This disgraced Megachurch evangelical believes his transgressions should be private — so he's suing

Over the years, countless evangelical Religious Right fundamentalists — from Jimmy Swaggart to Jerry Falwell Jr. to Jim Bakker — have been caught up in major sex scandals.

Another is Johnny Hunt, who headed the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) before taking a leave of absence in 2010.

Religion News' Bob Smietana, in an article published on September 18, explains, "On July 25, 2010, while vacationing in Florida, Hunt had kissed and fondled another pastor's wife in what his attorneys would later call a 'brief, consensual extramarital encounter.' Then, Hunt spent more than a decade covering the incident up."

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Smietana notes that Hunt has filed a civil lawsuit against the SBC's Executive Committee and Guidepost and argues that they should not have publicly discussed his behavior — and that his privacy was invaded.

But George Freeman, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, believes that Hunt's privacy claims in the lawsuit are flawed.

Freeman told Religion News Service, "That's life. That's not a lawsuit."

According to Smietana, "The former SBC president's defamation claim could have some merit if the allegations against him are proven false. But even then, Freeman said, Hunt, a prominent evangelical leader and speaker, would likely qualify as a public figure — making the defamation claim harder."

READ MORE:'Militant — even militaristic': Why Trump appeals to white evangelicals’ view of 'masculinity'

Religion News' full report is available at this link.

Here's why the Mormon Church distanced itself from anti-trafficking activist Tim Ballard

In July, Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) founder Tim Ballard left his position as the anti-sex trafficking group's CEO following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Now, according to Religion New Service reporter Jana Riess, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or Mormon Church) is now distancing himself from Ballard.

During a weekend visit to Boston, Ballard denied that the LDS is doing that — telling supporters, "I don't believe the Church did this. I really don't."

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Riess, however, reports that "as the story unfolded, we got a glimpse of why the Church may have wanted to distance itself from Ballard."

"According to reports in," Riess explains, "Ballard has been accused of sexual misconduct with at least seven different women."

Anna Merlen and Tim Marchman of Vice reported, "Sources familiar with the situation said that the self-styled anti-slavery activist, who appears to be preparing for a Senate run, invited women to act as his 'wife' on undercover overseas missions ostensibly aimed at rescuing victims of sex trafficking. He would then allegedly coerce those women into sharing a bed or showering together, claiming that it was necessary to fool traffickers."

READ MORE:Utah Republicans fight to 'out-MAGA each other' in battle for Romney’s Senate seat

Read Religion News Service's full report at this link and Vice's article here.

Trump to ditch Iowa evangelical gathering after GOP gov said 'voters expect him' to attend events

GOP presidential hopefuls, minus ex-President Donald Trump, are expected to attend an evangelical gathering in Iowa Saturday night, The Associated Press (AP) reports.

This comes after the former president attended last's month's Iowa State Fair, but opted out of the which drew droves of the small chats and soapbox opportunities, which drew criticism from Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.

According to CNN, Reynolds told reporters that Iowa voters "'expect him to be here' if he plans to win, because 'they want to interact' with the candidates."

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Although Trump will miss Saturday's event, AP reports:

Former Vice President Mike Pence planned to attend the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual banquet and town hall in Des Moines along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Also on the schedule of speakers were Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, as well as Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former Texas Rep. Will Hurd.

During a separate right-wing Christian evangelical event Friday, September 15 in Washington, D.C., Trump bragged that "No president has ever fought for Christians as hard as I have and I will keep fighting for Christians as hard as I can for four more years in the White House. Every promise I made to Christians as a candidate, I delivered."

Spectrum News 13 reports a recent poll "in Iowa shows candidates other than Trump have room to grow," as "Close to half of potential Republican caucus voters backing Trump say they're open to other candidates, while only about 3 in 10 of those who don't choose Trump say they would consider supporting him."

READ MORE: If Trump wants to win, Iowa voters 'expect him to be here': Gov. Kim Reynolds

The Associated Press' full report is available at this link.

'Who is your God?' Trump, DeSantis, other GOP candidates battle it out on Christian Right conference stage

Republican presidential candidates including ex-President Donald Trump made appearances at the Washington, DC-based Pray Vote Stand Summit Friday night in efforts to win over the right-wing Christian evangelical base, The Daily Beast reports.

"Throughout the event at the Omni Shoreham hotel," the Beast notes, "attendees worshiped God with song and prayer and heard speakers drive home the urgency to elect Biblically-minded candidates and protect children from 'indoctrination' in public schools. More than a few times evangelical activists warned of 'Marxist,' 'radical left' and 'transgender' ideologies."

Ex-Vice President Mike Pence told the audience, "The facts speak for themselves. Today more young people are delaying having a family altogether. The share of never-married adults has tripled since 1980. People are getting married later, having children later in life; declining U.S. birth rates" — all the "hallmarks of decline."

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Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who gained more popularity among Republican voters following the first GOP debate last month said during his speech, "It's like playing a game of Whac-a-Mole. You get the wokeism down you here. You got the transgenderism over there. Got that down; COVID-ism over here. Got that down; climatism's up again; globalism."

The Beast notes, "Perhaps inspired by questions the scripture-quoting candidate is facing about his Hindu faith, one heckler yelled, 'Who is your God?'"

According to the report, Trump made a point during his speech to criticize 2024 GOP hopeful and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis saying, "He's fallen like a very badly injured bird from the sky."

Also on Friday night, Florida Republicans agreed to nix the GOP loyalty pledge — which would have required the state party to back the 2024 GOP nominee no matter what — in an effort to collectively support Trump over the governor.

