Monday, December 22, 2014

India Considering Anti-Conversion Law

According to a report from AFP on Saturday, in India, Parliament is paralyzed over a proposed law against "forced conversion." The term is used in India to describe not just conversion under threat of violence, but also conversion through inducements such as offers of free food or education.  Hindu nationalists connected to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have become more aggressive in their conversion efforts. The Daily Times reports
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) militant wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has started a forced conversion movement called homecoming. The RSS believes that these Muslims and Christian were originally Hindus and the homecoming movement is simply an attempt to bring them back to where they belong.
RSS was accused of converting some 50 poor Muslim families a week ago, promising the converts ration cards and other financial incentives.  A larger planned conversion of Christians and Muslims on Christmas day has been called off.  Amit Shah, leader of BJP, says the party favors a new law.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:
  • Symposium on Ronald Dworkin's Religion Without God. Introduction by James E. Fleming; articles by Jeremy Waldron, Stephen L. Carter, Paul Horwitz, Andrew Koppelman, Cecile Laborde, Linda C. McClain, Micah Schwartzman and Steven D. Smith. 94 Boston University Law Review 1201-1355 (2014).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cert. Petiiton Filed In 6th Circuit ACA Non-Profit Contraceptive Mandate Case

On Dec. 12, a petition for certiorari was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Michigan Catholic Conference v. Burwell. (Docket entry). The full text of the petition is available on Westlaw at  2014 WL 7166539. In the case, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied preliminary injunctions to several Catholic non-profit entities that object to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage accommodation. (See prior posting.) BNA Daily Report for Executives [subscription required] reports on the filing of the petition.

President Signs Bill Extending Until 12/31 Tax-Free Charitable IRA Distributions

On Friday, President Obama signed H.R. 5771, the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014. Section 108 of the Act extends until Dec. 31, 2014 the provision allowing tax-free distributions from IRA's for charitable purposes. The benefit applies to IRA holders who are at least 70 1/2 years old.  The Wall Street Journal reports in more detail on the provision.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Wakefield v. Indermill, (9th Cir, Dec. 18, 2014), the 9th Circuit affirmed dismissal of an inmate's complaint that he was denied weekly communion and foot washing services in the security housing unit.

In Presley v. Scott, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 172742 (ND AL, Dec. 15, 2014), an Alabama federal district court, while dismissing a number of plaintiff's claims, allowed an inmate to proceed against certain of the defendants for seizing and destroying his medicine bag and other religious items.

In Johnson v. Lewis, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173411 (WD NC, Dec. 16, 2014), a North Carolina federal district court held that a Hebrew Israelite inmate seeking a kosher diet can move ahead with claims for injunctive relief against defendants in their official capacities, but dismissed damage and individual capacity claims.

In Surles v. Cater, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 174236 (SD GA, Dec. 17, 2014), a Georgia federal district court accepted a magistrate's recommendation and dismissed an inmate's claim that his free exercise and equal protection rights were infringed when on one occasion he was denied a pre-Ramadan meal.

In Ben-Levi v. Brown, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175040 (ED NC, Dec. 18, 2014), a North Carolina federal district court upheld enforcement of a prison's rule that Jewish Bible study with fewer than ten participants must be led by a rabbi.

In Smith v. Perlman, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175341 (ND NY, Dec. 18, 2014), a New York federal district court dismissed an inmate' complaint that the number of Islamic holy days designated as family events was reduced from 2 to 1; he was denied attendance at congregate religious services while in keeplock; and that his request to incorporate halal meats into his therapeutic diet was refused.

In Pickering v. California Department of Corrections, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175656 (ED CA, Dec. 18, 2014), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with leave to amend, an inmate's complaint that authorities have hindered his practice of his Asatru/Odinic faith in numerous ways including denial of chapel times on a few occasions, denial of outdoor worship space and of various items needed for worship.

A suit was filed this week in an Ohio federal district court on behalf of a Muslim woman who alleges that, over her objections, she was forced to attend Christian prayer services while serving a 60-day sentence in the Cuyahoga County (OH) jail. Cleveland.com reports on the lawsuit. (Full text of complaint in Majeed v. Cuyahoga County, (ND OH, filed 12/18/2014)). [Thanks to Matthew Besser for the lead.]

