Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Today Is Religious Freedom Day

As reported by Blog from the Capital, today is Religious Freedom Day, the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1786. Traditionally the President issues a Proclamation designating the day.

UPDATE: This morning President Trump issued a  Religious Freedom Day Proclamation (full text) which reads in part:
Our Constitution and laws guarantee Americans the right not just to believe as they see fit, but to freely exercise their religion.  Unfortunately, not all have recognized the importance of religious freedom, whether by threatening tax consequences for particular forms of religious speech, or forcing people to comply with laws that violate their core religious beliefs without sufficient justification.  These incursions, little by little, can destroy the fundamental freedom underlying our democracy.  Therefore, soon after taking office, I addressed these issues in an Executive Order that helps ensure Americans are able to follow their consciences without undue Government interference and the Department of Justice has issued guidance to Federal agencies regarding their compliance with laws that protect religious freedom.  No American — whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner — should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law.

French Mayor Bars Pork Alternatives In Schools

The Washington Post yesterday reports on the newest battle in France over how to implement the principle of secularism (laïcité ):
Beaucaire, in the south of France, has become the latest fault line in a battle over the place of Islam in a staunchly secular society. On the day school started back after the holiday break, Julien Sanchez, the town’s 34-year-old mayor — and a member of the far-right National Front — outlawed alternatives to pork in school cafeterias, insisting that religious exceptions to the menu violate France’s vaunted Republican principles.
For many, his message was clear: Being French means eating pork, Muslims (and Jews) be damned. Unsurprisingly, outrage immediately ensued from virtually every corner of society: parents, the local opposition, Muslim leaders and even the French government.

Monday, January 15, 2018

One Count Dismissed In Michigan Female Genital Mutilation Case

A Detroit (MI) federal district court yesterday dismissed the most serious of seven charges against two doctors indicted for their involvement in alleged female genital mutilation of girls who are members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a Muslim sect from western India. (See prior related posting.)  In United States v. Nagarwala, (ED MI, Jan. 14, 2018), the court dismissed the Count charging violation of 18 USC Sec. 2423, Conspiracy to Transport Minor with Intent to Engage in Criminal Sexual Activity.  The court held that "sexual activity" as used in the statute must involve libidinal gratification.  Applying that definition, the court said:
The government does not contend that Dr. Nagarwala or Dr. Attar sought or obtained any libidinal gratification from subjecting the minor victims to FGM....  In short, while the indictment may sufficiently allege a violation of the FGM statute – the statute adopted by Congress to address precisely such genital cutting – it does not allege that defendants transported minors intending that they engage in “sexual activity.” 
Detroit News reports on the decision.

Belief In Government Corruption Is Not a "Religious" Belief

The Daily Sentinel reports that last Thursday a Colorado federal district court jury found Rocky Hutson guilty on multiple fraud charges.  Hutson, a member of the sovereign citizen movement, had attempted to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense.  However federal district court Judge Marcia Krieger rejected the defense, saying that while Hutson's beliefs about the corruption of the U.S. government are sincere, but they are not "religious" beliefs.

Recent Articles and Books of Interest

From SSRN:
Recent Books:

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Carter v. Fleming, (4th Cir., Jan. 8, 2018), the 4th Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants in an inmate's suit claiming that the Common Fare menu does not comply with Nation of Islam dietary restrictions because it includes fried foods and challenging his suspension from the Common Fare diet.

In Brooks v. Williams, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3050 (Jan. 8, 2018), an Illinois federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214438, Dec. 19, 2017) and refused to dismiss on exhaustion grounds an inmate's claim that he was denied access to Rastafari Sabbath services.

In Newman v. Grzegorek, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3626 (ND IN, Jan. 9, 2018), an Indiana federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead whit his challenge to jail policies that prevented him from attending church services and Bible study.

In Trisvan v. Annucci, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3851 (ED NY, Jan. 9, 2018), a New York federal district court dismissed with leave to file an amended complaint a parolee's claim that his curfew and travel conditions prohibit him from praying at a mosque and participating in Ramadan between 9:00 PM and 7:00 AM, and from making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

In Canseco v. Spearman, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3991 (ED CA, Jan. 9, 2018), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed a Muslim inmate's complaint that he was not allowed to attend evening religious activities in the dining hall during Ramadan.

In Wallace v. Ducart, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4684 (ND CA, Jan. 10, 2017), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend an inmate's claim that he was required to strip in front of female guards in violation of his religious beliefs, and was not allowed to properly clean himself before prayer.

