Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Court Says Sun Worshipping Atheism Is Not A "Religion"

In Copple v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, (CA App., March 24, 2015), a California appeals court affirmed a trial court decision holding that Sun Worshipping Atheism is not a "religion" for purposes of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act.  Plaintiff Marshel Copple who had been hired as a correctional officer claimed that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s requirement that he work overtime violated a tenet of his belief system that he sleep at least eight hours per day.  He sued for religious discrimination and harassment, failure to accommodate religious practices, retaliation based on his religion, and constructive discharge for his religious practices. The court held that Sun Worshipping Atheism, which Copple created and of which he is the only member does not address fundamental and ultimate questions. Instead it merely deals with living a healthy lifestyle. Raw Story last week reported on the decision.

4th Circuit Vacates Trial Court's Abstention In South Carolina Episcopal Diocese Trademark Litigation

In vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, (4th Cir., March 31, 2015), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a federal district court's decision that declined to exercise jurisdiction over a trademark infringement case growing out of the ongoing controversy between a large break-away portion of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and the smaller number of parishes that remain loyal to The Episcopal Church.  The district court held that the trademark dispute is part of a larger dispute over ownership of the Diocese's property which is being litigated in state court and concluded that it is "judicially impractical to retain jurisdiction over a fragmented claim that has been separated from the larger controversy." (See prior posting.)  The 4th Circuit held that the district court had applied precedents that apply to abstention when a plaintiff is seeking only declaratory relief.  Instead, where as here the plaintiff seeks an injuction as well as a declaratory judgment, the district court should have applied precedent that allows abstention only if "exceptional circumstances" justify the surrender of federal jurisdiction. The 4th Circuit remanded to case for the district court to determine whether exceptional circumstances are present. [Thanks to Will Esser via Religionlaw for the lead.]

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Arkansas Legislature Passes RFRA Law That Is Broader Than Indiana's

The Arkansas General Assembly today gave final passage to HB 1228, the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (full text) and sent it to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his signature.  The bill's passage comes as growing controversy surrounds a religious freedom bill that became law in Indiana last week. (See prior posting.)  While a number of national media are describing the Arkansas law as similar to Indiana's (Huffington Post, Slate), a close examination of the Arkansas bill reveals that in a number of ways is is significantly broader than the Indiana law.  Here are some examples:

The definitional section in the Arkansas bill defines a "person" protected by the Act as including a corporation. Arkansas, however, does not include the language in Indiana's law that limits coverage of business entities to those where the protected beliefs are held by individuals who have control and substantial ownership of the entity.

The Arkansas law requires that in order to justify a substantial burden, the state must show that it has a compelling interest "in this particular instance."  That language does not appear in the Indiana law.

The Arkansas law defines "compelling governmental interest" to mean "a governmental interest of the highest magnitude that cannot otherwise be achieved without burdening the exercise of religion."

The Arkansas law permits a person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, to assert the violation or impending violation as a "claim or defense" even when the state is not a party to the proceeding.  The Indiana law only allows assertion of a RFRA violation against a private party as a "defense."  That is, unlike Indiana, it appears that the Arkansas law would permit a plaintiff to recover damages against a private party for a violation of religious rights by the government.  In that regard, the Arkansas bill provides that it does not create a right of action by an employee against a private employer.  Unlike Indiana, it does not similarly exclude an action by an applicant for employment or a former employee.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Gov. Hutcheson has in the past repeatedly said he would sign the legislation. However some business and political leaders have called for Hutchinson to veto the bill.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases-- Installment 2 For the Week

In Epps v. Grannis, (9th Cir., March 27, 2015), the 9th Circuit upheld the district court's dismissal of a Muslim inmate's complaints regarding lack of a kosher diet, the prison's package policy, lack of a Muslim chaplain, failure to allow him to worship in a group setting following a prison riot in 2008; failure to deliver his Ramadan package in 2008; and confiscation of his religious books in 2010, which were returned in 2012.

In Williams v. GEO Group, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37094 (MD GA, March 25, 2015), a Georgia federal magistrate judge recommended permitting a Rastafarian inmate to proceed with his free exercise and RLUIPA complaints that he was required to shave in violation of his Nazerite vow.