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chabad Rabbis At George Washington University Litigate Over Contract

Thursday's Baltimore Jewish Times reports on an unusual lawsuit just concluded in D.C. Superior Court between two Chabad rabbis:
“American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), et al. v. Yehuda Steiner, et al.” pits Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president and director of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), one of the most recognizable and politically connected Jewish leaders in the country, against [Rabbi Yehuda] Steiner and his wife, Rivky Steiner, the couple Shemtov appointed in 2008 as shluchim, or emissaries, to coordinate Chabad’s presence on George Washington University’s campus.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Neal Kravitz ruled on Monday that Rabbi Steiner, popular with students, was in breach of his contractual obligations that had previously been worked out between the two rabbis through a Jewish religious court. Kravitz enjoined Steiner from leading further Chabad activities at GWU. However, Kravitz also ruled that the non-compete provision in the Steiners' employment contract was unenforceable, leaving open the possibility that Steiner might move his outreach to D.C. students to nearby Georgetown University.

Supreme Court Denies Stay of Florida Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court late yesterday afternoon denied an application for a stay in a Florida same-sex marriage case while the decision is on appeal to the 11th Circuit.  The Supreme Court's order (full text) in Armstrong v. Brenner, (Dec. 19, 2014) results in a district court decision handed down in August taking effect on January 5. (See prior related posting.)  Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented from the Court's action.  SCOTUSblog reports on the Court's action.

Westboro Baptist Attempt To Intervene In Same-Sex Marriage Case Again Rejected

In Marie v. Moser, (D KA, Dec. 18, 2014), a Kansas federal district court for a second time (see prior posting) refused to allow Westboro Baptist Church to intervene as a party in a lawsuit challenging the Kansas ban on same-sex marriage. The court said that WBC's arguments were based on speculation about future possible claims by same-sex couples.  WBC was allowed to continue to file amicus briefs to assert arguments it would like the court to consider.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hawaii Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments On Challenge To Marriage Equality Law

Yesterday the Hawaii Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McDermott v. Abercrombie, a case challenging the state legislature's authority to enact the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act of 2013. The Court, on its website, summarizes the issues:
Respondents argue, inter alia, that the Hawai`i Marriage Equality Act is unconstitutional because in 1998, the people of Hawai`i voted to amend article 1, section 23 of the Hawai`i Constitution to state that “the legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.” Respondents argue that the intent of this amendment was to constitutionally reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples, so the legislature was not authorized to pass the Hawai`i Marriage Equality Act. In response, Petitioners argue that article 1, section 23 allows the legislature to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples, but does not require it to do so. Petitioners also argue that Respondents lacked standing to bring this lawsuit.
An audio recording of the full oral arguments is available from the Court's website. AP reports further on the case.

Lawsuit Against Hebrew National Dismissed In State Court With No Appeal Filed

American Jewish World reported yesterday on the end of the long-running lawsuit against ConAgra Foods challenging the adequacy of its standards for kosher slaughter of the beef used in manufacturing Hebrew National hot dogs.  As previously reported, in April the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to state court.  Then, in a little noticed October 6 opinion (reported on at the time by American Jewish World), a Minnesota state court judge dismissed the case, saying that a civil court cannot make a judgement about whether religious standards for kosher slaughter have been met.  He added:
At bottom, the ultimate remedy for those who feel they don’t have confidence in the degree of kashrut observed in the production of [Hebrew National] products is not to purchase them.
Now the time for appeal of that dismissal has run with no appeal being filed.

Chicago Travel Agent Charged With Mail Fraud In Hajj Visa Misrepresentations

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois yesterday announced the arrest on mail fraud charges of Chicago travel agent Rashid Minhas.  A criminal complaint charges that Minhas sold Hajj travel packages to some 50 customers for a total of $525,000, falsely representing to them that the package contained the required visa to enter Saudi Arabia. It is alleged that Minhas knew that his company, Light Star Hajj, was not authorized by Saudi Arabia to obtain visas.

Israel's High Court Approves Rabbinical Court's Retroactive Invalidation of Conversion

On Wednesday, a 3-judge panel of Israel's High Court of Justice ruled that a rabbinical court had authority to retroactively cancel a conversion of a woman to Judaism where the woman misled the rabbinical court about her intention to lead an Orthodox Jewish life style.  Times of Israel and Jerusalem Post report that the rabbinical court acted two years after approving the conversion because convert Yonit Erez completely changed her Orthodox lifestyle shortly after her conversion. Critics of the decision say there is no basis in Jewish law, short of bribery, for reversing a conversion. Reform Rabbi Uri Regev says that false promises to maintain an Orthodox lifestyle are common among converts from the former Soviet Union in Israel.

