Public Religion in the News Digest, December 20, 2019

Religion cases coming to the Supreme Court: who does a “ministerial exemption” include? (for another article on this matter, see this one from the Washington Post).

From the article:

“The Establishment Clause prevents the Government from appointing ministers,” Chief Justice John Roberts explained for his Court, “and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own.” This is why, for example, a federal law barring gender discrimination in employment does not require the Catholic Church to ordain women.

But religious institutions employ many people who perform a combination of religious and secular duties — and many of these employees have only minimal religious responsibilities. According to the federal appeals court that heard the case, for example, Biel involves a Catholic schoolteacher who mostly provided secular instruction — but who also spent a couple hours every week teaching from a workbook on the Catholic faith. She claims that her teaching contract was not renewed because she has breast cancer, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (The school claims that this teacher lost her job because her classroom management was not strict enough.)

Treated Worse than Jesus? No.

From the article:

The shock on Twitter was audible. The speech even prompted a Politifact fact check that unsurprisingly determined the comparison to be false. Beyond the Jesus comparison, it’s worth noting that Democrats had repeatedly invited Trump to testify.

The long debate within Judaism as to whether Judaism is a religion and/or a nationality was raised again by the president with a recent executive order.

From the article:

This sharp divide in defining the essence of Jewish belonging, of being a Jew, between religion and nation has a past. Prof. Leora Batnitsky argues that the split itself is a historically contingent one; in her view, it arose in the late eighteenth century as new ideas of empire and state gave Jews both an opportunity and a challenge of full participation in a supra-religious collective identity but at the cost of cultural homogeny and historical amnesia. The definition of Judaism and Jewish identity as solely religious was articulated by Moses Mendelssohn in 1783, in an ambitious argument that Jews are fully committed members of the polities in which they live and should be accorded full rights as such. Other Jews, in the Hassidic, Mussar, and Zionist movements, championed a cultural-national heritage that entailed remaining a demarcated people locally or expressing itself in commensurate political terms of self-determination, through Jewish statehood. Non-Jewish politicians and thinkers of the period engaged in the same debate.

Younger evangelicals, and with the support of some older ones, are talking and acting differently regarding work, money, capitalism, and the poor than the generations who aligned squarely with free market talking points.

From the article:

I’m not ready to be cynical about the faith and work movement. I have spoken to too many younger evangelicals who have come of age in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and are showing signs of disillusionment with traditional white evangelical politics — because the Christian right has fallen well short of St. Paul’s command to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” and because it glorifies a profit-obsessed rat race that sucks even the winners dry. Dave Blanchard, one of the founders of Praxis Labs, an organization that supports Christian entrepreneurs, told me: “The line of taking Milton Friedman for everything he has to offer is falling out of favor. We’re in a time when we’re interrogating capitalism — a reformation project that shouldn’t be confused with socialist approaches.”

We all should know where our food, our news, and our legislation come from. And don’t tell us lies!

From the article:

The Guardian revealed the bill was nearly identical to one promoted by Project Blitz, a state legislative project guided by three Christian right organizations, including the Congressional Prayer Caucus (CPC), WallBuilders and the ProFamily Legislators Conference. Project Blitz aims to promote and help pass conservative legislation across the US to fulfil its rightwing Christian agenda.

When initially approached, Ginter told the Guardian in an email from a legislative aide that he had “no knowledge of ‘Project Blitz’ and has not been working with WallBuilders or the Congressional Prayer Caucus”.

However, a screenshot shows Ginter was listed as the co-chair of the Ohio Prayer Caucus, the state chapter of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, as recently as January 2019. Ginter’s former chief of staff, Chris Albanese, is currently listed as the state director of the state chapter of CPC, Ohio Prayer Caucus.

“I would call it an outright lie,” said Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst with Political Research Associates, and an expert on the Christian right. “The Prayer Caucus in the states are the action arm of Project Blitz – it is Project Blitz,” he said. “When he told you, ‘I’ve never heard of Project Blitz,’ that was a lie,” said Clarkson.

What is the potential—for good and for bad—of artificial intelligence when it comes to religion and spiritual care?

From the article:

But religiously motivated uses of A.I. and surveillance technology are inevitable—in fact, plenty already exist. One company provides facial recognition technology to churches so they can keep track of member attendance. Smartphones are a fixture in church services, many large churches have their own apps, and millions of people read the Bible on screens instead of in print. The Church of England recently developed an Alexa “skill” that reads prayers, answers questions like “Who is God?,” and helps users locate nearby churches. The Vatican now sells a $110 “eRosary” bracelet that encourages Catholics to pray and logs their progress as they do so.

Secret internment/re-education camps for Muslims in China. One of the biggest world religion stories of the year, I’d judge.

From the article:

“They are missing that point where they go from ‘This handful of people did bad things’ to ‘We need to lock up 1.8 million or however many people are estimated in camps,’” Mr. Byler said.

Former camp detainees who have left China have described numbing, harsh and even brutal treatment inside the facilities. Detainees are subject to constant indoctrination that warns them to renounce religious fervor and support the Communist Party. They are forced to study Chinese, memorize laws, practice marching and learn skills for factory work.

Religious targets for hate crimes: Jews and Muslims are most targeted in the U.S.

From the article:

Newly released FBI data shows that Jews and Jewish institutions were the overwhelming target of religion-based hate crimes in the United States last year.

The 2018 Hate Crime Statistics reported 7,120 total hate crimes last year, compared to 7,175 in 2017, a decline of less than 1%.

Hate crimes motivated by religious bias accounted for 1,550 offenses, and the majority of those — 57.8% — were anti-Jewish.

By comparison, anti-Muslim hate crimes accounted for 14.5% — the second-largest target of religious hate. Anti-Sikh hate crimes accounted for 4.1% of the total.