In Altman v. Palmer, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37555 (ND IA, March 25, 2015), an Iowa federal district court rejected a claim by a civilly committed sex offender that his free exercise rights were infringed when he was not permitted to travel to attend the church in the town in which his family resided.

In Spigelman v. Samuels, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38147 (ED KY, March 26, 2015), a Kentucky federal district court dismissed a Jewish inmate's complaint that his use of tefillin was restricted while he was in the prison's special housing unit.

In Hart v. Shearin, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38189 (D MD, March 26, 2015), a Maryland federal district court upheld a prison's policy of limiting or cancelling religious services for problem inmates during a period of institutional lock-down. Inmates could have access to a chaplain and a religious TV video. Plaintiff's motion to file an amended complaint indicating that he had no TV and needed to see a chaplain was granted.

In Freeman v. Budnick, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38613 (ED AR, March 26, 2015), an Arkansas federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38618, March 4, 2015) and dismissed a complaint by an Odinist inmate that while in punitive isolation he was denied various items needed to practice his religion such as a Thor's hammer, a set of runes and rune cloth, an Odinist text, an altar and altar cloth and a wooden statue.

In Scott v. Erdogan, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38739, (M.D. Pa. Mar. 25, 2015), a Pennsylvania federal district court concluded that factual issues for trial exist as to a Sunni Muslim inmate's complaint that there were only Wahhabi/Salafi services conducted and his RLUIPA complaint about the timing of Ramadan prayer.  A number of other complaints about infringements of his religious practices were dismissed.

In Cox v. Stephens, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39051 (SD TX, March 27, 2015), a Texas federal district court dismissed a Native American inmate's challenge to the Texas grooming policy that prohibits him from growing his hair, the religious objects policy that prohibits him from wearing his medicine bag at all times, and the pipe policy prohibiting him from partaking in the communal pipe. They were found to be the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling interest.

Interim Arrangement Gives Rhode Island Teachers Good Friday Off This Year As Lawsuit Advances

The Providence Journal reported ysterday the Cranston, Rhode Island School Department has reached a short-term settlement with the Cranston Teachers' Alliance in a lawsuit over teachers' right under the collective bargaining contract to take off for Good Friday. (See prior posting.) Teachers who put in their requests by Wednesday can take Good Friday off this year.  When the court ultimately interprets the collective barganing contract, teachers could be forced to pay the district back for the day off.

Supreme Court Denies Cert. In Bronx Household of Faith Case

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday denied certiorari in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York, (Docket No. 14-354, cert. denied 3/30/2015). (Order List).  In the widely watched case, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision held that the Board of Education of the City of New York did not violate the free exercise clause when in 2007 it changed its rules to bar the use of school facilities by churches for religious worship services. (See prior posting.)  The New York Times, reporting on the denial of review, says:
The decision permits Mayor Bill de Blasio to expel immediately dozens of religious organizations that have been holding worship services in city school buildings after hours and on weekends. But consistent with a pledge the mayor made during his campaign to lift the prohibition, a spokesman said on Monday that the city remained committed to allowing churches to use the schools on the same grounds as other organizations.
“Now that litigation has concluded, the city will develop rules of the road that respect the rights of both religious groups and nonparticipants,” the spokesman, Wiley Norvell, said in a statement. “While we review and revise the rules, groups currently permitted to use schools for worship will continue to be able to worship on school premises.”

Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Is Indiana's RFRA So Controversial? This Blogger's Analysis.

Since Indiana's passage of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act earlier this week (see prior posting), there has been a flood of commentary on what the Act really means and its true impact.  The commentary, some from those with a political agenda and some from those without one, ranges from the assertion that IRFRA does little to change current law to the assertion that it creates a license to discriminate against the LGBT community.  So here is my attempt to suggest some perspective on the statute.

(1)  The heart of the statute-- the substantial burden/ compelling interest/ least restrictive means requirement-- is similar to that in the federal RFRA and those of numerous other states.  What makes these tests stand out is the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decisions that give the tests new salience.  With Hobby Lobby and Holt v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court has transformed the substantial burden and least restrictive means tests into geometrically more powerful tools to use to challenge refusals to provide religious exemptions.

