Several years ago when I lived in a college town in Orange County, California I would occasionally visit an interesting museum. The Mission San Juan Capistrano provides a glimpse into 18th Century Spanish colonial life as well as a stark, chilling reminder of the inadvertent role of religious ministry and congregation into the spread of communicable and contagious diseases. Around 3,400 indigenous people were buried in a small corner of the mission with signage detailing the transmission of deadly measles infection from priest to native person. A couple of years later a regional Ebola epidemic saw the extraction of Ebola-infected members of the American missionary group Samartian's Purse from Liberia for treatment in the United States. This week many news outlets published pieces about the response of religious institutions and their representatives to the externalities of COVID-19 corona virus transmission amid the highly social exercise of proselytization and worship (including Christian, Muslim, and Taoist organizations raising $30m in benefit aid). 

• In Christianity, Italian Catholic Diocese in affected areas are largely complying with official bans of public gatherings. U.S. Televangelist Jim Baker is using the crisis to sell silver supplements that are being marketed as having efficacy to kill COVID-19. Churches in the United States are recommending that their acolytes refrain from physical contact (handshaking and hugs). The French Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes has temporarily closed it famed baths. And, South Korean officials are seeking the arrest of Lee Man-Hee, head of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, for negligence in maintaining church practices which have been seen to directly contribute to the spreading of the virus.

• In Islam, Saudi has banned Umrah pilgrimage and barred foreign nationals from visiting Mecca and the Kaaba (no restrictions have been announced yet on the annual Hajj). Iran has halted Friday prayers in five major cities. Singapore's minister in charge of Muslim affairs Masagos Zulkifi has urged adherents to refrain from handshaking and to bring their own prayer mat to mosque. The Muslim Council of Britain has called on mosques and Islamic schools to increase hand washing. And, in Tajikistan Muslims are being advised to pray at home (Aljazeera). 

In other news, London will soon host the world's first Muslim-specific LGBTQIA Pride event (Imaan Fest).  In Russia President Vladimir Putin is playing carrot and stick politics with his proposed constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples. This is seen as a way to entice greater electoral turnout in support of a package of legislation which would further consolidate his power for years to come. The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments on the matter of laws restricting abortion services in the State of Louisiana in which Chief Justice John Roberts asked if the Court should distinguish the Louisiana law by a state-by-state analysis when similar abortion restrictions cross their bench.

Lastly, a newly issued report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute ("Uyghurs for Sale") suggests that around 80,000 Uighur and Turkic Muslims were transferred from China's "re-education" camps into apparent forced labor at factories supplying goods for Apple, BMW, GAP, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, and 77 other corporations via a Xinxiang Aid" initiative (援疆). The report is rather unsettling saying, "Uyghur workers’ participation in those programs is rarely voluntary. Even in the 2000s, well before the ‘re-education camp’ system was created, working and living conditions for transferred Uyghur workers were often exploitative, if not abusive."

While the news at times may be dim, we share information, collaborate, strategize, and fight the good fight. Please share this weekly newsletter with other people that may be fond of its voice and content. Together we will use knowledge and network to make the world a better place. 

Have a great week, 


Jason Frye, CEO
Secular Policy Institute                             
International Update:

President Alberto Fernández has said that he intends to introduce a bill before the Argentinian Congress legalizing abortion beyond the exemptions of rape and the endangerment of the life of the mother.

A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute suggests that between 2017 and 2019 around 80,000 Uighur and Turkic Muslims were transferred from China's "re-education" camps into forced labor at factories supplying goods for Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, and other corporations via a "Xinxiang Aid" initiative.   

A ruling is slated soon from a top Colombian court on the legal permissibility of abortion early in a pregnancy (NYT).  

Hosni Mubarak died at 91 (Foreign Policy). Mubarak served as President of Egypt from the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat (by Islamist militants) until the 2011 coup. The Economist also published an interesting article on instances of erroneous and near-instinctual blaming of violence and economic disruption on the Muslim Brotherhood, where culpability lay elsewhere.

The Federal Constitutional Court has ruled that the four-year-old ban criminalizing organized medically assisted suicide was "not compatible with the basic law and thus void" (NYT)

The Economist released its "glass-ceiling index" detailing the equality of women in the workplace. Iceland topped the list of 29 countries, South Korea was found to be the least equal.  

President Vladimir Putin has proposed a constitutional amendment that would restrict marriage to heterosexual couples in a ploy to draw more people to the pulls to appear as an electoral mandate in a legislative package that would extend and further consolidate his power (NYT

Another interesting article from The Economist details some of the facets and international implicaitons of last year's proclamation by Bartholomew I (Patriarch of Constantinople) of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  

Update on SPI Fellows: Dr. McWhorter

John McWhorter:
On his Slate podcast Lexicon Alley, Dr. McWhorter discusses the role of women as linguistic innovators.
Read more....


A 2014 Louisiana law restrictricting abortions to sites where the physician performing the procedure having admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles is under review by the US Supreme Court. In 2016 an identical law from Texas was nullified in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt.
Sign On Letter

Sign on letters are coming soon.

Science News

FREEMAN DYSON 1923-2020: Freeman Dyson died this week at 96. 

Advances in Satellite Tech: A satellite that was never designed to dock was connected with a newer type of satellite which lifted it into a higher orbit thus extended its operational lifespan by five years.

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