimination and intolerance, as well as promoting "open, constructive and respectful debate." Yet, OIC member states have since attempted to interpret the obligation to prohibit certain forms of hate speech in Article 20 (2) of the ICCPR, so broad as to include criticism and mockery of religion. Mchangama adds: Undoubtedly these states will have been encouraged by the actions of the Danish police and the District Court of Elsinore. However, the fates Asia Bibi on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, Raif Badawi serving 10 years for insulting Islam in Saudia Arabia, and Ayatollah Kazemeini Boroujerdi serving a lengthy prison sentence in Iran for "waging war against God," show that criticism of religion is an essential human right for all, including devout religious believers of all faiths. Watch Reason TV's interview with former Jyllends-Posten editor Flemming Rose below, where Rose talks with Nick Gillespie about "the Worldwide Suppression of Free Speech": src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pzdaoBsUW88" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]



Brickbat: Dancing Too Close

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Organizers of a Valentine's Day dance in Henryetta, Oklahoma, canceled the event after a local resident pointed out the venue is only about 250 feet from a Church of Christ and a city ordinance bans dancing within 500 feet of a church.




Mississippi Is the Most Religious and Vermont the Least Religious of the States

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 17:00:00 -0500

(image) The folks over at Gallup have just released their data comparing the religiosity of Americans by state. Mississippi wins with 59 percent of the Magnolia State's residents describing themselves as "very religious." In comparison, only 21 percent of the flinty inhabitants of the Green Mountain State would so describe their religious convictions. But does the propensity to sinning correlate with a lack of religious belief? Not so much.

For example, folks in Mississippi are, on the face of it, less inclined than those in Vermont to turn the other cheek when it comes to violent crime, especially murder. In 2015, Mississippi ranked number 2 (just behind neighboring Louisiana) in the nation with a homicide rate of 8.7 per 100,000 citizens. Vermont ranked 47 out of 50 with only 1.5 murders per 100,000 (New Hampshire and Hawaii were more peaceable).

What about sexual mores and family structure? With respect to the prevalence of the sexually transmitted diseases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, Mississippi ranks 5, 3, and 12, whereas Vermont's rank is 46, 49, and 46 respectively. Mississippi ranks number 1 in percent of births to unmarried mothers (54 percent in 2014) compared to Vermont's rank of 28 (39.5 percent in 2014). The national average was 40.2 percent of all births in 2014. Mississippi came in at number 2 after the District of Columbia with regard to the percentage of children living in single parent homes, 53 and 48 percent respectively. In Vermont 28 percent of kids live in single-parent families.

What about overall happiness? After all, it frequently reported that religious people are happier than non-religious folk. Surely, the stronger faith of Mississippians must make them happier than more doubtful and dour Vermonters? Well no. Mississippians ranking at 48th out 51 jurisdictions surveyed are only a bit happier than folks living in Kentucky, Alabama and West Virginia. Vermonters at number 14 are lot happier than Mississippians but aren't nearly as joyous as folks in Utah which stands as our happiest state.




A Wayward Order on Religious Freedom and LGBT Issues Makes for Confusing Coverage and Activism