(2)  Traditionally it was assumed that the federal RFRA would be used by minority religions to fend off broad regulations that might be enacted without a careful weighing of idiosyncratic religious practices that are important to often discrete and insular groups with comparatively small numbers of adherents.  Since Hobby Lobby and the explosion of same-sex marriage cases, it is largely the Christian majority (or a segment of it) that asserts it is the victim of the majoritarian process, seeking exemptions that have a negative impact on minority groups that have broadly been the victims of past governmental discrimination.

(3)  Since Hobby Lobby. the power of RFRA exemptions has been magnified because they can be asserted by fairly large economic enterprises whose owners have religious reservations about a regulatory requirement.  Indiana's RFRA may have expanded the reach of RFRA exemptions beyond those contemplated by Hobby Lobby.  In defining the persons protected by the law, it enumerates all sorts of business entities, including "a corporation."  It does not limit this to a "closely-held corporation" as the Supreme Court did in Hobby Lobby.  It may be that a separate clause in the Indiana law has that effect, but that is unclear.  Under Sec. 7, a business entity is covered if it
exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by ... the individuals who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes.
It can be argued that only a closely held corporation would be controlled and substantially owned by the same individuals.  But this depends on whether "substantial ownership" means a substantial percentage of the business or merely that the person has a substantial amount of money invested in the company.  CEO's of publicly held corporations often own millions of dollars of the company's stock, but still own only a small percentage of the company.

(4)  Enacted as the Supreme Court is about to hear oral arguments in same-sex marriage cases (including one from Indiana), and in the wake of numerous high-profile cases on religious refusals by businesses to furnish goods and services to same-sex couples, the law has become a symbol of the clash between conservative Christian views on sexuality and the movement of expanded LGBT rights.  Some have pointed out, accurately, that Indiana's statewide public accommodation law does not include a ban on sexual orientation discrimination.  So business that wish to discriminate on that basis do not need an exemption.

However, Indiana's statute also applies to local governmental entities in the state.  According to the Indiana ACLU, four localities have ordinances that provide enforceable protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity-- Indianapolis, Lafayette, New Albany and Tippecanoe County.  The new IRFRA will be able to be invoked as a defense in proceedings charging discrimination under these local laws.  This aspect of the law creates particular political and economic problems for the city of Indianapolis that hosts numerous national conventions and sporting events.

(5)  Indiana's new law makes it clear that IRFRA defenses can be asserted in lawsuits between private parties; not just in suits in which the government is a party.  Thus a same-sex couple suing for breach of contract when goods are initially promised and then refused might be met by a religious freedom defense. The sale of goods provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code arguably imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise of the business that discovers it has agreed to violate its own religious principles by facilitating a same-sex wedding.  (This argument is more difficult when services rather than goods are the subject of the contract, and the plaintiff relies on the common law of contracts for enforceability.  Although the statute covers not just statutes, but also "customs" and "usages" of any governmental entity.)

Affirmative relief (damages or an injunction) is only available however against a governmental entity.  And the statute specifically provides that it does not create a cause of action against a private employer by any applicant, employee or former employee.

For other commentaries on IRFRA, see Josh Blackman's Blog and the postings to which he links. And the Washington Post reports today that Indiana lawmakers now say they will act to amend IRFRA to make it clear that it does not permit discrimination against gays.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Marriage and Family issues):
From SmartCILP:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ramapo Villages Officials Cleared of Discrimination Claims Growing Out of Zoning Fight

