Written by Don Byrd
Today was a long travel day for me, which means two things: 1) hooray for airplane wifi, and 2) it was a good day to survey the church-state news out there. Below is a quick rundown of some items that caught my eye.
Via Religion Clause, earlier this week, Congress passed the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, sending it to President Obama for his signature. Among other things, the bill elevates the State Department’s position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and mandates religious freedom training for all foreign service workers. See my earlier post on the bill here. The legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House agreed without objection. [UPDATE: President Obama signed the legislation into law on Friday, December 16.]
Writing for the Atlantic, Emma Green explores the retirement plan dispute the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided to take up. She writes, “The justices’ decision could affect the viability of religiously affiliated orphanages, hospitals, schools, and nursing homes, and it could also threaten the financial security of a generation of their workers, fast heading toward retirement.” It is a case I will surely be following next year when the court will hear oral arguments.
Massachusetts’ State House News Service reports that four churches have dropped their lawsuit challenging the state’s recently enacted public accommodations law after the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination issued new guidance clarifying that the law “does not apply to a religious organization” unless facilities are used for a “public, secular” function.”
In Texas, continuing what seems to now be an annual holiday Peanuts battle somewhere in the country, a public school nurse was asked by her principal to remove an overtly religious quotation from her office door. The quote comes from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” in which Linus recites from the Gospel of Luke. The ensuing controversy has included a statement of support by the Texas Attorney General for the nurse, who has retained counsel. [UPDATE: A Texas judge has ordered the poster returned to its place on the door.]
Buzzfeed reports that Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), buoyed by the presidential election, plan to reintroduce the First Amendment Defense Act next year. The bill as previously introduced would broadly protect individuals and corporations for actions taken in accordance with sincerely held views (whether religious or simply the moral conviction) that marriage is between one man and one woman, or that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”