In Hatcher v. Trotter, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4926 (WD TN, Jan. 11, 2018), a Tennessee federal district court, adopting a magistrate's recommendation (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 215104, Dec. 20, 2017) dismissed an inmate's complaint that he was unable to attend Sunday religious services on one occasion due to a lock down.

In Rivera v. Davey, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5422 (ED CA, Jan. 10, 2018), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing an inmate's complaint that he was denied the opportunity to perform obligatory Jewish prayer services and holy day events.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Bureau of Prisons Says Objecting Chaplains Need Not Carry Pepper Spray

A Liberty Counsel press release today reports that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has granted accommodation requests from prison chaplains who object on religious grounds to carrying pepper spray as a potential defense in emergency situations.  Various prison Chaplains were told to carry the spray after enactment of the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act of 2015.  Liberty Counsel sent a letter in October seeking a religious accommodation and religious exemption for chaplains.

Quebec Court: Muslim Community Center Is Not "House of Worship"

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that a Quebec Superior Court judge has ruled that a Muslim community center in a Montreal suburb is not a "house of worship". The city of Mascouche attempted to shut down the community center in a strip shopping mall on the ground that under zoning rules "houses of worship" are not permitted in the area. A room in the community center was used by men for prayer. The court said however that "prayers can be uttered in all places and not exclusively in a place of worship."

Parents Challenge Teacher's Distribution of Material Disparaging Muslims

According to yesterday's Pasedena Star-News, the parents of a 7th grade boy have filed an appeal with the California Department of Education over the Mesa Union School District's clearing of a teacher's who distributed material disparaging Muslims.  The boy is being bullied by other students because of his religion. The paper reports:
The material the teacher distributed contained information taken from the website billionbibles.org, which makes “inaccurate and disparaging” statements about Islam and Muslims,” said Masih Fouladi, CAIR-LA’s advocacy manager.
The sheet of paper distributed by the teacher states Sharia Law, or Islamic religious law, gives Muslim men sexual rights over any woman or girl not wearing the hijab or head scarf; allows a man to marry an infant girl and consummate the marriage when she is 9; and requires Muslims to lie to non-Muslims to advance their faith.
“The main issue at hand with this incident of bullying is that the material was drawn from a website that is clearly intended to promote one religion at the expense of another,” Fouladi said. “This has no place in our public school system and is a clear violation of the First Amendment.”

Thursday, January 11, 2018

School District Says First Amendment Bars District Diwali Holiday

According to Fox4News yesterday, Coppell Independent School District in Texas has refused requests to schedule a day off from school during Diwali. Nearly half the students in the school district are Asian.  The school board however took the position that principles of separation of church and state prevent it from recognizing a religious holiday.  When proponents argued that the district schedules a holiday on Good Friday, the school district responded that Good Friday is considered a professional development and bad weather make-up day.

European Court Vindicates Critic of Anti-Muslim Political Remarks

In Case of GRA Stiftung gegen Rassismus und Antisemitismus v. Switzerland,  (ECHR, Jan. 9, 2018), the European Court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment held that the free speech rights of a civil rights organization were infringed when Swiss courts sanctioned it for a web posting calling remarks of a youth leader of a right wing party "verbal racism." The remarks were made in the context of a referendum on banning the building of minarets. A Swiss appellate court found that the web posting infringed the party leader's personality rights.  It required the organization to remove its web posting and replace it by the court's opinion. It also was required to pay legal and court costs. The ECHR held in part:
When assessing the impugned statements in the present case, it is first of all important to bear in mind the general background of the ongoing political debate in which both statements were made.
... Both B.K.’s speech and the applicant organisation’s article concerned a topic of intense public debate in Switzerland at the material time, which was the popular initiative against the construction of minarets, which was widely reported on in national and international media. The initiative, calling for a ban on the construction of minarets, was ultimately accepted by a referendum on 29 November 2009 and such a ban was included in the Swiss Constitution....
The Court reiterates that a distinction has to be made between private individuals and persons acting in a public context, as political or public figures. Accordingly, whilst a private individual unknown to the public may claim particular protection of his or her right to private life, the same is not true of public figures.... 
... B.K. had willingly exposed himself to public scrutiny by stating his political views and therefore had to show a higher degree of tolerance towards potential criticism of his statements by persons or organisations which did not share his views.
A Chamber Judgment may be appealed to the Grand Chamber.  the Court issued a press release summarizing the decision.  Law & Religion UK has more on the case.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Suit Challenges Canada's Denial of Grants to Pro-Life Group