In Bernstein v. Village of Wesley Hills, (SD NY, March 27, 2015), a New York federal district court rejected religious discrimination claims growing out of a chapter in the long battle between Hasidic residents and others in parts of Rockland County, New York. As recounted by the court:
Plaintiffs are religious corporations and individuals affiliated with the Chofetz Chaim sect of Orthodox Judaism, and they allege an interest in the operation of Kiryas Radin, a religious educational institution and center for religious activity and prayer, located on 4.7 acres of unincorporated land in the Town of Ramapo....
The heart of Plaintiffs’ case is their allegation that Defendants [village officials] colluded to file the Chestnut Ridge Action—which claimed, in relevant part, that Ramapo’s environmental review of Kiryas Radin prior to its approval was insufficient under state law—for discriminatory reasons. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants, “[h]iding behind a false fa├žade as protectors of the environment . . . utilized municipal government authority to advance their campaign against the spread of Orthodox Jewery in the Town of Ramapo.” ...
By Plaintiffs’ own admission, their claims at this stage of the litigation are dependent on their allegation that Defendants did not bring legal challenges against development projects that were, other than not being run by members of the Hasidic community, similar to Kiryas Radin in all material respects.
The court however concluded that the non-Hasidic development projects which were not challenged were not similar to Kiryas Radin. It also concluded that plaintiffs had not shown discriminatory intent on the part of the defendants:
Having lived and worked with residents and officials from the Villages during these many years, Plaintiffs firmly believe that they have been targeted because of their religious beliefs, even if they cannot point to discriminatory statements by Defendants. The Court is sympathetic: who would know better than the Parties in this case whether the current dispute is a product of the decades-long tension between the Hasidic community and the Villages of Ramapo? However ... [b]ecause Plaintiffs have offered almost no evidence in support of their claims, and certainly not enough to raise a contested issue of material fact, the Court must grant summary judgment in favor of Defendants.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Stavenjord v. Schmimdt, (AK Sup. Ct., March 20, 2015), the Alaska Supreme Court held that a trial court was incorrect in dismissing a RLUIPA claim by a Buddhist prisoner who wanted to receive a kosher diet and to purchase a prayer shawl.

In Lewis v. Godinez, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34839 (ND IL, March 20, 2015), an Illinois federal district court allowed a Rastafarian inmate to proceed with his complaints that he was forced to cut his dreadlocks, denied access to religious literature, and that the prison refused to hire a Rastafarian religious leader or provide Rastafarian services.

In Lagar v. Tegels, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34842 (WD WI, March 20, 2015), a Wisconsin federal district court dismissed an inmate's claim that his religious freedom was infringed when he was denied the right to wear a Rosicrucian emblem.

In Campbell v. Greeley, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34967 (WD AR, March 20, 2015), an Arkansas federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34980, Feb. 27, 2015) and dismissed an inmate's complaint that the detention center in which he was housed did not provide religious services.

In Browning v. Seifert, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35079 (ND WV, March 20, 2015), a West Virginia federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35075, Feb. 11, 2015) and allowed an Orthodox Jewish inmate to move ahead with his suit seeking various accommodations for kosher food, wearing of religious clothing, celebration of various holidays and permission to refrain from shaving and cutting his hair.  Numerous other claims were dismissed.

In Hughes v. Heimgartner, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35642 (D KS, March 23, 2015), a Kansas federal district court refused to grant summary judgment to defendants on complaints by a Muslim inmate that he was denied access to an Eid ul Fitr meal because he was in disciplinary segregation.

In Banks v. NYPD, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35129 (WD PA, March 20, 2015), a Pennsylvania federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35770, Feb. 26, 2015) and dismissed an inmate's claim that Defendants conspired to keep him confined in a halfway house and to require him to apply for funds through two Christian organizations because of his status as a Wiccan, Warlock and Witch.

In McDonald v. West Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36125 (ND CA, March 20, 2015), a California federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed with his complaint that his request for vegetarian meals was denied. Plaintiff was an adherent of "Evenism," a "religious and spiritual worldview" that "eating the flesh of land-based animals is no different than eating human flesh."

In Bell v. Scott, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36262 (CD IL, March 24, 2015), an Illinois federal district court permitted a Seventh Day Adventist civil detainee to proceed with his complaint that authorities have refused to allow religious leaders to bring in a portable pool to baptize him.

In Jones v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37080 (WD TN, March 24, 2015), a Tennessee federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed with his claim that he was denied equal protection when he was terminated from his prison job because of his religion.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Injunction, Civil Penalty Imposed On Florist That Refused To Sell For Same-Sex Wedding

As previously reported, last month a Washington state trial court held that a florist shop and its owner violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the state's Consumer Protection Act when the shop's owner advised a customer that for religious reasons she could not provide flower arrangements for his same-sex wedding ceremony. Now in State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers Inc., (WA Super. Ct., March 27, 2015), the trial court entered an injunction against defendants prohibiting them from discriminating against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation in the furnishing of goods, merchandise and services.  In addition, the court imposed a civil penalty of $1000 and a nominal $1 for costs and attorneys' fees. Washington's Attorney General issued a press release announcing the decision. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Alaska Free Exercise Clause Defense To Illegal Salmon Fishing Is Rejected