“I don't know how you could be a leader without having faith in God," DeSantis said. "When you stand up for what's right in this day and age, that is not going to be cost-free. You are going to face blowback, you're going to face attacks, you're going to face smears. And it’s the faith in God that gives you the strength to stand firm against the lies, against the deceit, against the opposition."

READ MORE: 'Tallahassee isn’t Washington, D.C': Miami newspaper identifies 'cracks' in DeSantis’ 'Florida Blueprint'

The Christian Post notes the governor "repeatedly discussed his record as Florida governor in his remarks and concluded his speech by describing his state as 'the place where woke goes to die,'" emphasizing, "As president, we are going to leave the woke mind virus in the dustbin of history, where it belongs, once and for all."

Recently, Florida's largest newspaper, The Miami Herald's editorial board slammed the GOP leader by offering a few examples of DeSantis' "sledgehammer approach to governing," highlighting the ways he "seems more concerned with headlines than prudent governing."

The Daily Beast's full report is available at this link (subscription required). The Christian Post's report is here.

Florida’s new 'Christian' standardized test is how conservatives 'shove religion in public schools': analysis

Florida governor and 2024 Republican presidential primary contender Ron DeSantis is causing "harm" to "public education as we know it in part by letting Christian Nationalists run the show," reports the Friendly Atheist's Hemant Mehta.

"Florida's public university system announced that it would accept results from the Classic Learning Test (CLT) for students applying to places like the University of Florida or Florida State University. Incoming freshmen can submit their CLT scores instead of the more traditional SAT or ACT tests," Mehta explains.

He writes, "The problem with the CLT is that there's very little evidence that it's a good indicator of college preparedness. The test, which launched in 2015, has only been taken by about 21,000 students total. By comparison, 1.7 million students took the SAT and 1.3 million took the ACT in 2022 alone. Both of those latter tests are constantly revised and updated. There's no similar track record for the CLT. Furthermore, 85% of the students who've taken the CLT are white and 99% of test-takers attend private schools and charter schools or are home-schooled. The 'C' may as well stand for 'Christian.'"

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Mehta explains that "conservatives" are "eager to push the CLT as a valid alternative to the ACT and SAT despite that lack of information" because "the Republican base loves it."

Mehta adds, "The CLT is the test of choice for several conservative Christian colleges (like Michigan's Hillsdale College) while the SAT has become a bogeyman for conservatives because it's run by the College Board, which they see as too liberal. (The College Board oversees AP testing.) The CLT's Board of Academic Advisors reads like a laundry list of faith-based school leaders, conservative activists (e.g. Christopher Rufo), and (hey why not) Cornel West."

Although "the CLT looks very familiar, with sections devoted to math, writing, and verbal reasoning," Mehta notes that "the topics are much more narrow—and much more religious. It highlights the 'centrality of the Western tradition' at the expense of all other ones, which means there's a preference for works that are white, Western European, and Judeo-Christian. If you think Dead White Guys represent the pinnacle of education and modern writers who cover a wider range of topics can be ignored, this is the test for you."

Moreover, while "the questions aren't exactly tough to figure out," Mehta stresses that the CLT is "a way to shove religion in public schools without explicitly endorsing a specific brand of Christian beliefs. It's not that the CLT directly promotes religion, but it indirectly sends the message that understanding religious writing can be beneficial. For now, it also limits the options of where high school students who take the exam can go to college since most schools—the ones with a good reputation—don't take the CLT seriously."

READ MORE: 'Steal this deal for God': Nebraska pastor reneges after asking worshipers to give $3M for land purchase

Mehta's post is available at this link.

Why religious believers are so desperate for the atheist seal of approval

If you hang around the online atheist world long enough, you'll notice an interesting pattern. Many religious and spiritual believers who engage with atheists seem very intent on getting atheists' approval for their beliefs.

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Old time religion: Christian pushback against Megachurch music grows

During the 1980s, far-right Christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart and Liberty University's Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. were vehemently critical of Christian rock. As they saw it, rock music in general was Satanic, and Christian lyrics were incompatible with rock or pop-rock beats and melodies.

In recent years, however, many fundamentalist evangelical megachurches have favored modern Christian pop over traditional gospel and hymns. But according to Religion News Service, the Sing! Global Conference, held September 4-6, promoted hymns as an alternative to megachurch music.

"For more than a decade," Religion News reporter Grace Beckner explains, "American worship services have started to leave traditional hymns behind. Instead of historic chestnuts such as 'Be Thou My Vision,' whose words date to the 6th Century with music from the early 1900s, or 'Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,' adapted in the mid-1700s by the Methodist Charles Wesley from a popular opera number of the time, the most popular church music now originates in bands associated with megachurches such as the Bethel Church network in California, Elevation Church in North Carolina, Atlanta's Passion City Church ("How Great Is Our God") and the global megachurch Hillsong ("Oceans").

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Beckner adds, "One recent study found that of the 38 most played songs, 22 were released by one of the four most prominent megachurches. An additional eight songs were released by artists with ties to those churches, and six more were collaborations with megachurch artists or cover songs."

Cliff Johnson, who attended Sing!, is glad to see classic hymns being honored.

Johnson told Religion News, "I think what sets these types of hymns apart from some of the current trends is that there are very specific, concrete things being said. It is not vague, it is not general."

READ MORE:Idaho Trump-loving megachurch pastor opposes a woman’s right to vote

Read Religion News Service's full report at this link.

'Steal this deal for God': Nebraska pastor reneges after asking worshipers to give $3M for land purchase

A Nebraska pastor earlier this month asked his congregation to help raise $3 million for "over 100 acres" of "already developed" land in order to expand his ministry, Friendly Atheist reports.

