Weekly Briefing

Weekly briefing: High court rules for religious freedom, coronavirus surge, rule threatens int'l students

Princeton University
People walk past Princeton University's Nassau Hall in Princeton, New Jersey, November 20, 2015. |

We've compiled the top stories of the week. Here's what you need to know:

Supreme Court protects religious freedom in 2 major cases

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered rulings in favor of Little Sisters of the Poor in their years-long battle to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, as well as two Catholic schools in their employment decisions.

The high court ruled that the Trump administration rule broadening religious exemptions to the HHS mandate is constitutional.

“It should be common sense to allow a religious group to conduct themselves according to their religious convictions, and yet government agents have tried to punish them with obtuse fines for doing just that. We are pleased to see the Supreme Court still recognizes religious freedom.” — Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council

The court also affirmed “ministerial exception,” allowing two California Catholic schools to be protected from anti-discrimination lawsuits.

“Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.” — Justice Samuel Alito

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, meanwhile, denounced the Supreme Court’s decision on Little Sisters and vowed to overturn religious conscience protections for nonprofits and businesses opposed to the contraception mandate if elected president.

COVID-19 surge in US continues; churches speak out

On Thursday, the U.S. reported a new daily record of 63,247 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The “exponential growth” in recent weeks, as White House health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci noted, has now led to a total of 3.1 million cases in the U.S. and over 133,000 deaths.

While many have pointed to the reopened economies as a reason for the surge, some have also pointed to churches as sources for exposure to the coronavirus.

Arkansas Baptist State Convention Executive Director J.D. "Sonny" Tucker called it “unfair and damaging” that the state’s Department of Health singled out dozens of churches in its report, including two large Baptist churches that had only one family (at one church) and one individual (at the other) test positive for COVID-19.

First Assembly of God in Florida also pushed back against media reports accusing the megachurch of ignoring safety guidelines and hosting “COVID-19” parties after a 17-year-old girl died.

Meanwhile, Kanakuk Kamps, a popular network of Christian sports camps in southern Missouri, closed one of its sites after some 49 campers and counselors tested positive for COVID-19.

In Texas, Calvary Chapel of San Antonio’s pastor, Ron Arbaugh, took “full responsibility” after more than 50 church members tested positive for the coronavirus. The church suspended its services.

Christians slam Trump admin. rule threatening deportation of students during pandemic

A coalition of Christian leaders — including the heads of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the National Association of Evangelicals — spoke out against a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule that would require international students to exit the U.S. or transfer schools if their classes are entirely online this fall.

Calling the rule “unnecessary” and one that “lacks compassion” during the COVID-19 pandemic, the leaders urged in a letter to DHS to allow the students to complete their courses in this country.

“We believe that the proposed student visa rule violates tenets of our faith to ‘not mistreat the foreigner,’ but to love those neighbors as ourselves.” — letter

ICC urged to investigate Chinese leaders for genocide, abuses against Uighur Muslims

Evidence has been submitted to the International Criminal Court asking for an investigation into claims of genocide and crimes against humanity committed by senior Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping for the mistreatment of Uighur Muslims and other Turkic people in Western China.

This marks the first time that critics have attempted to use international laws to prosecute China for alleged human rights violations against minorities in China’s far northwestern territory of Xinjiang.

The alleged crimes include massacres, mass internment camps, torture, organ harvesting, disappearances, forced birth control and sterilization. 

“For too long we have been oppressed by China and its Chinese Communist Party and we have suffered so much that the Genocide of our people can no longer be ignored.” — East Turkistan Government in Exile 

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