In Phillip v. State of Alaska, (AK Ct. App., March 27, 2015), an Alaska court of appeals refused to dismiss criminal charges against 13 Yup'ik Eskimo fishermen charged with violating the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s emergency orders restricting king salmon fishing on the Kuskokwim River.  The Yup'ik claimed that their conduct is protected by the free exercise clause of the Alaska Constitution. The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the test under the state Constitution for whether an individual is entitled to a religious exemption from a facially neutral law requires assessing the validity of the individual's religious interest and then determining whether the State can prove a compelling interest that would justify curtailing the religiously-based practice.  Applying that test here, the appeals court said:
[I]t would seriously hamper the Department’s ability to manage the fishery for sustained yield if courts required the State to show that each emergency action it took was the least restrictive alternative available. ... Instead, we agree with the district court that the question ... is whether the State can meet its burden of proving that its compelling interest in maintaining a healthy and sustainable king salmon population would be harmed if the court granted the religious exemption sought by the defendants.... [T]he State met that burden here.
AP reports on the decision.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Preliminary Injunction Bars Extension of FMLA To Same-Sex Couples

In State of Texas v. United States, (ND TX, March 26, 2015), a Texas federal district court granted a preliminary injunction ordering the Department of Labor to stay application of a rule amendment that extends the Family and Medical Leave Act to same-sex married couples even in states that do not recognize sane-sex marriage. The court asserted that Congress does not have unlimited power to impose its definition of marriage on the states and that Congress did not authorize the Department of Labor to regulate spousal benefits to do so. Houston Chronicle reports on the decision.

California AG Asks Court To Allow Her To Reject Virulently Anti-Gay Initiative Measure

Religion News Service reports that California Attorney General Kamala Harris this week asked a state court to allow her to refuse to process a virulently anti-gay (and likely unconstitutional) initiative petition filed in proper form last month with the Attorney General's office.  Harris asked for an order so that she will not be required to issue a title and ballot summary for the proposal which could get on the ballot only if the sponsors were able to collect over 365,000 valid signatures. The initiative measure (full text) is titled the "Sodomy Suppression Act."  It begins by describing sodomy as "a monstrous evil that Almighty God ...commands us to suppress...." Not only would the Act outlaw "sodomistic propaganda" and bar "sodomites" from public office and public employment, but it also calls for "death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method" for anyone who "willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification." The punishment for distributing sodomistic propaganda would be a $1 million fine, 10 years in prison, and/ or expulsion from the state of California.

British Parliament Passes Bill Authorizing Invocations At City Council Meetings

Law & Religion UK reports that on Wednesday in Britain the House of Lords gave final Parliamentary approval to the Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill (full text). The bill, which now will be presented for Royal Assent, authorizes local governmental bodies to include in their meetings time for prayers or other religious observance or for observances connected with a religious or philosophical belief. It also provides that local authorities may support, facilitate or make arrangements to be represented at religious events or events connected with a religious or philosophical belief.  Apparently the bill is a reaction to a court ruling that town councils can open with an invocation, but only if it is not part of the formal meeting. (Background) (See prior related posting).  During the debate in the House of Lords (full text), Baroness Turner of Camden said:
A number of us who are secularists feel that our views have been somewhat bypassed. It is one thing to have prayers, but it is quite another thing to have prayers as part of an actual meeting.

Ministerial Exception Prevents Court From Deciding Complaint Over Pastoral Letter Requirement

On Monday, the Ventura County California Superior Court dismissed the complaint in Serrano v. Family Life Faith, a lawsuit by two teachers who were fired for failing to provide a letter from a pastor confirming their membership in a church.  Little Oaks, a for-profit private Christian school which imposed the requirement, is affiliated with the non-profit Calvary Chapel. (See prior posting.)  The court held that the "ministerial exception" doctrine precludes it from adjudicating issues regarding the hiring or firing of ministerial type employees of religious schools, such as these teachers who were introducing students to Christianity. Christian Post reports on the decision.