Karl Hunneman told members of the Omaha-based Lord of Hosts Church, according to the report, that "another buyer was already offering the $3 million asking price—albeit with the help of a loan—and they were ready to sign the paperwork already," so "he wanted to walk into the real estate agent's office as soon as possible with $3 million in cash" in order to snag the property.

He contended, "I'm going to tell you this: This is the part that upsets me. And I want you to hear me because I feel the vengeance of God. When I found out who the company that wants to buy this land? It would go against everything that we are standing here for. And I said to the Devil, 'You sure picked a nasty one.' He did! And I said, 'How dare you? I am going to cut your head off and I am going to steal this deal for God.'

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Friendly Atheist reports the church members "didn't raise all $3 million," but "God and Hank's buddies spoke to him over the course of the week, he said, and told him he didn’t need to buy that land after all, so Hank’s just going to hold onto the money until something better comes along."

However, Hunneman made it clear that in the meantime, "if you all want to send him even more cash, he'll gladly take it. For Jesus."

READ MORE: Pro-Trump pastor arrested for confronting Georgia election workers 'surprised' he was indicted: report

The Friendly Atheist's full report is available at this link.

Right-wing pastor doubles down on belief that autism is 'demonic': report

Last Wednesday, Pastor Rick Morrow of Beulah Church in Richland, Missouri ignited fury when he asserted in a sermon that autism was the result of demonic forces corrupting children's minds.

"I know a minister who has seen lots of kids that are autistic, that he cast that demon out, and they were healed, and then he had to pray and their brain was rewired and they were fixed," Morrow said. "Yeah, I just went there. I mean, you can get online and see lots of examples of it. If it's not demonic, then we have to say God made them that way. Like, that's the only other explanation."

Morrow continued, 'Why [does] my kid have autism?' Well, either the devil's attacked them, he's brought this infirmity upon them, he's got them where he wants them, and/or God just doesn't like 'em very much and he made 'em that way. Well, my God doesn't make junk. God doesn't make mess-ups. God doesn't make people that way."

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According to Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist, who helped Morrow's remarks receive public attention, "infuriated people in the community, some of whom have children with autism and have no trouble reconciling it with their faith." Mehta pointed out that the "sentiment was shared by many people who commented under the church's video on Facebook, with responses ranging from 'This whole congregation needs to run away' to 'I'm embarrassed this is in our community.'"

Mehta noted at the time that "one Missouri mother was so upset about his sermon that she reached out to Morrow personally to tell him how her son, who has autism, is a blessing. She explained that he doesn’t have an 'illness.' Rather, he's a 'brilliant child' who simply communicates differently. She also asked Morrow if he felt the same way about children with Down syndrome. He said that, too, was Satan's fault."

Mehta stressed that "Morrow isn't merely some random ignorant pastor. He's also a school board member for the Stoutland R-II School District. This guy oversees education for public school students, at least some of whom we have to assume are on the autism spectrum. That would mean he believes the devil has attacked all of them and the only way to handle those students is with prayer instead of therapy or academic intervention."

On Sunday, September 10th, Mehta updated that Morrow finally responded to the criticism that his beliefs received. But instead of making amends, Morrow doubled down.

READ.MORE: Authoritarians are the reason we still have 9/11 conspiracy theories

"I made a statement Wednesday night talking about demons, and we're going to keep talking about them on Wednesday night. And I made a statement. I said, 'Let's talk about something demonic.' And I said, 'autism.' And then I said, 'God doesn't make junk,'" Morrow recalled. "Those of you that know me know that I love people and I would never say that people are junk. It has been perceived that I'm evil, that I am full of the devil, that I am possessed myself because I said kids with autism are junk. That's what has been perceived. What was intended was autism is junk. People that have it are loved by God and loved by me."

Mehta rejected Morrow's defense.

"Let me remind everyone that Morrow claimed kids with autism could be 'healed' with prayer," Mehta wrote. "That's a lie. He said that the only alternative to believing autism is caused by demons is saying, of children, 'God just doesn't like 'em very much and he made 'em that way.'"

Mehta added, "Oh. And he’s still on the local public school board."

READ MORE: Employees who refused to pray during company's Christian services score $50,000 discrimination settlement

View Mehta's editorial at this link.

How 'MAGA cultists' and 'white evangelical cruelty' are making young American Christians avoid church

In polls conducted in 2015 and 2022, the Barna Group asked respondents how much they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "It is becoming harder to find mature young Christians who want to become pastors."

In 2015, 69 percent agreed either "strongly" or "somewhat." In 2022, the number had increased to 75 percent.

Blogger Hemant Mehta analyzes these figures in a column published on his Friendly Atheist blog on September 8. And he cites far-right Christian nationalism and the MAGA movement as key reasons why so many young Americans have no desire to become pastors.

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"It doesn't help that the most pressing social issues of our time put conservative Christians on the wrong side of the moral divide — to the point where even younger Christians often disagree with what their churches teach," Mehta argues. "Thirty-eight percent of white evangelicals under 35 support abortion rights compared to 16 percent of those over 65. Younger evangelicals are more likely to support marriage equality. In 2020, younger white evangelicals were less likely than their parents and grandparents to support Donald Trump and Republicans in general."

Mehta continues, "If older pastors are worried about politics dominating their churches, why would younger potential pastors want to run churches made up largely of MAGA cultists? Many of the most devout younger Christians can't even bring themselves to attend churches, much less consider managing them. Why would anyone growing up in a culture where white evangelical cruelty is the GOP's entire platform, and sexual abuse is routinely swept under the rug, and women are treated as second-class citizens, and immigrants are seen as disposable, want the stigma of pastoring a Christian church?"

