It's about fairness.

An 80-year-old Kentucky man won the right to display "IM GOD" on his license plate. In 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled that license plates are government speech. According to the court, license plates represent the viewpoint of the issuing body (the Government) and could be subject to greater regulation than ones personal right to speech (Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans).

Ben Hart, long-time Atheist, had applied for the vanity plate in 2016 after moving from Ohio to Kentucky, where he had previously had the same message on his former state license plates. The State of Kentucky denied Mr. Hart this vanity-transposition. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Mr. Hart won his case before a U.S. District Court judge granting himthe plates. The presiding judge, Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, ordered the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to also pay $150,000 in damages. 

Judge Van Tatenhove noted that Hart's constitutionally protected right of speech had been violated and that if license plates represented government speech, then the state had sent similar messages through the previous approvals of "GODLVS," "TRYGOD, "1GOD," and "NOGOD." 

According to the Washington Post: "Hart, an ardent believer in the First Amendment, said it was worth the wait, even if, as he put it, 'I thought I was going to die before I got it.'"

Our fellows were in the news this week interviewed by, or penning articles through Time, the Atlantic, and the New York Times

Next week we will be attending a meeting of the Committee on Religious Liberty and sending out another informative newsletter.

Have a great week, 

Jason Frye, CEO
Secular Policy Institute                             
International Update:

Ashraf Ghani was reelected President (Al Jazeera) and the United States and the Taliban have moved closer to ending the nearly two decade-long war (WSJ).

The President of the United States Donald Trump will be visiting India next week, the first time since he has taken office (Reuters). Trump has been a divisive figure in his own country where his Administration has been actively privileging members of one religious institution (Christianity) and has been seen to implement policy and orders specifically laying a burden at members of the Islamic religion. This is akin to the rhetoric and acts of the Prime Minister that he will soon be visiting (Narendra Modi) and that prime minister's party (Bharatiya Janata Party) also against Muslims. An article in Foreign Policy elaborates further on the sectarian strife as a Hindu religious slogan "Jai Shri Ram" (Victory to Lord Ram) is becoming and anti-Muslim dog whistle to certain groups. 

In their protests of the government, hundreds of women have defied an order by the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who said that men and women should not congregate together as it was "immoral" (France 24)

Iran & Iraq
An essay published in Foreign Policy argues that through the picking and choosing of favored clerics between Iran and Iraq is a "miscalculation" demonstrative of "Washington [not] understanding Shiite Clerics in Iran or Iraq."

Founded by a Humanist (Dr. Leo Igwe), a new group has come together to fight to end the persecution of people perceived to be "witches" in Nigeria by 2030 (The Guardian)

Science News

Fossil Fuel Methane Emissions Vastly Underestimated: A new study in the journal Nature on the presence of methane in ice cores has found that previous estimates of the contributions of post-industrial revolution fossil fuel emitted methane were underestimated between 25 to 40 percent lower than expected (Drs. Steven R.H. Barrett and Irene C. Dedoussi, Delft University of Technology). 

Out of State Air Pollution Contributing to More than Half of Air Pollution-Related Deaths in the US: Another study in Nature found that nearly half of premature deaths in the United States caused by air pollutants ozone and fine airborne particulates blew in from other states (cross-state emissions). The number of deaths attributable to cross-state emissions in New York between 2005-2018 was at a nearly two-thirds rate. 

Betelguese Dimming, several possible reasons: While some have suggested an imminent explosion for the red giant star Betelguese, other factors may be contributing to its dimming in the night sky.   

Update on SPI Fellows: Dr.s Al-Tamimi, Manea, McWhorter, and Paulos

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Voice of America interviewed Dr. Al-Tamimi on potential avenues of the Syrian campaign against Islamist militias in the ongoing crisis in the Levant. 
Read more....

Elham Manea:
Dr. Manea was interviewed by Time on the unknown condition of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. Badawi's family had heard from him on a near daily basis via phone calls that suddenly stopped after 14 January. Manea also spoke to SwissInfo on a Swiss diplomatic intervention in the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. 
Read more....

John McWhorter:
Dr. McWhorter wrote an essay in The Atlantic examining the viability of the Michael Bloomberg presidential campaign.
Read more....

John Allen Paulos:
Dr. Paulos wrote an essay for the New York Times on the public's distorted perception of the fatality of COVID-19. 
Read more....

Oklahoma: Capital Punishment Resumes
The state plans to end its five-year moratorium on capital punishment by lethal injection after regaining access to the necessary drugs. In 2015 Oklahoma had substituted potassium acetate for potassium chloride (the chemical that initiates cardiac arrest), resulting in two "botched" executions. Currently 47 people in the state are scheduled to be put to death. 

Pennsylvania: Diocese Files for Bankruptcy Protection 
The Catholic Dioceses of Harrisburg became the first in Pennsylvania to seek protection from bankruptcy following sexual abuse lawsuits. During this time a Harrisburg ABC affiliate sat down for an interview with the exorcist of the Diocese. 

US Airforce: Religious Expression Accommodation Streamlined
Where the process was previously an a case-by-case basis and often lengthy in duration, the US Air Force released new guidelines streamlining this process. 
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