Groups Challenge Residency Limits In Courthouse Open Forum Law

As previously reported, last December the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued Franklin County, Indiana, challenging a Nativity Scene placed on the Courthouse lawn.  The suit was dropped after the county enacted a law making the county courthouse a public forum for all types of expressive activities. (See prior posting.)  However this week, FFRF and the Satanic Temple have filed a new lawsuit against the county charging that the open forum law still violates their free expression rights.  The complaint (full text) in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Franklin County, Indiana, (SD IN, filed 3/24/2015), contends that the provision in the open forum law limiting it to Franklin County residents is not narrowly tailored to further a substantial governmental interest.  Both plaintiffs were denied permits for displays. FFRF had applied to place a display of several cut-out figures on the Courthouse lawn from Nov. 29, 2015 to Jan. 6, 2016 to celebrate the December 15th "nativity" of the Bill of Rights. Satanic Temple wanted to erect a three-dimensional sculpture during the same time period.  FFRF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

Mississippi Supreme Court: Courts May Not Rule On Dispute Over Removal of Pastor

In Greater Fairview Missionary Baptist Church v. Hollins, (MS Sup. Ct., March 26, 2015), the Mississippi Supreme Court, relying largely on the U.S. Supreme Court's Hosanna-Tabor decision, held that a trial court lacked jurisdiction to impose procedures for a congregation to use in a vote to remove its pastor.  The pastor had initially been placed on administrative leave after being accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with a minor.  When church members decided to vote on whether to completely remove him, the pastor sued.  In reversing the trial court, the Supreme Court said in part:
In sum, we find that the chancery judge erred when he treated this ecclesiastical controversy as a secular one—a pastor who is unhappy about being terminated by a church simply does not present a secular controversy.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Afghan President To US Congress: Moderate Muslims Must Speak Out

Afghanistan's new President, Ashraf Ghani, in a visit to the United States this week (New York Times), addressed a joint session of Congress yesterday.  In his speech (full text and video), Ghani called for changes within Islam, saying in part:
We are willing to speak truth about terror.  Military fighting may stem the advance of extremism, but it will not put an end to the anger and hatred being promulgated across majority countries from these groups. That hate must be challenged and overcome from within the religion of Islam.  Who is entitled to speak for Islam?  Leaders, intellectuals and those many millions of Muslims who believe that Islam is a religion of tolerance and virtue must find their voice.  Silence is not acceptable.  But silence is not what the world will hear from us.  Afghanistan is joining a new consensus that's emerging in the Muslim world.  A consensus that rejects intolerance, extremism and war...
The Islamic world must understand its own gloriously tolerant and inquisitive past.  It must re-engage with the world openly and without paranoia.  We, the unity government of Afghanistan, know that Islam is a religion of peace.... The Declaration of Human Rights is firmly embedded in our Constitution....

NJ Governor Signs Law Keeping Religious Cemeteries Out of Headstone and Funeral Business

Earlier this week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed A-3840 (full text), a law that bars religious groups that operate cemeteries from also selling headstones or offering various other kinds of funeral services. Religion News Service reports that the immediate effect of the law will be to require  the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark to give up its profitable business of selling headstones and private crypts. According to RNS:
The archdiocese became the first religious group in the state to enter the headstone business two years ago, alarming dozens of small, independent companies that produce monuments and crypts.
The dealers’ trade association, the Monument Builders of New Jersey, waged an 18-month legal fight and lobbying campaign against the move, contending the practice would spread to other dioceses and then to the owners of other religious cemeteries.
The archdiocese returned fire with a lobbying effort of its own, along with a personal appeal from Archbishop John J. Myers, who exhorted Catholics to fight the law.

Satanic Temple Urges "Discrimination Transparency" Amendment To Michigan's Proposed RFRA

Fox News reported earlier this month that in a creative response to Michigan's proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Detroit Chapter of the Satanic Temple is urging that a "Discrimination Transparency" amendment be added to the bill.  The proposed amendment would legally require businesses that serve the public to post any discrimination policy in effect in a conspicuous location visible to patrons and employees.  The Satanic Temple even furnishes on its website a downloadable sign that could be used by businesses.  It reads: "Due To Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs, Service Is Denied To _______".