FFRF Lacks Standing To Challenge Church Filing Exemptions

In Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Koskinen, (WD WI, Dec. 17, 2014), a Wisconsin federal district court held that Freedom From Religion Foundation and its local affiliate lack standing to challenge the Internal Revenue Service's  exemption of religious organizations from filing Form 990 annual reports, while requiring most other non-profit organizations to file. FFRF had never sought a similar exemption and disavowed any intent to do so. In reaching its conclusion, the court reversed its own holding to the contrary a year ago because of the intervening 7th Circuit decision in Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v Lew. (See prior posting).

Kentucky Supreme Court Defines Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

In St. Joseph Catholic Orphan Society v. Edwards, (KY Sup. Ct., Dec. 18, 2014), the Kentucky Supreme Court redefined the operation of the "ecclesiastical abstention doctrine" under Kentucky law. The Court held that the doctrine is not a bar to jurisdiction, but instead operates as an affirmative defense designed to allow both churches and other religious organizations independence from secular control.  At issue in the case was a challenge by a group of St. Joseph Home alumni to the action at an annual meeting of members taken after the existing Board had been unable to muster a high enough vote to remove one of its own members accused of harassing employees.  By a resolution passed overwhelmingly, the members replaced the existing Board members and amended the bylaws to add protections against Board-member misconduct. The Court concluded that a challenge to this action involves an issue of ecclesiastical governance that is covered by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, and so remanded the case to the trial court for dismissal.

The practical effect of the court's procedural holding is that in the future defendants will be able to file an interlocutory appeal when a trial court refuses to apply the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, instead of proceeding as in this case by seeking a writ of prohibition from the Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, it appears that while the Supreme Court's decision on issuing a writ of prohibition was pending, the trial court went on with the case.  WDRB reports that on Dec. 10, the trial court dismissed the challenge to the action at the annual meeting because the ousted trustees had an opportunity to attend a second meeting at which the bylaw amendments were to be reconsidered, and they chose not to attend. This report also sheds more light on the nature of the leadership contest:
The lawsuit pitted a largely aging group of trustees – among them former residents of the Frankfort Avenue orphanage -- against a younger faction with corporate ties.
[Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Congress Gives USCIRF 9 More Months of Life

Earlier this week, Congress passed and sent to the President H.R. 5816 (full text), extending the life of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom until Sept. 30, 2015.  The bill is retroactive to Dec. 10, the day before the Commission's current authorization expired. (See prior posting.) The White House website lists this, along with other bills awaiting the President's signature and provides an online opportunity for individuals to comment on the bill.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Group Releases 2014 World Report On Rights of Atheists and Humanists

As reported by Religion News Service, on Dec. 10 the International Humanist and Ethical Union released Freedom of Thought 2014: "A Global Report  on the Rights Legal Status and Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious." The 542-page report surveys country-by-country the rights and treatment of non-believers. The report highlights the "steady march" of militant groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram, as well as "a long-standing prohibition of 'apostasy' and 'blasphemy' associated with Islam that is perpetuated by many modern Islamic states."

White House Hosts Two Hanukkah Receptions [UPDATED POST]

President and Mrs. Obama hosted the first of two White House Hanukkah receptions late yesterday afternoon as again this year the guest list was too long for only a single reception.  In his remarks (full text), the President first discussed the freeing earlier in the day of Alan Gross who had been held by Cuba for over five years.  The traditional lighting of the menorah focused on two students and a parent from a bilingual school in Jerusalem that brings Jewish and Muslim students together. Their school was hit by arsonists two weeks ago. They built a menorah around the theme of their school's values and brought it to be used at the reception. Introducing them, President Obama said:
So Inbar and Mouran and their fellow students teach us a critical lesson for this time in our history:  The light of hope must outlast the fires of hate.
The White House posted a 10-minute video of the President's remarks and those of Rabbi  Bradley Shavit Artson who led the blessings in lighting the Hanukkah candles.

A few hours later the President hosted the second reception. (Full text of remarks.)  At this reception, a menorah from children in Yemin Orde, a village in Israel founded in 1953 to provide a safe haven to orphans and young immigrants after the Holocaust, was used.  The candles were lit by a Yemin Orde graduate, along with Dr. Adam Levine who recently returned from fighting ebola in Liberia. Manhattan Rabbi Angela Buchdahl recited the blessings.