READ MORE:Americans are leaving the church in droves — and these scholars explain why

Read Hemant Mehta's full blog at this link.

Americans are leaving the church in droves — and these scholars explain why

The Christian nationalist movement is not only hoping to coerce Americans into becoming more religious — it is also hoping they will embrace the severe and extreme form of Christianity favored by far-right evangelicals.

But according to the new Jim Davis/Michael Graham book "The Great Dechurching: Who's Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back?," the opposite is happening. The United States on the whole, David and Graham report, is becoming less churchgoing.

Religion News' Bob Smietana, in an article published on September 7, points out that Davis and Graham offer plenty of data to back up their "dechurching" argument. And they used research conducted by Eastern Illinois University's Ryan Burge and Denison University's Paul Djupe.

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Smietana explains, "The dechurching study eventually yielded profiles of different kinds of dechurched Americans: 'cultural Christians,' who attended church in the past but had little knowledge about the Christian faith; 'mainstream evangelicals,' a group of mostly younger dropouts; 'exvangelicals,' an older group who had often been harmed by churches and other Christian institutions; 'dechurched BIPOC Americans,' who were overwhelmingly Black and male; and 'dechurched Mainline Protestants and Catholics,' who had much in common despite their theological differences."

Smietana notes, however, that according to the book, "many dechurched Americans might return to churches if they found a stable and healthy congregation."

READ MORE:Suspect in killing of storeowner over LGBTQ flag was far-right conspiracist who promoted Christian nationalism

Find Religion News Service's full report at this link.

Christian nationalists’ new anti-divorce campaign risks increasing domestic violence: report

In the past, heated debates about divorce were common among Catholics and Mainline Protestants. Catholics tended to be anti-divorce, while Mainline Protestants (Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians) were all for marriage counseling but were more likely to believe that divorce was a valid option if a marriage was beyond repair.

But in 2023, an anti-divorce movement is growing among far-right white evangelicals. Journalist Katie Herchenroeder examines the Religious Right's campaign against no-fault divorce in an article published by Mother Jones on September 7. And she warns that this campaign risks encouraging domestic violence.

"The push for no-fault divorce began in California in the 1960s ostensibly to alter a system that required public discussion of wronged parties, infidelity, and other private matters for a legal separation," Herchenroeder explains. "Couples fought bitterly in public; some fabricated fights to get divorce papers. No-fault divorce helped simplify the process."

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Critics of no-fault divorce, the journalist notes, have ranged from former Trump Administration official William Wolfe to PragerU/Daily Wire pundit Michael Knowles. And the Texas GOP platform calls for ending no-fault divorce.

But ending no-fault divorce, Herchenroeder warns, would "put even more obstacles in front of" women trying to escape from abusive marriages.

The journalist explains, "The most dangerous time for women experiencing abuse is when they attempt to escape, according to research…. Abusers often isolate their victims, cutting off communication with other family members, friends, and support systems. A 2003 working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that total female suicide declined by around 20 percent in states that allowed one partner to solely push for divorce."

Brooke Axtell of The SAFE Alliance, a Texas-based organization that helps victims of domestic violence, told Mother Jones, "Imagine finally leaving a person who's emotionally and physically assaulted you, betrayed you, violated you — and then being forced to combat them in court, sometimes for years, to prove this just so you can be free of them and claim what belongs to you."

READ MORE:Suspect in killing of storeowner over LGBTQ flag was far-right conspiracist who promoted Christian nationalism

Find Mother Jones' full report at this link.

Satanic Planet to perform at Indiana Statehouse following religious freedom spat

A band with ties to The Satanic Temple (TST) will perform at Indiana’s Statehouse this month, averting a legal challenge.

Satanic Planet first asked about performing in May, within days of a conservative Christian activist’s prayer rally at the site. After months of back-and-forth — including a legal threat — administrators signed off on the band’s use agreement on Wednesday.

Now, the band — fronted by TST co-founder Lucien Greaves — will perform for an hour at noon on September 28, at the Statehouse’s north atrium, according to the Indiana Department of Administration. The event is free.

“We are beyond thrilled to exercise our fundamental First Amendment rights with such an impactful display of religious pluralism and liberty,” TST Indiana Chapter Congregation Head Riley Phoebus said in a statement to the Capital Chronicle.

The organization, recognized as a church by the federal court and tax systems, advocates for the separation of church and state.

Event modeled after Christian activist’s rally

Satanic Temple-affiliated band cites ‘religious liberty’ in seeking Indiana Statehouse performance

The show is part of TST’s “Let us burn” tour, and it comes after Sean Feucht’s multi-year “Let us worship” tour touched down in Indiana’s capitol building.

Feucht, a preacher-influencer who prayed over former President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in 2019, began his ongoing tour as a protest of pandemic-era restrictions on in-person religious services.

His May 7 stop in Indiana was meant to be outside, but when faced with inclement weather, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch helped get the event inside, according to a Crouch spokesperson.

In video footage of the event, Feucht prayed over Crouch, telling a crowd she’d be “filled with favor” for her efforts.

TST leaders were paying attention — and wanted inside the Statehouse, too.

“Feucht is openly a theocrat who courts the attention of politicians and seeks to proselytize through his performances,” Greaves said in a June news release announcing the band’s performance request. “He has his opinions, and we have ours, but one thing the government can not do is preference his viewpoint over ours by giving him exclusive access to perform a concert on the Capitol grounds.”

“Satan has never had creative ability,” Feucht posted in response. “He only tries to pervert what has already been created.”

