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New International Religious Freedom Act a First for Atheists

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When President Obama signed a newly strengthened international religious freedom act on Dec. 16, the intention was to protect religious believers around the world.

But the freshly signed act is being heralded by some legal scholars as a different milestone — for the first time, atheists and other nonreligious persons are explicitly named as a class protected by the law.

7 Religious Books for the Holidays

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Winter isn’t coming — it’s already here. With it comes the hope — if not the time — to curl up under the covers, or by the fire, and read a good book. Here are seven titles you won’t find on the religion shelf at the bookstore, or library, but that nonetheless use religion and spirituality themes to propel the story.

Educators Worry Science Will Be a Casualty in Trump's Cabinet

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Science and education professionals are increasingly alarmed about the impact Donald Trump’s cabinet picks — many of them evangelical Christians — could have on science standards in public schools.

Candidate Trump repeatedly pledged to end the existing Common Core curricula standards for math and English. Critics worry that could open the door to rethinking science standards, and lead to the teaching of creationism and Intelligent Design, pseudo-scientific notions about Earth’s origins with little or no support from scientists.

Trump's Advisers: The Faith Factor

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President-elect Donald Trump will spend much of the time until his inauguration on Jan. 20 composing his new administration. That means naming Cabinet appointees, and government department or agency heads, as well as selecting advisers.

Many of Trump’s appointments so far are people of faith; some are supported or opposed by different faith groups; others have made public statements, or taken actions, regarding different faith groups.

Here is a list of Trump’s picks to date and a description of their relationship to religion.

Humanists Seek Ban on Evangelical Gift Boxes in Schools

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Humanists went to federal court in Denver to prevent Colorado schoolchildren from being asked to put together Christmas gift boxes sponsored by an evangelical charity.

The hearing on Nov. 16 was the result of a suit filed by the American Humanist Association, a national organization of humanists, atheists, and freethinkers. They are representing three humanist families who say the constitution’s guarantee of the separation of church and state is violated when their suburban Denver school district asks their children to assemble Christmas gift boxes that include the “opportunity . . . to faithfully follow Jesus Christ.”

The Down-Ballot Issues People of Faith Are Watching

Fast-food workers and their supporters march along Eighth Avenue in New York City, calling for an increase in the minimum wage, on Sept. 4, 2014. Image via RNS/a katz/Shutterstock.

The nation’s attention may be on the presidential election, but there are a number of down-ballot issues of interest to religious and nonreligious voters. Here’s a sampling of what’s being considered and how people of faith are weighing them.

What Is 'Reformation Day'?

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Some Protestant churches mark the day as Reformation Sunday, and celebrate it on the Sunday just before, or just after, Oct. 31. More often than not, the hymns sung in church that day include “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” with words and music composed by Luther himself. But most members of Lutheran churches — the direct descendants of Luther’s movement — wait until Oct. 31. And that, as we know, is also Halloween, and has led to some creative celebrations for kids.

'The Horror of All These Well-Intentioned People'

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Now, Donoghue, 47, has written The Wonder, a story based on “fasting girls” — a crop of pre-adolescent Victorians, some of them religiously motivated, who seemed to survive for months or years on no food and little water. Some were revealed as frauds, some gave up their fast, while others wasted away while family, friends, doctors, and clergy watched.

Clinton or Trump? The Choice Is Unclear for Some Atheists

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For some, the choice is not clear. Clinton-Kaine may be the more personally religious ticket, but Trump-Pence is more cozy with the religious right, aka the evil empire among atheists. Then there’s Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who has no chance of victory, but is the only candidate who reached out to nonbelievers and asked for their vote.

So what’s an atheist to do?

1-in-5 Americans Raised in Religiously Mixed Home

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The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, also found that, of those raised this way, most had one Protestant, or Catholic parent, and one religiously unaffiliated — sometimes called a “none” — parent.

“To be sure, religiously mixed backgrounds remain the exception in America,” the report on the poll states. “But the number of Americans raised in interfaith homes appears to be growing.”

The Religious Wanderings of Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate

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Scholars of Dylan — and they are legion, with many offering entire courses on the singer’s record catalog — have long highlighted the religious imagery of his work. From Old Testament references in “All Along the Watchtower” (1967) and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (1976) to the New Testament basis of “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1979) and the spiritual yearning of “Thunder on the Mountain” (2006), Dylan’s lyrics and music have long reflected his own restless, seeking soul.

Billy Graham's Ministry Tax Status Changes, Will 'Safeguard Religious Liberty'

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The Internal Revenue Service has reclassified one of the most famous Christian organizations, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

At the request of the Graham organization, the IRS changed its tax status from a nonprofit to an “association of churches,” The NonProfit Times reported on Sept. 26. The change was made last November.

The change means the 66-year-old Christian organization no longer has to file what the IRS calls Form 990, a public statement of its financial information, including salaries for top officials. It will continue to publish an annual financial report, available to the public on its website.

Religion Reading List: Pumpkin Spice Edition

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Summer’s gone, and with it the breezier reading of the beach and the hammock. In its place comes a more serious reading list — more literary, less lightweight. Here are seven books where religion plays a role — though not a proselytizing or a self-help one — to read between the falling leaves.

 

Why Do Most People Leave Religion? They Just...Stop Believing

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“I think there are a lot of nones who miss singing in the choir, who would love to go into a building and hear a moving speech, but the minute someone starts talking about the Bible they check out. It no longer feels applicable to them. That’s a big challenge to the church.”

Americans Still Distrust Atheists and Muslims. The Reasons Why Are Changing.

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About 40 percent of Americans say atheists “do not at all agree” with their vision of America, according to a new study from sociologists at the University of Minnesota who compared Americans’ perceptions of minority faith and racial groups.

But the study marks a grimmer milestone — Americans’ disapproval of Muslims has jumped to 45.5 percent from just over 26 percent 10 years ago, the last time the question was asked.

And “nones” — those who say they have no religious affiliation, but may also have spiritual or religious beliefs — are also unpopular. This is significant because nones now make up one-third of the U.S. population.

God and the Games

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The 2018 Winter Olympic Games, the 17-day athletic love-fest kicking off to the beat of the Korean janggu drum in Pyeongchang on Feb. 9, are a secular endeavor featuring more fanfare than faith, more spectacle than spirit.

But it was not always so.

Simone Biles Brings Prayer to Rio

Gymnast Simone Biles

Gymnast Simone Biles laughs as she poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in Beverly Hills, Calif., on March 7, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

On the seventh day, Simone Biles rests.

That’s the day the world gymnastics champion, who has a clear shot at the medal podium in Rio, goes to church with her family.

Biles, a first-time Olympian, is a Catholic. She has said she routinely lights a candle to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes and of Rio, before each meet.

How Well Does the DNC Platform Appeal to People of Faith?

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The 2016 Democratic National Convention party platform includes much that religious progressives from multiple faith backgrounds might like. Approved July 25, it calls for expanding LGBT rights, combating climate change, and narrowing the income gap. Here are some of the hot-button social proposals.

5 Faith Facts About Tim Kaine: ‘I Do What I Do for Spiritual Reasons’

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) wave to the crowd during a campaign rally at Ernst Community Cultural Center in Annandale, Va., on July 14, 2016. Courtesy of REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton announced Tim Kaine, the junior Democratic senator from Virginia and former governor of that state, as her vice presidential running mate Friday.

Kaine, a Roman Catholic, will appear with Clinton, a Methodist, at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

5 Faith Facts on Mike Pence, a ‘Born-Again, Evangelical Catholic’

Pence's unusual faith mix has shaped him as a politician.