GAO Releases Report On IRS Oversight of Tax Exempt Organizations

Yesterday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a 66-page report (full text) on IRS oversight of tax-exempt organizations.  The report recommended that the IRS develop better measures of enforcement performance; communicate more clearly with state charity regulators on allowed use of IRS information; and expand electronic tax-return filing for charities.

4th Circuit: Appeal of Injunction Against Sectarian County Board Prayer Fails On Procedural Grounds

In Hudson v. Pittsylvania County, Virginia, (4th Cir., Dec. 17, 2014), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed on procedural grounds an appeal from a district court's injunction against opening County Board meetings consistently with Christian invocations.  The appeals court held that a notice of appeal filed 175 days after the district court entered summary judgment for plaintiff was untimely.  The appeals court also affirmed the district court's later post-trial award of some $53,000 in attorneys' fees. Chatham Star Tribune reports on the decision.

While this appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Town of Greece case. Pittsylvania County quickly asked the district court to dissolve its injunction.  As previously reported, the district court held however that "unlike in Town of Greece, where invited clergy and laypersons offered the invocations, the Board members themselves led the prayers in Pittsylvania County."  The district court said it was willing to modify the injunction to make it consistent with the holding in Town of Greece, but it did not have jurisdiction to do so until the 4th Circuit to which the case had been appealed granted at least a limited remand.  Yesterday's affirmance of the attorneys' fee award and dismissal of the remainder of the appeal presumably does not amount to a limited remand.                                                          

Fayetteville Anti-Discrimination Law Repeal Applauded By Group As Victory For Religious Values

According to KNWA News, voters in a special election in Fayetteville, Arkansas on Tuesday voted 52% to 48% to repeal an extensive anti-discrimination law (full text) enacted by city council last August. At least one major conservative Christian group applauded the repeal as a victory for religious liberty.  Liberty Counsel in a press release yesterday said:
... Fayetteville voters repealed a law ... that required churches, Christian schools, and other para-church ministries to hire homosexuals for "secular" jobs (such as school teachers), allowed men to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms, and required Christian business owners to service "same-sex weddings."....  Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said "... This ordinance sought to criminalize Judeo-Christian values."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Britain's Supreme Court Punts On Whether Narrow Abortion Law Conscience Rights Violate Religious Freedom

In Greater Glasgow Health Board v. Doogan, (UK SC, Dec. 17, 2014), the United Kingdom's Supreme Court gave a narrow interpretation to the conscience clause in Britain's Abortion Act 1967, but left open the question of whether that interpretation violates religious freedom rights or amounts to religious discrimination.  Section 4(1) of the Abortion Act provides that, with certain exceptions:
no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection....
In a suit by two Catholic midwives who worked as labor-ward coordinators, the Court held that "participate in" should be read narrowly:
It is unlikely that, in enacting the conscience clause, Parliament had in mind the host of ancillary, administrative and managerial tasks that might be associated with those acts. Parliament will not have had in mind the hospital managers who decide to offer an abortion service, the administrators who decide how best that service can be organised within the hospital..., the caterers who provide the patients with food, and the cleaners who provide them with a safe and hygienic environment. Yet all may be said in some way to be facilitating the carrying out of the treatment involved. The managerial and supervisory tasks carried out by the Labour Ward Co-ordinators are closer to these roles than they are to the role of providing the treatment which brings about the termination of the pregnancy. “Participate” in my view means taking part in a “hands-on” capacity.
However, in an important qualification, the Court said:
So, even if not protected by the conscience clause in section 4, the petitioners may still claim that, either under the Human Rights Act or under the Equality Act, their employers should have made reasonable adjustments to the requirements of the job in order to cater for their religious beliefs. This will, to some extent at least, depend upon issues of practicability which are much better suited to resolution in the employment tribunal proceedings (currently sisted pending the resolution of this case) than in judicial review proceedings such as these.
The Court also issued a press release summarizing the decision, and BBC News reports on the decision. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Chabad of California Liable For $845K Damages Under False Claims Act

In United States ex. rel. Kozak v. Chabad-Lubavitch, Inc., (ED CA, Dec. 9. 2014), a California federal district court granted summary judgment in a False Claims Act  qui tam action, finding Chabad of California liable for $844,985 in treble damages and statutory penalties.  The court concluded that Chabad of California misappropriated Department of Homeland Security grant funds intended to pay for video surveillance and other security equipment for Chabad and two of its affiliated institutions. (See prior related posting.) Chabad executed documents assuring the government that it would comply with specific financial management standards in receiving advances of the grant funds to assure that the funds would be used for the purposes for which they were awarded. However Chabad had no written financial management procedures, deposited the grant funds into its general checking account and used $272,495 of the funds for non-grant purposes.