Group pushes for permission

By May 11, TST Indiana’s Phoebus had made an initial voicemail inquiry about a Satanic Planet performance to the Indiana Department of Administration’s (IDOA) director of Statehouse events, according to emails obtained by the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

That’s Tracy Jones — who denied the request May 16. After an extended back-and-forth, TST had its legal counsel send a demand letter to the agency on July 5.

Phoebus said that’s when IDOA’s own counsel, John Snethen, asked TST to complete a questionnaire “to process our reservation request.” After that was in, Snethen blocked out time for the event.

That month, Satanic Planet announced its new performance date on X, the platform previously known as Twitter.

By August, TST had signed and submitted its Statehouse use policy agreement. Jones signed off as IDOA’s representative on Wednesday, according to Phoebus.

A campaign to finance the tour surpassed its $15,000 goal and closed. Phoebus thanked supporters in a statement to the Capital Chronicle, adding, “We look forward to seeing you in Indianapolis this month.”

On stage at the Statehouse

Satanic Planet’s lunchtime performance includes an hour before and after for equipment setup and removal, IDOA spokeswoman Molly Timperman wrote Wednesday.

IDOA made no restrictions, accommodations or other policy changes for the event.

“The event organizer must abide by the standard terms and conditions of the Statehouse use agreement and comply with all applicable laws and policies, the same as any event organizer that requests to use public space in the Statehouse,” Timperman wrote.

The event is free to attendees — and the space is free to the band.

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“With the exception of weekend leases of the Statehouse for weddings, IDOA does not charge the public to use public spaces and is not charging this event organizer to use a public space,” Timperman wrote.

TST and the band, meanwhile, are getting ready.

“This performance will be different from Satanic Planet’s typical setup to accommodate for the building’s unique sound and to equate Feucht’s performance in terms of instrumentation and noise level,” Phoebus told the Capital Chronicle.

Phoebus said TST has embarked on a social media campaign about the event and spread the word to members across the country.

“We hope to bring the Let Us Burn tour to Capitals all over the nation as a display of religious pluralism and our First Amendment rights,” Phoebus added.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly for questions: Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Christian influencer’s arrest points to Religious Right’s history of 'oppression and cruelty'

Ruby Franke, a Utah-based Mormon known for the YouTube series "8 Passengers," is now facing six charges of felony child abuse. Police in Utah arrested Franke, known for giving parental advice from a religious perspective, after investigating allegations that she would leave her children home alone for extended periods of time.

In a scathing think piece/essay published by Salon on September 8, journalist Amanda Marcotte emphasizes that Franke's arrest should not be viewed as an isolated incident but rather, as one of many examples of alleged abuse coming from the Religious Right.

"Franke was part of a new crop of Christian 'influencers' who have recreated the Duggar family's reality TV success for the social media era," Marcotte observes. "There seems to be an unending number of these content creators. They rake in massive views and advertisers by dishing up a fantasy of blindingly white, well-scrubbed, 'wholesome' family life."

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Marcotte adds, "Franke was a bog standard example: A thin Mormon housewife with 6 kids and expensive-looking blond hair, living in small town Utah. She and her husband, Kevin Franke, kept up a YouTube channel documenting how their strict, religious parenting style supposedly led to an upright and enviable life."

The case against Franke, Marcotte notes, alleges "massive amounts of child abuse." And this type of abuse, she warns, is not uncommon on the Religious Right.

"The viciousness, which often verges on flat-out sadism, goes a long way toward explaining the apparently bottomless yearning for Duggar-style propaganda," Marcotte argues. "It's all about reassuring conservative Christians that all this religious oppression and cruelty is justified. The images of smiling blonde children chasing butterflies in a field under the gaze of beatific blonde parents tell a story they desperately want to hear: That it's OK to beat and starve kids because look at all this family harmony and joy it will eventually produce!"

READ MORE:Employees who refused to pray during company's Christian services score $50,000 discrimination settlement

Amanda Marcotte's full article for Salon is available at this link.

Employees who refused to pray during company's Christian services score $50,000 discrimination settlement

In North Carolina, Aurora Pro Services — a home repair company — has had a policy of requiring employees to participate in Christian prayer services.

Two ex-employees, atheist John McGaha and agnostic Mackenzie Saunders, were fired after declining to participate. And they filed a civil discrimination lawsuit in response.

Religion News Service's Yonat Shimron reports that Aurora has "agreed to pay $50,000 to settle" the lawsuit.

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"Specifically, the company was found to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation in the workplace," according to Shimron. "The $50,000 settlement was announced by the EEOC on August 2. It consists of backpay to cover lost wages and commissions for both the fired employees. McGaha was to receive $37,500 and Saunders $12,500."

Shimron notes that Aurora initially "retaliated against McGaha…. by slashing his wages in half" before firing him in 2020.

"McGaha said he had noticed that the length of the prayer meetings increased from about 20 minutes to 45 minutes or more as time passed," Shimron reports. "Saunders, who worked as a customer service representative in 2020 and 2021, was likewise fired after she stopped attending the mandated prayer meetings, saying they conflicted with her beliefs."

READ MORE:'It's doubtful' evangelicals will abandon Trump after 2020 election indictment: report

Religion News Service's full report can be found at this link.

'How can you be moral?': Here are 9 questions you don't need to ask an atheist

Asked of Hispanic-Americans: “Are you in this country legally?” Asked of gays and lesbians and bisexuals: “How do you have sex?” Asked of transgender people: “Have you had the surgery?” Asked of African Americans: “Can I touch your hair?”

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Meet the 'Nones': A powerful force in US politics — without a coalition

Nearly 30% of Americans say they have no religious affiliation. Today the so-called “nones” represent about 30% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans – and they are making their voices heard. Organizations lobby on behalf of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and other nonreligious people.

