Christianity Today’s Kate Shellnutt reports that this week “the U.S. Supreme Court heard a trio of lawsuits on pension plans at Christian hospital systems. So far, the panel of justices seems torn over whether religiously affiliated employers fall under federal requirements for pension benefits.” Churches are exempt from the U.S. Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which establishes standards for pension plans, but the lawsuit argues that this exemption should not apply to institutions that are affiliated with churches, such as hospitals and schools. The Supreme Court has said that it will issue its decision in June.
For The New York Times Magazine, Thomas Chatterton Williams profiles Maajid Nawaz, the controversial British founder of the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation, which is opening its first chapter in the United States. Williams writes, “A former Islamist, for the past nine years Nawaz has made a name for himself as an indefatigable anti-extremist activist.” Critics allege that Nawaz is too radical, and they doubt some of the claims he makes. The Southern Poverty Law Center included him in their “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.”
The New York Times’s Tim Arango reports from Mosul, Iraq, where dozens of civilians were killed on March 17. The U.S. government is trying to determine if American airstrikes aimed at Islamic State fighters are to blame for the death toll. Arango writes, “The fighting against the Islamic State here has grown more urgent, with Iraqi officers saying the American-led coalition has been quicker to strike urban targets from the air with less time to weigh the risks for civilians.” Though American military officials disagree, Iraqi officers say that the shocking number of civilian casualties reflect the Trump administration’s push to “speed up the battle for Mosul.”
The Daily Beast’s Katie Zavadski reports on the creation of the Saheeh International translation of the Qur’an. The translation, written by three American women who converted to Islam in the late 1980s, is popular among conservative Muslims and more recently has been used in ISIS propaganda. Zavadski writes, “It’s somewhat surprising to see that an organization that so limits the roles of women would then turn to a woman-made translation for its theological underpinnings. But then, part of what’s remarkable about Saheeh International is how very unremarkable the translation is—their effort was to make orthodox sources accessible rather than to innovate.”
The Atlantic’s Emma Green reports that religious organizations cannot adequately replace the social welfare programs that the Trump administration has proposed to cut, which include after-school programs at schools and grants to college students. Of faith-based organizations, Mary Jo Bane, a professor at Harvard University, says, “The scale of what they do is trivial compared to what the government does.” Green writes, if the proposed overhaul of the welfare system is passed, “It would shift not just government, but the way organizations that partner with it—including a lot of religious groups—provide services to the poor and vulnerable.”
For The New Republic, Sarah Posner investigates how Donald Trump gained the support of the religious right, despite minimal knowledge of the Bible and a lack of personal connection to religion. “By openly embracing the racism of the alt-right, Trump effectively played to the religious right’s own roots in white supremacy,” Posner writes. She adds, “The alt-right supplied Trump with his agenda; the Christian right supplied him with his votes.”
The Guardian’s Arwa Mahdawi reports that an American Muslim student created a 712-page document that lists instances of Muslims condemning terrorist attacks. Heraa Hashmi created the document to combat the claim that Muslims do not denounce terror. Hashmi points out, “I don’t view the KKK or the Westboro Baptist church or the Lord’s Resistance Army as accurate representations of Christianity. I know that they’re on the fringe. So it gets very frustrating having to defend myself and having to apologise on behalf of some crazy people.”
The New York Times’s Katrin Bennhold and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura report that Birmingham, England, has been home to a disproportionate number of Islamist militants, including Khalid Masood, who killed four people last week in an attack in London. Bennhold and Freytas-Tamura write, “Members of Birmingham’s Muslim communities acknowledged the linkage between their city and Islamist extremism, which many attribute to poverty and drug abuse that make youths vulnerable to jihadist recruiters who operate like gangs.” But many Muslims also resent the reputation of their city as “Terror Central,” and worry that it contributes to anti-Islam bigotry.
Reuters’s Scott Malone writes that the religious left is emerging as a political force in the wake of President Trump’s exclusionary policies on immigration, healthcare, and social welfare. Malone writes, “Although support for the religious left is difficult to measure, leaders point to several examples, such as a surge of congregations offering to provide sanctuary to immigrants seeking asylum, churches urging Republicans to reconsider repealing the Obamacare health law and calls to preserve federal spending on foreign aid.” Although many are skeptical that the religious left can match the political influence of the religious right, Malone writes, “Financial support is also picking up. Donations to the Christian activist group Sojourners have picked up by 30 percent since Trump’s election, the group said.”
The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer reports that Tennessee’s religious communities are helping people combat opiate addiction through faith-based recovery programs. Two years ago, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services began a faith-based recovery program, which includes Christian halfway homes and church-sponsored 12-step programs. Today, 180 congregations are involved in the program. Monty Burks, the director of the health department’s faith-based initiatives and projects, said, “The key component in recovery is faith. So why not try to educate them and let them harness that number and that power and that belief and helping people in recovery.”