While Chabad argued that there were triable issues of fact as to whether it submitted false claims "knowingly," the court said:
The undisputed facts in this matter show that Chabad knew about the requirements attendant to NSG Program grants in general and to drawdown advance requests in particular, yet had no compunction whatsoever in failing to adhere to those requirements. Under the circumstances, it is clear to the Court that Chabad acted at minimum “knowingly” as defined by the FCA.
The court did not grant summary judgment against two Chabad affiliates that were also defendants, finding that triable issues of fact remain as to their liability.  Jewish Journal reports on the court's decision.

DOJ Announces Settlement of RLUIPA Zoning Suit On Behalf of Minnesota Mosque

The Minnesota United States Attorney's Office announced yesterday that a settlement agreement in principle has been reached in its RLUIPA lawsuit against the City of St. Anthony Village (MN).  The suit challenges the city's refusal to issue a conditional use permit to the Abu Huraira Islamic Center-- with its largely Somali Muslim membership-- that sought to purchase an existing business center in an area zoned "light industrial," use the basement for worship space and continue to rent the remainder of the building to existing business tenants. (See prior posting.)  The agreement, which must still be approved by the St. Anthony City Council, the Justice Department and the federal district court, calls for the city to create a Planned Use Development that will allow the Islamic Center to use the basement space for worship. The city will also undertake various other initiatives to prevent future religious discrimination.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports in more detail on the settlement terms.

Suit Challenges Creche On Indiana Courthouse Lawn

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, through the Indiana ACLU, filed suit in federal district court yesterday challenging the constitutionality of a life-size city-owned Nativity Scene on the lawn of the Franklin County Courthouse in Brookville, Indiana. The complaint (full text) in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Franklin County, Indiana, (SD IN, filed 12/16/2014), (which includes a photo of the display) says that while the city also displays a series of plastic reindeer on the lawn, they are not part of the same display and are barely visible during the day when they are not lighted. Both the ACLU and FFRF have issued press releases announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

UPDATE: Under an agreement reached by the parties on Dec. 19, the Nativity Scene will remain up only until the day after Christmas, and FFRF will drop its request for a preliminary injunction. According to a press release by Thomas More Society, litigation on plaintiffs' request for a permanent injunction will now continue on a more normal time schedule.

Ohio School Mentorship Grants Are Required To Include Faith-Based Partners

The Ohio legislature earlier this year appropriated $10 million for a Career Advising and Mentoring Grant Program, specifying:
The program shall award competitive matching grants to provide funding for local networks of volunteers and organizations to sponsor career advising and mentoring for students in eligible school districts.... Eligible school districts are those with a high percentage of students in poverty, a high number of students not graduating on time, and other criteria as determined by the State Superintendent. Eligible school districts shall partner with members of the business community, civic organizations, or the faith-based community to provide sustainable career advising and mentoring services. [Am H.B. 483, Sec. 263.320]
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that at an informational meeting held in Cleveland last week, school districts that are potential applicants were told by an Ohio Department of Education representative that: "each application must include a school district (or charter school) plus a business and a place of worship or faith-based organization in its partnership." A United Way representative that sits on the advisory panel for the program said the same thing.  Americans United takes issue with the requirement-- added in Department of Education rule making-- that a faith-based organization is required to be part of each partnership.

Audio of 10th Circuit Arguments In 3 Non-Profit ACA Challenges Now Available

On Dec. 8, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in three cases in which religious non-profits claim that the Obama Administration's regulations insufficiently accommodate their objections to the contraceptive coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act.  The cases are Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell (see prior posting); Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell (see prior posting); and Reaching Souls International v. Burwell (see prior posting).  Links to audio recordings of all three arguments are now available from the court's website. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Satanic Temple Temporary Display At Michigan Capitol OK'd As Nativity Scene Plans Falter

Under rules of the Michigan State Capitol Commission (full text), temporary displays, which may not remain over night, may be scheduled on the Capitol grounds.  The Detroit Free Press reports that the Commission has approved a request from the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple for a display from Dec. 21-23. The display will consist of a snake wrapped around the Satanic cross presenting a book as a holiday gift. John Truscott, a member of the State Capitol Commission, said the Commission could not discriminate in approving applications, but added: "Personally, I think this is absolutely repulsive and I'm very frustrated by it. I don't appreciate a group trying to hijack a Christian holiday."

