We start this week’s Recap in Washington, D.C., where for the first time in 30 years the Supreme Court is considering what role prayer should play in public meetings.

The U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court Photo by Envios via Flickr

The case Greece v. Galloway pits Greece, New York, against an atheist and a Jew who sued the town back in 2008 to stop pre-meeting prayers. Now SCOTUS is debating just how sectarian these prayers can get.

Some onlookers scratched their heads (others probably shook their fists) when a court officer kicked things off with the traditional declaration, “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

This is certainly not the first time church-state issues have reached the Supreme Court. Here are eight landmark Establishment Clause and free exercise decisions that shook America.

Greece v. Galloway was the big religious freedom case in D.C. last week, but a close runner-up was the LGBT-focused Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

ENDA, which passed the Senate 64-32 but is expected to fail in the House, found surprising support from Mormon lawmakers, who seem to be softening their stance on homosexuality. Even if ENDA does become law, it won’t prevent employment discrimination in religious institutions, something the Secular Coalition for America wants to see change.

In other LGBT news, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s ban on gay conversion therapy, saying the law does not violate religious freedom. Hawaii’s House of Representatives and Illinois’ General Assembly approved bills to legalize gay marriage. Same-sex marriage advocates are stepping up their fight for equality in all 50 states.

Prayer at the start of public meetings might be constitutionally murky, but a bus driver/pastor leading kids in prayer on a public school bus is decidedly not OK, as one driver in Minneapolis found out the hard way.

A teacher in Florida who was suspended for forcing a Jehovah’s Witness boy to recite the Pledge of Allegiance against his religious convictions returned to the classroom last week after completing diversity training.

In Texas, a gay teen was suspended from high school for three days for ripping pages out of the Bible’s Book of Leviticus.

A New Jersey school district (predictably) reversed a decision that would have banned religious holiday songs this December.

In some California schools, up to 75 percent of kindergartners have skipped out on routine vaccinations. Their parents are invoking “personal belief” exemptions to send their kids to class without the jabs.

On the international stage, more parents in the Netherlands are claiming that they belong to obscure religious groups in order to homeschool their kids, which is otherwise not permitted.

Belgium is considering a law that would grant children and adults with early dementia the right to ask for their own deaths. Adult euthanasia has been legal in the country since 2002.

As always, there’s plenty of religious freedom news from Pakistan. Two Christian men there were accused of blasphemy after allegedly selling fireworks that contained pages from the Quran. An Ahmadi family was killed “as a result of religious hatred.”

The country’s Council of Islamic Ideology decided that human cloning and sex changes are un-Islamic but that test tube babes are fine.

If you’ve read my Recap even once, you already know that blasphemy is illegal in Pakistan and many nations. Georgia (the country, not the state) might soon join that list.

The United Arab Emirates could look to its blasphemy laws to crack down on sorcery. Also in the U.A.E., a Sikh pilot is claiming he was passed over for a job at Emirates Airline because he refused to replace his turban with an official cap.

In nearby Saudi Arabia, a woman was arrested for driving her sick father to a hospital. The Saudi driving ban has apparently been extended across the universe. A religious scholar in the Kingdom ruled that women (and men) are forbidden from traveling to Mars.

Bahrain’s government is being accused of attacking religious freedom after it tear-gassed Shia mourners commemorating their holy month of Muharram. Shias in Egypt are demanding greater religious freedom protections in the country’s new constitution.

In interfaith news, a pastor and an imam have teamed up to spread religious tolerance in Nigeria. Both men are ex-militia leaders who once fought one another. They now identify Islamist militant group Boko Haram as Nigeria’s real enemy.

China is trying to further silence the Dalai Lama in Tibet by stepping up restrictions on the kinds of information Tibetans can access by television and online.

Quebec’s Charter of Secularism … sorry, the name changed. Quebec’s “Charter Affirming The Values Of Secularism And The Religious Neutrality Of The State, As Well As The Equality Of Men And Women, And The Framing Of Accommodation Requests” was formally introduced to the province’s legislature. If passed, the bill would ban public sector employees from wearing “overt” and “conspicuous” religious headgear.

Baroness Warsi in the U.K. warned that banning the veil “is not the British way” and would be like trying to outlaw miniskirts in the 1960s.

This is scary. According to a new study by the European Union, nearly a third of Jews in Europe are considering emigrating from their home countries because they feel unsafe amid rising anti-Semitism.

In Venezuela, religious freedom apparently means the freedom to move Christmas to November. President Nicolás Maduro made Nov. 1 “early Christmas” to ensure that bonuses are paid out the week before municipal elections.

Hmmm. That’s not a bad idea. Sign up below to receive the Recap by email or I might just move Christmas to next Monday and take the week off.
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