Adelle M. Banks reports that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has released its annual report on religious liberty violations, citing 28 nations including Iran. Nury Turkel, the chair of the USCIRF, said, “While religious freedom conditions in Iran were extremely poor even before protests began in September 2022, they have deteriorated considerably due to the government’s severe brutality against Iranians peacefully asserting their religious freedom.” The independent commission also urged the State Department to take stronger action against religious freedom violators and asked the government to extend legal protections to refugees fleeing religious persecution.
Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reports, “Pope Francis has decided to give women the right to vote at an upcoming meeting of bishops.” Five nuns as well as roughly 35 lay women will be allowed to vote at the church’s October meeting of the Synod of Bishops. The change reflects Pope Francis’ goal of making the church more reflective of the laity. Kate McElwee of the Women’s Ordination Conference said, “This is a significant crack in the stained glass ceiling.”
Sam Roberts of The New York Times reports, “Rabbi Harold Kushner, a practical public theologian whose best-selling books assured readers that bad things happen to good people because God is endowed with unlimited love and justice but exercises only finite power to prevent evil, died on Thursday in Canton, Mass. He was 88.” Kushner appealed to members of many denominations and faith traditions through quotable and pithy teachings in his many writings. He wrote in his book entitled “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough,” “We are not afraid of dying so much as of not having lived.”
The Associated Press reports that a California jury awarded a woman $2.3 billion in a sexual abuse lawsuit against her stepfather, mother, and local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The church settled its portion of the lawsuit for $1 million in December but did not admit any wrongdoing. AP writes about the lawsuit, “It alleged that the woman repeatedly told church officials, including local bishops, about the sexual abuse but that they failed to report it to law enforcement in violation of church policy and also used ‘intimidation and shaming tactics’ to keep her from telling anyone outside the church.”
Adelle M. Banks of Religion News Service reports, “It’s been more than half a century since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ on scraps of paper, but faith leaders say his response to white clergy critics endures as a ‘road map’ for those working on justice and equal rights.” Faith communities around the country have held events and created artistic displays to commemorate the anniversary and highlight the letter’s relevance to current social movements for racial justice. The Rev. Melech E.M. Thomas, a millennial AME pastor, said, “The mission didn’t stop with the man. We have an obligation to continue what he called us to do and I hope that myself and my generation, as we are coming into leadership, will continue to do the same.”
Peter Smith and Mark Scolforo of the Associated Press report that jury selection has begun in the trial of Robert G. Bowers, the man accused of murdering 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. Federal prosecutors informed the potential jurors that the government is pursuing the death penalty. Smith and Scolforo write, “Most said they would be able to consider a sentence of death or life in prison, though a couple of candidates in the afternoon said they were mostly or entirely opposed to the death penalty.”
Jack Jenkins of Religion News Service reports, “Texas’ Republican-dominated legislature is working its way through a slate of bills aimed at increasing religion’s presence in the state’s public schools, drawing criticism from Democrats, clergy and activists who say the proposals violate the separation of church and state and are emblematic of Christian nationalism.” The bills range from a requirement to display the Ten Commandments in every classroom to funding for public schools to hire chaplains. State Senator Mayes Middleton, who is listed as the co-author of every bill in the slate, said in a statement, “Our founders certainly never intended separation of God from government or schools, despite the lefts’ attempts to mislead people on this fact.”
Abbie VanSickle of The New York Times reports, “The Supreme Court said Friday evening that the abortion pill mifepristone would remain widely available for now, delaying the potential for an abrupt end to a drug that is used in more than half of abortions in the United States.” The Court’s decision blocked a district court judge’s ruling that the pill was wrongfully approved by the FDA, while the appeals process plays out. Justices Thomas and Alito were the only justices to publicly dissent from the order.
Emily Belz of Christianity Today reports, “The city of Chicago has settled with four Wheaton College students who were prohibited from evangelizing in the city’s Millennium Park in 2018. The case pushed the city to change park regulations to allow evangelizing and other public speech.” Under the new rules, evangelists will be allowed to proselytize near the Bean, a common tourist attraction in the park, but still cannot distribute literature there. Caeden Hood, one of the plaintiffs, said, “I’m thankful that the gospel is going to be preached in Millennium Park again.”
Yasmeen Serhan of TIME reports that Dearborn, Michigan is the first U.S. city to make the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Fitr a paid holiday for municipal employees. Dearborn is the Arab capital of North America and is currently led by its first Muslim mayor, Abdullah Hammoud. He said, “I think it’s time we modeled that, in the city of Dearborn where we are trying to hire an inclusive and diverse workforce, we should be recognizing their holidays and their faith traditions as well.”