As more people leave religious institutions, or never join them in the first place, it’s easy to assume this demographic will command more influence. But as a sociologist who studies politics and religion, I wanted to know whether there was evidence that this religious change could actually make a strong political impact.

There are reasons to be skeptical of unaffiliated Americans’ power at the ballot box. Religious institutions have long been key for mobilizing voters, both on the left and the right. Religiously unaffiliated people tend to be younger, and younger people tend to vote less often. What’s more, exit polls from recent elections show the religiously unaffiliated may be a smaller percentage of voters than of the general population.

Most importantly, it’s hard to put the “unaffiliated” in a box. Only a third of them identify as atheists or agnostics. While there is a smaller core of secular activists, they tend to hold different views from the larger group of people who are religiously unaffiliated, such as being more concerned about the separation of church and state.

By combining all unaffiliated people as “the nones,” researchers and political analysts risk missing key details about this large and diverse constituency.

Crunching the numbers

In order to learn more about which parts of religious unaffiliated populations turn out to vote, I used data from the Cooperative Election Study, or CES, for presidential elections in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. The CES collects large surveys and then matches individual respondents in those surveys to validated voter turnout records.

These surveys were different from exit polls in some key ways. For example, according to these survey samples, overall validated voter turnout looked higher in many groups, not just the unaffiliated, than exit polls suggested. But because each survey sample had over 100,000 respondents and detailed questions about religious affiliation, they allowed me to find some important differences between smaller groups within the unaffiliated.

My findings, published in June 2023 in the journal Sociology of Religion, were that the unaffiliated are divided in their voter turnout: Some unaffiliated groups are more likely to vote than religiously affiliated respondents, and some are less likely.

People who identified as atheists and agnostics were more likely to vote than religiously affiliated respondents, especially in more recent elections. For example, after controlling for key demographic predictors of voting – like age, education and income – I found that atheists and agnostics were each about 30% more likely to have a validated record of voting in the 2020 election than religiously affiliated respondents.

With those same controls, people who identified their religion as simply “nothing in particular,” who are about two-thirds of the unaffiliated, were actually less likely to turn out in all four elections. In the 2020 election sample, for example, I found that around 7 in 10 agnostics and atheists had a validated voter turnout record, versus only about half of the “nothing in particulars.”

Together, these groups’ voting behaviors tend to cancel each other out. Once I controlled for other predictors of voting like age and education, “the nones” as a whole were equally likely to have a turnout record as religiously affiliated respondents.

Five people with their backs to the camera vote at small booths in a room with bunting in the colors of the American flag.

Religious and nonreligious voting patterns may not be so different after all.

Hill Street Studios/DigitalVision via Getty Images

2024 and beyond

Concern about growing Christian nationalism, which advocates for fusing national identity and political power with Christian beliefs, has put a spotlight on religion’s role in right-wing advocacy.

Yet religion does not line up neatly with one party. The political left also boasts a diverse coalition of religious groups, and there are many Republican voters for whom religion is not important.

If the percentage of people without a religious affiliation continues to rise, both Republicans and Democrats will have to think more creatively and intentionally about how to appeal to these voters. My research shows that neither party can take the unaffiliated for granted nor treat them as a single, unified group. Instead, politicians and analysts will need to think more specifically about what motivates people to vote, and particularly what policies encourage voting among young adults.

For example, some activist groups talk about “the secular values voter:” someone who is increasingly motivated to vote by concern about separation of church and state. I did find evidence that the average atheist or agnostic is about 30% more likely to turn out than the average religiously affiliated voter, lending some support to the secular values voter story. At the same time, that description does not fit all the “nones.”

Instead of focusing on America’s declining religious affiliation, it may be more helpful to focus on the country’s increasing religious diversity, especially because many unaffiliated people still report having religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. Faith communities have historically been important sites for political organizing. Today, though, motivating and empowering voters might mean looking across a broader set of community institutions to find them.

Rethinking assumptions

There is good news in these findings for everyone, regardless of their political leanings. Social science theories from the 1990s and 2000s argued that leaving religion was part of a larger trend in declining civic engagement, like voting and volunteering, but that may not be the case.

According to my research, it was actually unaffiliated respondents who reported still attending religious services who were least likely to vote. Their turnout rates were lower than both frequently attending religious affiliates and unaffiliated people who never attended.

This finding matches up with previous research on religion, spirituality and other kinds of civic engagement. Sociologists Jacqui Frost and Penny Edgell, for example, found a similar pattern in volunteering among religiously unaffiliated respondents. In a previous study, sociologist Jaime Kucinskas and I found that spiritual practices like meditation and yoga were just as strongly associated with political behavior as religious practices like church attendance. Across these studies, it looks like disengagement from formal religion is not necessarily linked to political disengagement.

As the religious landscape changes, new potential voters may be ready to engage – if political leadership can enact policies that help them turn out, and inspire them to turn out, too.The Conversation

Evan Stewart, Assistant Professor of Sociology, UMass Boston

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What the Bible actually says about abortion may surprise you

In the days since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had established the constitutional right to an abortion, some Christians have cited the Bible to argue why this decision should either be celebrated or lamented. But here’s the problem: This 2,000-year-old text says nothing about abortion.

As a university professor of biblical studies, I am familiar with faith-based arguments Christians use to back up views of abortion, whether for or against. Many people seem to assume the Bible discusses the topic head-on, which is not the case.

Ancient context

Abortions were known and practiced in biblical times, although the methods differed significantly from modern ones. The second-century Greek physician Soranus, for example, recommended fasting, bloodletting, vigorous jumping and carrying heavy loads as ways to end a pregnancy.

