Review: The Territories of Science and Religion by Peter Harrison

Cara Rock-Singer reviews The Territories of Science and Religion by Peter Harrison. Continue Reading →

Religion and Real Estate in New York City

By Fred Folmer

Should religious groups be allowed to worship in New York City public schools? This question is at the heart of an ongoing issue involving church leaders, congregants and public officials, who are challenging a decision by the Bloomberg administration and Department of Education to evict churches that use school buildings for their worship services. Although the churches have now been evicted from their spaces, questions about the wisdom and fairness of doing so certainly remain, and legislation to overturn the evictions is still pending.

The issue may on the surface appear to be a standard church-and-state dispute, and indeed some of the questions it raises–Should so-called religious groups be allowed to worship on public facilities as paying tenants? Does such a use violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause? What constitutes a “worship service,” anyway, and why does it entail special forms of legislative restriction?–are quite familiar to anyone who has followed such cases. But the issue also suggests something that receives far less attention from media, and is much harder to map easily onto boilerplate rhetoric about “separation of church and state”  This is so because it affects certain kinds of churches and populations, but also because the decision to evict the churches—whatever its stated intentions—could have a marked effect on the kind of religion that gets practiced in New York City.  And where it’s practiced, given that it drastically reduces the space available to nondenominational and evangelical congregations in a city in which real estate is famously hard to come by. Continue Reading →

Outside the Law: Cheryl Perich and the First Amendment

There’s nothing quite like a First Amendment dispute to illuminate the subtleties of interpreting separation of church and state.

By Elissa Lerner

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time to uphold a forty year-old practice known as the “ministerial exception” in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In Hosanna-Tabor, Cheryl Perich, a teacher who mostly taught secular subjects but also religion and occasionally led prayers, was fired after taking a leave of absence to receive treatment for narcolepsy. She threatened to sue the school for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A federal appeals court concluded that since her primary duties were secular in nature, she was therefore not a minister and could sue under ADA. However, the Supreme Court, in its first ministerial exception case, unanimously decided to overturn the decision, ruling that the question of who is a minister could not be “resolved by a stopwatch.” For the government to interfere with a church’s firing process “intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts. “Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs.” Continue Reading →

Analogue Media and the Politics of Print Nostalgia

Angela Zito:  The Bible as a book, printed, physically available for Christian devotion, remains a powerful and contested artifact in this digital age.  Just winding up its US tour, a traveling exhibition of the Bible in China—entitled “Thy Word is Truth: the Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Protestant Church in China”—might have slipped my notice. Today, however, I saw a posting in the online newsletter of the US China Catholic Bureau of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops news service about a planned counter exhibit of a small portion of a hand-copied “prison bible” smuggled out of the Chinese labor reform camp system ten years ago, and recently donated to the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas. Continue Reading →

The Chinese Church

The Christian Century reports that China’s Minister of State Administration for Religious Affairs, Wang Zuo’an, is in Nairobi for a visit with the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya to “enhance the relationship between the Anglican Church, the Global South Anglican Communion and the Chinese church.” Continue Reading →

SCOTUS Approves Tax Credit for Religious Tuition

Two decisions come out of the Supreme Court today, one mentioned almost as a footnote to the other in a New York Times article.  Donate money for an award at a religious education institution, get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, says the ruling on an Arizona case.  From the article:

The program itself is novel and complicated, and allowing it to go forward may be of no particular moment. But by closing the courthouse door to some kinds of suits that claim violations of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion, the court’s ruling in the case may be quite consequential.

The footnote?  Once again the court has upheld the death penalty, albeit with regard to a specific California inmate who claimed that part of his testimony had been suppressed.

We can assume that Justice Thomas once again asked no questions. Continue Reading →

House Opening Prayer, 3.14.11

Eternal God,
Before whom all creation bows,
and Father of all humanity
another week of life and testing unfolds before us.

With the breath of spring upon us,
may Congress be given fresh vision
on how to address the needs of Your people;
and as a good steward of national resources
be delivered from alien forces
and the tyranny of money.

By respecting the goodness of your creation
and recognizing Your image in each person,
make this nation an instrument of peace
and an ambassador of reconciliation
in Your Holy Name.


– Reverend Daniel P. Coughlin

To search the archive of opening prayers, go to the Office of The Chaplain, Unites States House of Representatives (h/t Al Stefanelli) Continue Reading →

As Goes Iowa:The Family Leader, Religious Politics and 2012

by Andy Kopsa

America’s culture wars are at full throttle: defunding Planned Parenthood, chipping away at a woman’s right to an abortion – and if possible taking away that right altogether, preventing or ending gay marriage (because it could lead to Sharia law), enacting Religious Freedom Restoration Acts to “restore religious liberty” that was never lost.  State after state after state serves as a front on which the Christian Right and their willing Republican legislators wage these wars.  Iowa is a perfect microcosm, an example of the powerful Christian Political Action Committees (PACs) leading the effort.  Iowa’s powerful and successful The Family Leader is a model to which all others can be held.

The Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC), which recently changed its name to The Family Leader*, is the most vocal and political anti-gay organization in Iowa.  As a federally funded chapter of the Family Research Council (FRC), IFPC railed against gay marriage leading up to the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality for same sex couples.  They started the “LUV Iowa” (Let Us Vote) Campaign to bring a Proposition 8-like ballot initiative to the state.  They sent lobbyists to the state capital and held ‘pro-family’ rallies. Continue Reading →

38 Years

My naive questions on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade are: Why, when organized anti-abortion groups are predominantly evangelical/fundamentalist/orthodox Christian, are we not having a broader discussion about separation of church and state laws governing patients’ rights?  To do so would not undermine individual rights to personal or religious freedom.  Or is patient autonomy not the issue? Continue Reading →

Science, the State Religion

Young-earth creationist and founder of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, is taking the Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of Natural History to task for their new Hall of Human Origins.  “The purpose of this exhibit on the origin of man,” he writes, “is not only to indoctrinate children and adults in evolution, but also atheism.”  Ham, who was behind the “high tech” Creation Museum in Ohio, is working up to an accusation of First Amendment violation:

Why won’t Potts and his researchers include that [the Bible’s account of human origins]? Well, they have arbitrarily defined science (which means “knowledge”) as having nothing to do with God. They will only allow explanations according to their view of naturalism, the religion of atheism.

And that, tax-paying citizens, amounts the Hall to government promotion of a state religion — atheism, a violation of the wall between church and state.  Could a lawsuit be in the Smithsonian’s future?

(h/t The Sensuous Curmudgeon) Continue Reading →