Happy new year! Religion stories to watch in 2016

It’s a new year and that means new stories — or at least new looks at ongoing stories. Here are some topics for religion reporters to watch in 2016. Few of these are traditional religion stories; most are broader national and international issues with religion angles.

Background

Several religion news organizations and pundits did a year-in-review for 2015 and a few even glanced ahead:

The elections

Presidential elections are always rife with religious rhetoric, posturing and pandering and 2016 promises to be no different — with a few twists:

EVANGELICALS: Some analysts said evangelicals “imploded” during the 2012 election, despite turning out in high numbers for Romney — 79 percent by some counts. Current Republican candidates are now bending over backward to reach evangelicals, and Franklin Graham, founder of Samaritan’s Purse charities and son of evangelical superstar Billy Graham, has launched a national effort to organize the evangelical Christian vote. Marco Rubio is going full-frontal faith with his new campaign ad for Iowa.

National sources:

MUSLIMS: Islam in America is becoming an election issue, thanks largely to the heated rhetoric of Donald Trump. Look for candidates to be asked about Muslims in America — both those born here and those who have migrated here — throughout the election. And look for Islamic leaders and groups to respond.

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National sources:

  • Ihsan Bagby

    Ihsan Bagby is an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky and an expert in Islam and its history and practice in North America. He is one of the authors of the research report “The American Mosque 2011.”

  • Michael Wishnie

    Michael Wishnie, a law professor at Yale Law School, has taught a class titled “Balancing Civil Liberties and National Security After Sept. 11.” His human rights law clinic has been honored by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

SECULARISTS: Atheists, humanists and other “nones” (as in, having no religious affiliation) are pumped up about their growing numbers. Some secularist groups are working to organize a so-called atheist or secular vote. Will they succeed?

National sources:

Courts and laws

GAY RIGHTS: Twenty-eight states do not have laws that ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment and trade. State legislatures in Indiana, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere are expected to tackle the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation, and faith groups promise to speak loudly on both sides.

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National sources:

  • American Civil Liberties Union

    The ACLU addresses hate speech in its work on free speech, religion, LGBT rights, human rights and racial justice.

  • Robert A. Destro

    Robert A. Destro is a law professor and founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. He is an expert in freedom of religion, constitutional law (separation of powers), international human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of association, bioethics, marriage law and civil rights.  Destro served as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1983 to 1989.

     

  • National LGBTQ Task Force

    The National LGBTQ Task Force organizes and operates the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, a group of leaders from LGBTQ-welcoming faith organizations, and runs the Institute for Welcoming Resources, which works with eight major denominations. It maintains offices in Massachusetts, New York, Minneapolis, Florida and Washington, D.C. Contact Mark Daley.

    Contact: 202-393-5177.
  • Rose Saxe

    Rose Saxe is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia Law School in New York and a staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender and AIDS Projects. She has worked on issues involving the intersection of civil rights for LGBT people and religious freedom and expression.

  • Alan Sears

    Alan Sears is president, CEO and general counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance based in Scottsdale, Ariz., whose focus is defending religious liberty. The ADF sponsors the Day of Dialogue in schools around the country to “counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective.” It also supported the legislation that would have allowed Arizona business owners to deny services to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

    Contact: 480-444-0020.
  • Traditional Values Coalition

    The Traditional Values Coalition in Washington, D.C., is a leading voice in Congress for Bible-based traditional values. The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon is chairman of the organization.

    Contact: 202-547-8570.

DOCTOR-ASSISTED SUICIDE: Doctor-assisted suicide (or physician-assisted dying) will be a legislative issue in several states in 2016, including a new right-to-die act taking effect in California. Many evangelicals, Catholics and other conservative religious people oppose such laws.

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  • Margaret Pabst Battin

    Margaret Pabst Battin is a University of Utah philosophy professor and a leading figure in the public debate on end-of-life issues. She has written extensively on religious and ethical concerns in physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia and has researched active euthanasia and assisted suicide in the Netherlands. Her books include Ending Life: Ethics and the Way We Die and The Least Worst Death: Essays in Bioethics on the End of Life.

  • Lucy Bregman

    Lucy Bregman is a professor of religion at Temple University in Philadelphia. Her writing focuses on religion, death and dying; her books include Death and Dying, Spirituality and Religions: A Study of the Death Awareness Movement.

  • Aaron Mackler

    Aaron Mackler is an associate professor of theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a Conservative rabbi who has written extensively on health-care ethics, theological ethics and Jewish theology. He was ethicist for the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, where he played a central role in writing reports on physician-assisted suicide and health-care decision-making. Mackler is a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, for which he is chairman of the subcommittee on biomedical ethics, and he serves as an ethics committee member for Pittsburgh Mercy Health System. He authored Introduction to Jewish and Catholic Bioethics: A Comparative Analysis, edited Life and Death Responsibilities in Jewish Biomedical Ethics and has written many articles in scholarly and professional journals.

  • Ann Neumann

    Ann Neumann is a visiting scholar at the Center for Religion and Media at New York University. She is the author of  The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America, which explores aid-in-dying issues and religion. She is a hospice volunteer.

  • World Federation of Right to Die Societies

    The World Federation of Right to Die Societies links to dozens of right-to-die organizations throughout the world and provides information on the latest developments on the issue.

CONTRACEPTION: The Supreme Court will take up a case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious nonprofits. The sisters — along with several religious universities and one Roman Catholic archdiocese — claim the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that they provide a birth control option for employees violates the employers’ religious beliefs, even with an accommodation.

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  • Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

    The Becket Fund is a public-interest law firm in Washington, D.C., that works to protect the free expression of all religious traditions. Stephanie Keenan handles media inquiries.

    Becket Fund attorneys are representing the Little Sisters in their case against Burwell.

  • Leslie Griffin

    Leslie Griffin is a professor of legal ethics at the University of Houston and an expert in the field of religion and law. She has written on the role of fundamentalist religion in the modern world, including an article in the Cardozo Law Review in 2003 titled “Fundamentalism From the Perspective of Liberal Tolerance.”

    She has written that she thinks the Little Sisters will lose their fight.

  • Donald B. Verrilli Jr.

    Donald B. Verrilli Jr. is an attorney and the solicitor general of the United States. He argued the government’s case in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga before the Supreme Court. Contact via the solicitor general’s office.

    He is representing the government in the Little Sisters case.

    Contact: 202-514-2201.

Muslims in America

The terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris have brought renewed scrutiny to American Muslims. Human rights and other legal organizations say there has been an uptick in crimes against Muslims. And don’t forget Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims and have also suffered attacks and hate crimes. How will these communities — and other faith communities — respond to this new climate of mistrust?

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National sources:

  • Anny Bakalian

    Anny Bakalian is a researcher at the City University of New York. She co-wrote a book titled Backlash 9/11: Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans Respond, which looks at how ethnic organizations mobilized to demonstrate their commitment to the United States while defending their rights and distancing themselves from the terrorists.

  • Council on American-Islamic Relations

    The Council on American-Islamic Relations says it is the largest advocacy group for Muslims in the U.S. It advocates for Muslims on issues related to civil liberties and justice. Contact communications director Ibrahim Hooper in Washington, D.C.

  • Charles Kurzman

    Charles Kurzman is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations. He is the author of The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists, in which he argues that there are far fewer Islamic terrorists than Americans think.

  • David Schanzer

    David Schanzer is director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in Durham, N.C. He is also a visiting professor of public policy at Duke University and an adjunct professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina.

  • Sikh Coalition

    The Sikh Coalition in New York is an advocacy group established by several Sikh groups across the United States after the 9/11 attacks to help protect Sikh civil rights.