Soranus’ treatise on gynecology acknowledged different schools of thought on the topic. Some medical practitioners forbade the use of any abortive methods. Others permitted them, but not in cases in which they were intended to cover up an adulterous liaison or simply to preserve the mother’s good looks.

In other words, the Bible was written in a world in which abortion was practiced and viewed with nuance. Yet the Hebrew and Greek equivalents of the word “abortion” do not appear in either the Old or New Testament of the Bible. That is, the topic simply is not directly mentioned.

What the Bible says

The absence of an explicit reference to abortion, however, has not stopped its opponents or proponents from looking to the Bible for support of their positions.

Abortion opponents turn to several biblical texts that, taken together, seem to suggest that human life has value before birth. For example, the Bible opens by describing the creation of humans “in the image of God”: a way to explain the value of human life, presumably even before people are born. Likewise, the Bible describes several important figures, including the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah and the Christian Apostle Paul, as having being called to their sacred tasks since their time in the womb. Psalm 139 asserts that God “knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

A painting shows God's hand reaching out to touch Adam, the first human in the Bible's story of creation.

‘The Creation of Adam’ from the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican, painted by Michelangelo.

GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

However, abortion opponents are not the only ones who can appeal to the Bible for support. Supporters can point to other biblical texts that would seem to count as evidence in their favor.

Exodus 21, for example, suggests that a pregnant woman’s life is more valuable than the fetus’s. This text describes a scenario in which men who are fighting strike a pregnant woman and cause her to miscarry. A monetary fine is imposed if the woman suffers no other harm beyond the miscarriage. However, if the woman suffers additional harm, the perpetrator’s punishment is to suffer reciprocal harm, up to life for life.

There are other biblical texts that seem to celebrate the choices that women make for their bodies, even in contexts in which such choices would have been socially shunned. The fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, for example, describes a woman with a gynecological ailment that has made her bleed continuously taking a great risk: She reaches out to touch Jesus’ cloak in hopes that it will heal her, even though the touch of a menstruating woman was believed to cause ritual contamination. However, Jesus commends her choice and praises her faith.

Similarly, in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ follower Mary seemingly wastes resources by pouring an entire container of costly ointment on his feet and using her own hair to wipe them – but he defends her decision to break the social taboo around touching an unrelated man so intimately.

Beyond the Bible

In the response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Christians on both sides of the partisan divide have appealed to any number of texts to assert that their particular brand of politics is biblically backed. However, if they claim the Bible specifically condemns or approves of abortion, they are skewing the textual evidence to fit their position.

Of course, Christians can develop their own faith-based arguments about modern political issues, whether or not the Bible speaks directly to them. But it is important to recognize that although the Bible was written at a time when abortion was practiced, it never directly addresses the issue.The Conversation

Melanie A. Howard, Associate Professor of Biblical & Theological Studies, Fresno Pacific University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Marjorie Taylor Greene: God is punishing 'brainwashed' Burning Man attendees

United States Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) suggested to Info Wars' chief conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Sunday that attendees trapped in mud at the annual Burning Man electronic music festival are being punished by "God" and "brainwashed" to blame climate change for the freak flooding that struck the event over the weekend.

"But I really believe that the next thing is going to be this climate change crisis. They're going to create it into an emergency and Alex I wanna talk about Burning Man for a minute. We are watching, you know, from a distance, there are approximately like 73 or 75,000 people in Nevada..." Greene began, though Jones quickly interrupted.

"And they're locked in there from the floods, and I'm glad, I look, I, I, just was gonna raise that," Jones said. "They literally did a mock sacrifice and all this and then it flooded with these tornadoes. And it was — sorry. Go ahead."

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Greene proceeded, "Well, you know, God has a way of making sure everyone knows who God is. I'll say that about that. But let's talk about what is happening with these people. So, there's 73-75,000 in the Nevada desert right now at this Burning Man. They're locked in. They're not allowed to leave and they're basically probably being brainwashed that climate change is the cause of it, it's the root of all evil, and it's going to destroy the Earth. And they're, they're feeling the panic."

Jones claimed in response, "The media is saying that. 'Oh, this is because you didn't know about climate change.'"

Greene continued, "Yes. So, what's going to happen, Alex? It's the same thing, the same way they launch any kind of movement. After this is over at Burning Man, and these 75,000 people disperse and they go back home, they're gonna have these stories to tell about how terrible it is and how we have to do everything possible to stop climate change, it's caused by humans, and it's carbon. And it's the amount of carbon we put out. It's manufacturing. It's our, it's our gas and diesel engines. It's, it's, you know, agriculture. I mean, you know, AOC wants to get rid of cattle. Even population. 'We have too many humans putting out too much carbon.' You're going to start hearing all this stuff and this is going to build. And I believe this is the left's new lie they're going to put on the American people and try to get everyone behind and create it to where, 'Remember AOC and the left and many others saying that the Earth is going to literally explode in a ball of fire. We're gonna all die. It's gonna be the end of the world?' This is what they're brainwashing people to believe."

Jones added, "2030. I totally agree, and now Biden says he's set to announce a new climate emergency that Klaus Schwab said three years ago they'd do after COVID. So they literally cut our resources off and make it fancy."

READ MORE: Marjorie Taylor Greene sums up the GOP's cognitive dissonance on climate change in a single tweet

Greene and Jones then exchanged debunked ideas about what is destabilizing planetary climate systems.

"Well, let's be realistic though. The climate changes. It's been changing since the beginning of time," Greene asserted. "Since God created the Earth, the climate has changed. And that is the reality because we live on — our planet is, is, is moving. It's rotating through our galaxy."

