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Hello, 

Ten times. "God" was mentioned a total of ten times in the annual address delivered to the US Congress by the President of the United States. In the context of a field of study called "civil religion" (a la Robert Bellah), we look to religious themes that bind and bond a people together. Generally when the more assertive "religious" aspects of American civil religion are espoused by an incumbent at the highest office, they are cursory and relatively vague to say the least. In President Donald Trump's third State of the Union speech, he took a decidedly different approach making the civil religion far more literal presumedly taking the mantel of a custodian of the faith:

"My administration is also defending religious liberty, and that includes the constitutional right to pray in public schools. (Applause.) In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers and pastors. In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God."

The President is taking his show on the road giving another address this morning at the National Prayer Breakfast. The Breakfast is an annual political-Christian networking event in Washington D.C. for attendees from over 100 countries organized by the Fellowship Foundation. If you have been reading our weekly newsletter or have read or seen Jeff Sharlet's The Family in print or on Netflix, you understand the implications of this meeting and the organization behind it. In essence, they see the rich and powerful as the "New Elect," or God's "new chosen people," working behind the scenes to keep power in the hands of the faithful. 

Religious nationalism is a danger to marginalized groups, progress, and civil society. It's troubling all the more when one sees the juxtaposition of these overtures against changing demographics within the United States demonstrating further increases in the population toward "no religion in particular" and "no religion at all." To be in a democracy and have the head of state and government throwing down the blood stained gauntlet of religious hegemony in a challenge against pluralistic cosmopolitanism is troubling indeed. But then you have organizations such as ours raising awareness and advocating for dignity, agency, and pluralism.

Our organization has some amazing fellows including philosopher AC Grayling. I've heard rave reviews of Professor Grayling's new book The History of Philosophy. There's a freshly downloaded copy on my kindle and I plan to spend my Sunday at a nice coffee shop tearing through Grayling and Alasdair MacIntyre's A Short History of Ethics. That is the great thing about opening your mind to philosophy and ethics. You learn that living doesn't have to be and really isn't a spectator sport.

Next Wednesday marks the commemoration of Charles Darwin's birthday. Darwin would have been 211 years old and his birth is a popular day celebrated by secular groups around the planet for his publication of revolutionary ideas connecting all people and animals around the planet in a common bond of descendancy. If you have yet to read it, or otherwise feel like paying homage to a naturalist luminary, here is the text of On the Origin of Species

Lastly, what are your plans in August? There is a great event coming up that I hope to see you at. I will be going to the World Humanist Congress in Miami, Florida. From the 6th through the 9th of August hundreds of Humanists will be gathering to discuss ethics, secular governance, and to network. The event is being presented by Humanists International (formerly the International Humanist and Ethical Union, for which we are a member organization) and the American Humanist Association. I hope to see you there!


Have a great week, 
 
sincerely, 



Jason Frye, CEO
Secular Policy Institute                             
 
 
International Update:

France: Antisemitic Issues (Foreign Affairs)
This week Foreign Policy pondered that "A France Without Jews Is No Longer Unthinkable." While France does not include questions on religious identity in surveying its citizens, 26,000 Jews left for Israel from France in 2006 and another 7,000 in 2014. 
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Lebanon: Shiites, Protest or Loyalty to Hezbollah (NYT)
With the ongoing demonstrations against political and economic turmoil, Shiites are finding themselves torn between protesting and allying with the status quo-seeking Hezbollah. 
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Saudi: US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Update:
USCIRF says that while Saudi Arabia has made marginal improvements in women's rights, the persecution of Shiites, prisoners, and intolerant language in textbooks about non-Wahhabi religious communities are still ongoing. 
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Uzbekistan: US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Update:
After USCIRF opted to remove Uzbekistan from its list of "Countries of Particular Concern," the Commission provides an update on changes in the Central Asian republic
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UNITED STATES UPDATE: 

Trump Peace Plan
The Trump Administration unveiled its "Bold Vision For Peace" between the Israelis and Palestinians. They say that compromise is when no party leaves the table happy, yet the only ones seemingly pleased by the plan are right wing Israeli hardliners and Evangelical Christians posturing to bring about the end of days. The Palestinian Authority and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have rejected the plan outright. The plan has also received a critical press release from the Israeli-American advocacy group J-Street, saying that the measure will only lead to instability and endless fighting. Considering the heated nature of this topic I have included multiple links for your edification and reading pleasure.
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Colorado Death Penalty Repeal Bill
A bill repealing capital punishment in Colorado has cleared a hurdle in the state house and will soon advance to a floor vote in the State Senate.
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Unitarians Arrested for Aiding Undocumented Migrants Plead Religious Liberty
A group of Unitarian Universalists were arrested, fined, and put on probation for distributing aid to people crossing the border between the United States and Mexico. A federal judge reversed their convictions upon the groups' exercise of "sincerely held religious beliefs."
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Update on SPI Fellows: Dr.s Juergensmeyer and McWhorter

Mark Juergensmeyer:
Dr. Juergensmeyer's excellent work Terror in the Mind of God was cited in an online Foreign Policy article this week for its definition of terrorism.
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John McWhorter: "Digging Up the Past"
Dr. McWhorter's regular podcast Lexicon Alley is a must-listen. Here Dr. McWhorter discusses who we communicate about past occurrences. 
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Science News

Most Extensive Genetic Map of Cancers Revealed: The Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes project's results were published in Nature this week of analysis detailing full genomes of 38 different types of tumor (bladder to brain). 
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Much Earlier Migration: Research published in Thursday's journal Cell indicate that a wave of Homo sapiens may have migrated out of Africa 60,000 years earlier than the perviously established 140,000-years-ago mark. 
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