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:01:00 -0500

Earlier in the week, the White House put out a statement that President Donald Trump is going to maintain President Barack Obama's executive order prohibiting federal agencies and federal contractors from discriminating against gay and transgender employees. So why are some people afraid this is just a big smoke screen? People might be a little confused at news reports that there's an executive order floating around the White House that does nearly the opposite of what they said they were doing—an order that blows big holes in discrimination policies in order to protect religious freedom. Prior to the White House's announcement on Tuesday that it would be maintaining the order, some media outlets had gotten their hands on something titled "Executive Order—Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom." Even after the White House announcement, civil liberties and LGBT groups expressed concerns about the possibility that despite what Trump declared, something was coming down the line that was going to harm their interests. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and others even had a media teleconference Wednesday to express concerns about the contents of this semi-mysterious order. Wednesday evening The Nation finally published the executive order that had been circulated within the beltway, along with some analysis by legal and civil rights experts. It's a four-page, broadly-written, and pretty complicated order, both in what it attempts to accomplish and what its hidden consequences may be. There are parts of the executive order fans of religious freedom and freedom of association would support—it spells out that religious organizations (and individuals) cannot be forced comply with mandates to fund birth control or abortions, for example. But it also has some deep constitutional and rule-of-law issues. The order establishes that federal employees (and contractors) must be "reasonably accommodated" for acting or refusing to act in accordance to a set of beliefs outlined within the order. The very particular beliefs protected: Marriage should be reserved to heterosexual couples; biological sex is immutable (in other words, transgenderism isn't real); and life begins at birth conception and abortion is bad. This whole part of the order, then, establishes a particular set of beliefs that are protected by government order. It's not a "religious freedom" order at all. It's saying that the government will recognize and protect a particular set of religious beliefs, which is a violation of the Establishment Clause. It literally establishes a set of religious beliefs the government will give special preference to. Mississippi passed a law with similar carveouts last year. Its implementation has been blocked by a federal judge, for now. So after all that explanation, what is the real story here? Is this order legitimate? Is Trump going to sign it? The answers so far are that yes, the executive order appears to be legitimate and was circulating within federal agencies, but no, the Trump administration is not considering it. At least for now. A White House official told ABC News Trump has no plans to "sign anything at this time." The vague possibility hangs in the air, and so apparently gay and civil rights groups are continuing activism against an the executive order anyway and treating it though it's a Sword of Damocles about to fall at any moment. If these opening weeks of the Trump administration are an indicator, we are going to see a very, very leaky government. In most ways, this is great. It's awesome. Trump certainly doesn't appear to be a fan of transparency[...]



Brickbat: Political Crime

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) A Finnish politician faces up to two years in prison after being charged with inciting religious hate. Sebastian Tynkkynen, chairman of the youth wing of the nationalist True Finns party, made a series of Facebook posts following attacks by Islamic terrorists in France, including "The fewer Muslims in Finland, the better" and "Muslims get out of this country!"




Police Are Still Stopping Motorists to Spread Compulsory Holiday Cheer

Wed, 28 Dec 2016 13:30:00 -0500

(image) Jackson (Miss.) Police Officer Brandon Caston tried to bring some holiday cheer by flagging down motorists and handing them autographed Christmas cards last week.

One delighted citizen recorded her encounter with Officer Caston and posted the video to Facebook. Thinking the officer was stopping drivers at some form of checkpoint, she instead found out Caston was merely handing out Christmas cards adorned with a Bible verse. The Clarion-Ledger quotes Cassandra Welchlin as writing, "Now this is protecting and serving!" after receiving her Christmas greeting.

By all accounts, Caston is a hard-working, dedicated police officer who cares about his community. He was even commended by the department for thwarting two carjackers while off-duty earlier this year. And it appears he didn't use his police cruiser to stage a fake traffic stop to deliver his Christmas greetings, nor did he bring along a camera to help self-promote his holiday cheer for the good of his and his department's image.

But he was in uniform and he was standing in the middle of the street, which makes his attempt at sharing Christmas blessings and biblical verses borderline compulsory.

Reason has covered a series of happy police pranks that were far more egregious than Caston's—who by all accounts wasn't trying to briefly terrify anyone before showing them how great cops are by giving them a gift card to a chain restaurant—but since we last reported on the "kindness squads," even more instances of police pulling people over to give them "Christmas citations" for obeying the law continue to pop up all over the country.

Lest you think we here at Reason are joyless constitutional curmudgeons, other media outlets to both our left and our right concur that these well-meaning attempts at strengthening police and community relations might seem cute on video, but they're both unconstitutional and cruel.

As National Review's Kevin D. Williamson puts it, "Some of these videos are hilarious. But do you know why they are hilarious? Because that unsuspecting citizen who is minding his own business and following the law is terrified."

As far as Officer Caston's Christmas greeting cards, it doesn't appear that he was trying to fool anyone using the force of his uniform. But perhaps next time he wants to spread Christian well-wishes while dressed as an agent of the state, he could do it on the sidewalk where his presence won't be perceived as a compulsory traffic stop.