Jones interjected, "The only constant is change."

Greene pressed on, "It always changes. It rotates around the Sun. It moves through the galaxy. Our galaxy rotates through the universe. Of course, our climate is going to change! But does that mean people are causing it? No. Does that mean we have to raise taxes to stop it? No, absolutely not. Does that mean we have to bow down to a globalist government? Absolutely not."

READ MORE: Marjorie Taylor Greene calls Muslims 'snakes' in misleading tweet about protests in France

Jones joked, "As if they can stop it anyways."

Greene concurred, "They can't stop it."

Jones concluded, "It's all the Sun, as you said, so."

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration:

The Sun can influence Earth's climate, but it isn't responsible for the warming trend we’ve seen over recent decades. The Sun is a giver of life; it helps keep the planet warm enough for us to survive. We know subtle changes in Earth's orbit around the Sun are responsible for the comings and goings of the ice ages. But the warming we've seen in recent decades is too rapid to be linked to changes in Earth's orbit and too large to be caused by solar activity.

One of the 'smoking guns' that tells us the Sun is not causing global warming comes from looking at the amount of solar energy that hits the top of the atmosphere. Since 1978, scientists have been tracking this using sensors on satellites, which tell us that there has been no upward trend in the amount of solar energy reaching our planet.

A second smoking gun is that if the Sun were responsible for global warming, we would expect to see warming throughout all layers of the atmosphere, from the surface to the upper atmosphere (stratosphere). But what we actually see is warming at the surface and cooling in the stratosphere. This is consistent with the warming being caused by a buildup of heat-trapping gases near Earth's surface, and not by the Sun getting 'hotter.'

Watch the clip below or at this link.

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'You, Satan, are losing': Far-right Christian nationalists push to remake California schools 'in Jesus’ name

Although California was once a red state, it has been heavily Democratic since the Bill Clinton years. Nonetheless, California still has its pockets of right-wing activism, including members of a Christian fundamentalist megachurch that has been waging a campaign to dictate the Chino Valley Unified School District's policies and curriculum.

In an article published on September 4, Daily Beast reporters Kate Briquelet and Decca Muldowney describe far-right activist Sonja Shaw's campaign to force Christian nationalism on public schools in that district. Shaw, elected to its board of education, recently spoke at a "parental rights" rally and told the crowd that her opponents "will be removed in Jesus' name." And she added, "You, Satan, are losing."

Briquelet and Muldowney note that only about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, Shaw has influenced new school codes that include banning gay pride flags. And her school board meetings, according to the reporters, have "attracted the Proud Boys and other right-wing extremists and pitted them against students and parents protesting what they're calling anti-LGBTQ practices that endanger children."

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"When California superintendent of schools Tony Thurmond appeared at (a) July meeting in opposition," Briquelet and Muldowney explain, "Shaw unceremoniously silenced him. Weeks after State Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a civil rights probe into Shaw's 'gender disclosure' policy, his office sued the school board. Bonta said the policy violates the California constitution and state law, and would cause LGBTQ+ students, 'mental, emotional, psychological and potential physical harm,' according to a press release."

The Beast reporters journalists add, "Other right-leaning school boards across the state have followed Chino Valley Unified's lead. Shortly before filing suit against the Chino board, Bonta issued statements denouncing the Anderson Union High School District, Temecula Valley Unified and Murrieta Valley Unified school boards' decisions to pursue 'copycat' anti-trans policies."

READ MORE:'Fight this wicked ideology': Evangelical fundamentalist declares war on white Christian nationalism

The Daily Beast's full report is available at this link (subscription required).

Florida’s history curriculum mirrors 'generations' of white Christian nationalist doctrine: author

Citing Florida's new education curriculum, in a Sept. 1 op-ed published by Religion News Service, Clemson University professor of religion Elizabeth Jemison argues that "All of us — parents, voters, educators and citizens at large — must commit to learning more about our nation's history ourselves and pushing for our schools to teach truthful histories to school children."

Jemison writes:

After the Civil War, white Christians in the South refashioned the theology that had justified slavery into the Lost Cause. They recast defeated Confederates as noble patriots, while depicting African Americans as too immature to carry out the duties of citizenship. They used faith to suggest that the natural order had been upset. In 1876, the Rev. Benjamin Palmer, a Presbyterian minister in New Orleans, wrote that 'involuntary servitude' was God's way of protecting society from 'the monotony of equality.'

"Florida's new history standards echoes these lies, teaching children debunked ideas such as the notion that enslaved people benefited from their lot," she argues, "But these false ideas have garnered widespread approval for generations."

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"Claiming to support 'parental rights' and wishing to 'build great families,' Jemison writes, "the state's Board of Education approved a new K-12 social studies curriculum that suggests that slavery had 'personal benefit' for enslaved people and crediting white men primarily with liberating them."

The author of Christian Citizens: Reading the Bible in Black and White in the PostemancipationSouth emphasizes, "History education has long been a target of white Christian nationalists inside and outside schools, and schools have long been instruments for those intent on shaping our ideas about American identity and solidifying white Christian power in a country that is no longer majority white and Christian."

Jemison writes:

Florida's new guidelines also remove African Americans from history. Middle school students will learn about 'figures who strove to abolish the institution of slavery' — all of whom are white men. The Reconstruction figures whom the curriculum highlights are all white men, with the lone exception of Frederick Douglass. Naming white leaders as the most important people shaping African American freedom and self-determination undermines not only the vibrant history of Black communities, but their very fight for autonomy.

READ MORE: Pastors call out 'far-right Christian nationalism' as a source of 'white supremacist' violence

Jemison's full op-ed is available at this link.

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