NPR’s Tom Gjelten writes, “With the number of Americans who do not attend church or identify with any organized religion increasing, immigrants are accounting for a larger share of the Christian population.” One-fourth of all U.S. Catholics and 40 percent of Eastern Orthodox Christians are immigrants. “The increased dependence on immigrants to fill U.S. church pews means that Christian leaders have a big stake in the current debate over immigration policy,” Gjelten writes. “While many cite the biblical instruction to welcome the stranger, some have a more existential concern for supporting a generous approach: Without immigrants, they fear the U.S. Christian church may not survive in its current form.”
National Catholic Reporter reports that Bishop Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend has spoken out against the University of Notre Dame’s health insurance plans, which provide funding for contraceptives. The university was originally going to end previously mandated contraceptive coverage, due to new religious exemptions by the Trump administration, but the university has since reversed course. Rhoades, whose diocese includes Notre Dame, said in his statement: “Not providing funding for contraception would not be popular with some, but it would truly be a prophetic witness to the truth about human sexuality and its meaning and purpose.”
Buzzfeed’s Dominic Holden reports, “The Education Department has told BuzzFeed News it won’t investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity, charting new ground in the Trump administration’s year-long broadside against LGBT rights.” The Trump administration withdrew from the Obama administration’s guidance on transgender bathroom access in February 2017, but has since been ambiguous on its official stance. When asked about Title IX, Education Department spokesperson Liz Hill responded that Title IX only prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity. Holden writes, “She added that certain types of transgender complaints may be investigated — but not bathroom complaints.”
The New York Times’s Sharron Otterman writes that for this first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent—coincides with Valentine’s Day. The date presents a conundrum for many Christians, since Lent is a time of fasting, as opposed to the indulgence of celebrating Valentine’s Day. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, though, “sees no harm in marking both days at once.” He tells Otterman, “Take your heartthrob to a small-plates place, because fasting in the Catholic Church doesn’t mean that you go without, or with just water,” he said.
For The Guardian, Andrew Rice reports on Mohammad Ali Chaudry’s challenging quest to build a mosque in his community of Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Although nominally a dispute over property use, the conflict has exposed the deep-seeded Islamophobia in the town. Rice writes, “By the perverse logic of the mosque opponents, it was the Islamic Society that had brought discrimination upon itself, by suing over discrimination. There was only one thing the Muslims could do to prove themselves worthy neighbours: go somewhere else.“
The Atlantic’s Emma Green writes, “Rules on government money going to religious organizations are loosening, a shift that has consequences well beyond disaster aid and emergency management.” In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the congressional budget bill passed last week contained a provision for FEMA that says religious nonprofits cannot be excluded from disaster aid because of their religious nature. Green writes, “Those who favor stricter rules separating church and state have worried that this will open the way to government money supporting explicitly religious functions.”
NPR’s Charyl Platzman Weinstock reports that more houses of worship are providing mental health services. Suicide has historically been associated with shame and sin, making it difficult for religious leaders to be involved with suicide prevention. “In 2012, roughly 23 percent of the nation’s houses of worship provided mental health programming,” Weinstock writes. “That percentage is up significantly from 2006, when only 8 percent of congregations reported sponsoring mental health programming.”
The Associated Press’s Claire Galofaro reports that the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are the first to have offices around the Olympic venues to help sexual assault victims. In the aftermath of the Nassar abuse scandal, the International Olympic Committee has increased resources and awareness for its “safeguarding” program, in which abuse victims can report and be referred to medical services or law enforcement. At the games, a Catholic nun runs the “Gender Equality Support Centre” in a small trailer under a ski lift. Galofaro writes, “Sungsook Kim—who goes by her religious name, Sister Droste—speaks little English. But to describe her mission, she says the name of the American movement: ‘me too.’ ”
The Washington Post‘s Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes, “President Trump delivered a God-and-country infused speech Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast, appealing to Americans who believe in Christian nationalism — the belief that God has a uniquely Christian purpose for the United States.” She reports that his speech was more scripted than last year, and that he avoided making any policy promises at the annual event, which draws thousands of people. Every president since Eisenhower has attended.
The Intercept‘s Ryan Grim and Alleen Brown report on the domestic violence allegations that led to the resignation of top White House aide, Rob Porter. The Daily Mail first broke the story. During the security clearance process, both of Porter’s ex-wives reportedly told the FBI that he abused them. Grim and Brown report that Porter met his ex-wives through the LDS Church, and both women said they consulted Mormon bishops about trouble in their respective marriages. One eventually went to see a secular counselor. “‘When I explained to him what was happening, he had a very different reaction from the Mormon bishops,’ she said. ‘It was weirdly validating to hear that from somebody else … He was very concerned to hear Rob was choking me.'”