In Canada last week, a pro-life group filed suit in Federal Court in Alberta challenging new rules that bar it from receiving grants under the Canada Summer Jobs Program.  According to Life Site News report on the lawsuit, Canada Summer Jobs provides grants to non-profit groups, small businesses, and public sector employers in order to create jobs for students between 15 an 30 years old.  The complaint (full text) in Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area v. Canada (Minister of Employment, Workforce and Labour), (Fed. Ct., filed 1/4/2018), contends that the grant restrictions infringe plaintiffs' freedom of religion, conscience and belief, as well as their equal protection rights, under Sections 2(a)-(b) and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Last December, Canada's Employment Ministry added a requirement that in order to receive a grant under the program, an organization had to attest to the following:
Both the job and the organization's core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.  These include reproductive rights, and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.

Suit Challenges Rules Against Proselytizing At Alaska Town Festival

The Center for Religious Expression last week announced the filing of a federal lawsuit in Alaska challenging a rule at the Girdwood, Alaska Forest Fair that prohibits the distribution of religious literature.  Anchorage Daily News has more on the lawsuit:
During the Forest Fair, an annual Girdwood summer festival that celebrates tie-dye, home-spun crafts and public hula-hooping, signs posted on the tall trees alert visitors to three main rules: "No dogs, no politics, no religious orders."
But one of those rules, a doctrine of the fair for more than four decades, now faces a legal challenge. Last week, two evangelical Christians, one of whom is a well-known activist, filed a lawsuit in federal court saying the ban on "religious orders" infringes on their constitutional right to free speech....
The two plaintiffs say they were told that they could not continue to proselytize and distribute literature in the park where the festival is held.  They were required to move to sidewalks outside the park to distribute their gospel tracts. [Thanks to Jeff Pasek for the lead.]

6th Circuit: Tennessee Constitutional Amendment On Abortion Was Validly Adopted

In George v. Hargett, (6th Cir., Jan. 9, 2018), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by Tennessee voters to the method by which votes were counted in 2014 on a state constitutional amendment.  At issue was an amendment that provides in part: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion."  Language in the Tennessee constitution on the number of votes needed to approve a constitutional amendment is ambiguous.  However a state court had upheld the interpretation by state voting officials.  The 6th Circuit, reversing the district court, upheld the state's determination that the amendment had passed. It also concluded that the vote counting method used by the state does not violated due process or equal protection provisions of the federal Constitution.  The Tennessean reports on the decision. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Notre Dame Alums Object To University's Contraceptive Mandate Position

As previously reported, Notre Dame University is allowing its its health insurance providers to continue to furnish contraceptive coverage for university employees and students, even though Trump Administration rules now allow the university to opt out on religious grounds. Life Site News yesterday reported that 66 lawyers who are Notre Dame alumni have signed a letter (full text) to Notre Dame president Father William Jenkins strongly objecting to the University's decision. The letter objects that the university "now doing voluntarily precisely what it said it could not do in good conscience...." The letter goes on to charge that the school's assertions "now appears to be a collection of flat-out misrepresentations" in what amounts to "a pretend lawsuit."  The letter continues in part:
If, then, there is some explanation that will absolve the University from the charge of playing fast and loose with the courts or mitigate to some degree its blame, we urge you to provide it.
If there is not, then the matter seems to us to be quite serious enough to demand the attention of the Fellows and the Board of Trustees. It will be bought to their attention in due course. Remedial action should be taken, an accounting given to the Notre Dame community, and thoughtful consideration given to how amends might be made to the courts. ...
Finally, though we hope it does not come to it, Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does provide a means for federal courts to determine if there have been misrepresentations by litigants and, if so, what to do about it. A court can invoke the procedure on its own initiative. Given the wide publicity accorded the university's turnabout, Court of Appeals judges ... might think a Rule 11 hearing appropriate.

Trump Renominates Brownback for International Religious Freedom Post, Kacsmaryk For District Court

Yesterday President Trump sent a large number of renominations to the Senate, a step required after Democrats refused to consent to last Senate session's nominations rolling over into the new session.  As reported by the Kansas City Star, these included the renomination of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to be  Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Last week, the President renominated 21 individuals for federal judgeships.  Among them is Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, nominated for Northern District of Texas.  Kacsmaryk specializes in religious liberty litigation as Deputy General Counsel at the First Liberty Institute.  Dallas Morning News reports on the renomination.