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Tom Gjelten

America, unlike some countries, is not defined by a common ancestry, nor is it tied to an official faith tradition. But it does have a distinct identity and a quasi-religious foundation.

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Among the more daunting challenges President Biden faces in the coming year will be to make good on his goal of admitting 10 times as many refugees — 125,000 — as former President Donald Trump allowed to enter the United States last year. During his presidency, Trump ordered drastic cutbacks in the U.S. refugee program.

"It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged," Biden said in a speech last month at the State Department, "but that's precisely what we're going to do."

A potential revision of federal civil rights law to extend protection to LGBTQ people could soon get a long-delayed vote in the U.S. Senate, but concerns about its implications for religious freedom cloud its prospects for final passage.

The Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, has twice passed the House. Republicans in the Senate have until now blocked its consideration, but Democratic control there should finally ensure at least a hearing.

The mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol may have been a fringe group of extremists, but politically motivated violence has the support of a significant share of the U.S. public, according to a new survey by the American Enterprise Institute.

Gone were the conservative evangelical leaders who had been invited in the past. No Catholic bishops or priests took part.

This year's National Prayer Service, a longstanding inauguration tradition to welcome an incoming presidential administration, instead featured two transgender faith leaders, the president of the Navajo Nation, and a host of speakers with urgent calls for national transformation.

With Joe Biden just days away from his inauguration as the nation's president, Pastor Darryl Knappen was still denying reality and even declaring himself willing to take up arms to keep Donald Trump in office.

"It was pastors who led the way in colonial times to encourage our country to shake off the totalitarian regime of the king of England," Knappen said in a Jan. 9 Facebook message to his Minnesota congregation. He was referring to the "Black Robed Regiment," a name given to those ministers who supported the Revolutionary War effort.

Updated on Friday at 3:02 p.m.

As the pro-Trump mob stormed up the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, a big yellow banner stood out among the blue Trump flags carried high by the throng: "JESUS SAVES." Nearby was another, with an even stranger message — "JESUS 2020" — as if the Lord himself had been a candidate in the disputed election.

For the ninth time in six months, the Trump administration is preparing to put a federal prisoner to death.

Brandon Bernard, 40, is due to be executed Thursday evening at the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana, as punishment for the murder of a young couple in Texas in 1999. The Justice Department plans another federal execution later this month, with three more scheduled in January.

With COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths at record levels, a top public health official called on religious leaders to keep their worship spaces closed, despite rising protests from some church leaders.

"The virus is having a wonderful time right now, taking advantage of circumstances where people have let their guard go down," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. "Churches gathering in person is a source of considerable concern and has certainly been an instance where super spreading has happened and could happen again."

Pope Francis, never one to shy from controversy, wades boldly into the coronavirus debate with a new book in which he criticizes those who blame the virus on foreigners and people who protest church closings and mask mandates.

As president, Donald Trump slashed refugee admissions to the United States to a record low. Paradoxically, his administration also took major steps to highlight the persecution of religious minorities around the world, a key driver of global refugee movements.

Key government policies on religious freedom and discrimination, once set through legislation, are increasingly dictated by presidential orders, meaning they shift capriciously from one administration to the next.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a celebrated moral thinker and globally renowned intellect of Judaism, died on Saturday after a short bout with cancer. He was 72.

Serving as the chief rabbi in the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013, Sacks gained fame both in the secular world and in Jewish circles. He was a sought-after voice on issues of war and peace, religious fundamentalism, ethics, and the relationship between science and religion, among other topics. Sacks wrote more than 20 books.

Four years ago, white evangelicals rallied behind Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, and he reveled in their adulation.

Updated at 2:42 p.m. ET

Pope Francis has called for legislation to protect same-sex couples, according to comments he made in a new documentary that mark a break from Catholic doctrine.

"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They are children of God and have a right to a family," the pope said in an interview in the documentary Francesco, which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival. "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

In Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump put forward a Supreme Court nominee who embodies a set of voters the Democrats need on their side to win elections. She's a well-educated, white, suburban Catholic woman.

Many Democrats object to her well-documented conservative views in such areas as abortion, health care, guns and immigrant rights, but they must tread carefully in opposing her nomination so as not to alienate those voters, especially women, who may be inspired by Barrett's life story.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that Abby Bogdan's views are her own and not those of her employer.

The Trump and Biden campaigns this year are both targeting Catholics, with messages reflecting their differing judgments of how Catholic faith values might push swing voters in one direction or another. In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, it's a critical effort.

Republicans hope opposition to abortion will drive Pennsylvania Catholics to support President Trump.

The Lutheran church did not have many ordained African American ministers in 1955, so when a call went out that year for a new Lutheran pastor to serve a majority Black congregation in Montgomery, Ala., it was answered by a white clergyman in Ohio, the Rev. Robert Graetz.

Graetz and his wife, Jeannie, already had a record of church-based civil rights activism, and some Lutheran authorities worried that Graetz might become ensnarled in the developing racial unrest in Montgomery, where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor.

The 2020 presidential election is likely once again to feature religion as a campaign issue, if the Republican and Democratic conventions are any indication.

Speakers at the Republican National Convention this week touted the religious credentials of their own candidates, but they were equally determined to question the faith of their opponents, with Joe Biden their main target.

Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz told the convention that the Democratic candidate is a Catholic "in name only," citing his support for abortion rights.

Five months after the coronavirus forced houses of worship across the country to close their doors, a new survey finds that two-thirds of regular churchgoers feel it's now safe to resume in-person worship.

Religious organizations, having received as much as $10 billion in the first round of COVID-19 aid, hope to receive more funding under any new relief package.

Christians the world over have been united in their revulsion over the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer, and faith leaders from across the theological spectrum have spoken out about the lessons they think Christians should draw from the incident.

Many Protestant and Roman Catholic ministers have emphasized a Christian obligation to love one's neighbor and to work for justice in the earthly world.

Editor's note: The Interior Department's inspector general released a report in June 2021 that concludes that the clearing of Lafayette Square of protesters on June 1, 2020, had been previously planned by the U.S. Park Police before President Trump made his public statement at a nearby church. The report is not comprehensive in that it focuses on U.S. Park Police conduct but not other law enforcement agencies and is the first of several expected examinations of the events of that day by the Interior Department.

Houses of worship around the country on Friday got a presidential green light to open immediately.

"I call on governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now," President Trump said in remarks at the White House. "These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united," he said. "The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue and to their mosque."

Francis Collins, the evangelical Christian who as a physician and scientist directs the National Institutes of Health, has been awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for his commitment to challenging the idea that science and religion are at odds.

Christian worship in the United States, long characterized by its adherence to tradition, appears to have been significantly altered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2016 election highlighted Donald Trump's successful courtship of white evangelicals. This year, much of the focus could be on Catholics. The presidential campaigns are fighting for votes in the Catholic-rich Midwestern states, and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, is himself a Catholic.

No vaccine or effective treatment has yet been found for people suffering from COVID-19. Under the circumstances, a physician in Kansas City wonders whether prayer might make a difference, and he has launched a scientific study to find out.

"It has to be a true supernatural intervention," says Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy.

A cardiologist at the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute, Lakkireddy is the principal investigator in a clinical trial involving 1000 patients with COVID-19 infections severe enough that they require intensive care.

A new government program that funnels taxpayer money to churches, synagogues and mosques has brought welcome relief to some financially stressed houses of worship, while leaving others — many of them serving communities of color — still struggling to survive.

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