Meanwhile an already-approved request to place a Nativity Scene on the Capitol grounds is not moving ahead because the out-of-stater who requested it has been unable to find someone to remove the display each evening as required by state rules.  All of this takes place as the Michigan legislature is debating a controversial religious freedom bill. HB 5958, the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, has been approved by the House and is now under consideration by the state Senate.

Kerry Asks Vatican For Aid In Relocating Guantanamo Detainees

Catholic News Service reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in Rome yesterday, met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.  As part of their discussion, Kerry asked the Vatican for "support in the search for appropriate humanitarian solutions for the current detainees" at Guantanamo Bay so that the Obama Administration can move on its commitment to close the prison at Guantanamo.

9th Circuit En Banc Hears Arguments In "Innocence of Muslims" Case

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, sitting en banc, heard arguments in Garcia v. Google Inc.  Ten of the 11 judges on the en banc panel heard the oral arguments live.  It was announced that Judge Berzon was unable to be in the courtroom, but would listen to the video of arguments at a later date. The video of the full oral arguments is available on the 9th Circuit's YouTube channel.  In the case, the 3-judge panel, in a 2-1 decision, held that a preliminary injunction should be granted to require the controversial film "Innocence of Muslims" to be removed from YouTube. The suit was filed by Cindy Lee Garcia who acted in a portion of the film, had received death threats because of it, and claimed that the video posting amounted to a copyright infringement of her performance. (See prior posting.)  All the pleadings and amicus briefs filed with the 9th Circuit are available here. Courthouse News Service reports on yesterday's oral arguments. [Thanks to How Appealing for the lead.]

Pastor Brings Unusual Anti-Gay Marriage Protest To Courthouse

In Jackson, Mississippi on Friday, a Baptist pastor brought an unusual protest against the legalization of same-sex marriage to the federal courthouse. Christian Post reports that Reverend Edward James of Bertha Chapel Missionary Baptist Church brought a horse clothed in a wedding dress, with white flowers in its harness, to the courthouse, along with a protest sign reading in part: "Do you take this horse to be your unnatural wedded spouse.... This might even be possible if the ban on same-sex marriage is lifted...."  James hopes to change the mind of the federal district judge who struck down Mississipi's same-sex marriage ban last month.  The court's order has been stayed pending appeal. (See  prior posting.)

Report Released On Counseling of Sex Abuse Victims At Bob Jones University

Last week, Bob Jones University released a 300-page Final Report (full text) growing out of an investigation by the non-profit organization GRACE of the University's inadequate counseling of students who disclosed that they were sexually abused as a child, or were sexually abused after they enrolled at Bob Jones University or its Academy. Calling attention to the Report, yesterday's Daily Beast says in part:
At this point, there are so many sex scandals among conservative religious organizations, we’re no longer surprised by any of them. The latest revelation—that for decades, the evangelical Bob Jones University blamed victims of sexual assault and discouraged the prosecution of predators—should be shocking, but probably isn’t.
Yet, the recent report on BJU’s misconduct is different. Unusually for such a document, it makes a theological case against sexual abuse—but in so doing, it points to the deep roots of rape culture that may not be so easily uprooted.

Indictment Charges Fraud In Export of Supposed Halal Meat

On Dec. 5, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa announced the indictment of three related corporations and two corporate officials on charges of extensive fraud in the export sale of meat represented to be "halal." The indictment in United States v. Aossey, (ND IA, Dec. 5, 2014) (full text) charges defendants with conspiracy to make and use false statements on documents, sell misbranded meat, commit mail and wire fraud and sell misbranded meat.  This indictment expands on charges and individuals targeted in an earlier indictment in October.  (Background).  Export Law Blog summarizes the new charges against Midamar Corp., Islamic Services of America, ISA, Inc., Jalel Aossey and William Aossey:
The initial indictment charged William Aossey Jr. with falsely stating on export certificates that meat had been slaughtered in a Halal-certified slaughterhouse.
The new indictment adds Mr. Aossey’s sons and Midamar itself.... [A] central part of Midamar’s [defense] was that even if the meat was not slaughtered in Halal-certified slaughterhouses, the meat was still Halal meat as represented by the company.
The facts set forth in the new indictment seem to be directly aimed at this argument, going into the specific ways in which the slaughtered meat did not comport with the Halal standards that Midamar detailed on its own website.