Friday, March 31, 2006

Assets of Polygamous FLDS Sect Still An Issue

The Associated Press reports that a hearing in a Utah state court yesterday revealed new complexities in the court's attempt to supervise the trust that holds assets belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The FLDS Church has gained notoriety because of the polygamous practices of its members and the activities of its former leader, Warren Jeffs, who may now be founding a new colony in Saskatchewan. An attorney for the court-appointed trustee yesterday told Judge Denise Lindberg that resources from the United Effort Plan trust may have been diverted to new FLDS outposts in Colorado, South Dakota, Texas and Nevada. Judge Lindberg called on law enforcement officers in the sect's communities of Colorado City, Colo., and Hildale, Utah, to end their current obstructionism and cooperate in the investigation of the use of UEP funds.

Developments In Priest Sexual Abuse Claims

Today's National Catholic Reporter carries a story on hearings taking place in state legislatures across the country on proposals to extend the statute of limitations in cases alleging priest sexual abuse of minors. In Maryland, Washington Archdiocese chancellor Jane Belford argued: "By eliminating time limits or vastly extending them, these bills unfairly require a religious organization or other private entity to try to defend a civil lawsuit involving allegations that could be 30 to 40 years old. Memories fade over time, and witnesses and accused individuals may have died, disappeared or become infirm." The bill pending in Colorado that focuses only on suits against religious and private institutions has led the Catholic Church in that state to urge that sexual abuse in public schools and public institutions should be subject to the same rules.

Meanwhile, early last month a Colorado federal district court refused to permit the Archdiocese of Denver remove to federal court claims that had originally been filed against it in state court. In Doe v. Archdiocese of Denver, 413 F. Supp. 2d. 1187 (D. Colo., Feb. 7, 2006) and Nielsen v. Archdiocese of Denver, 413 F. Supp. 2d 1181 (D. Colo, Feb. 7, 2006), the court held that claims that the Church was negligent in hiring, supervising or retaining offending priests do not raise First Amendment issues that justify removal of the cases to federal court.

Navy Policy For Chaplains-- Analysis and Attack

Jews On First yesterday posted an excellent analysis of the U.S. Navy's recently modified instructions for its chaplains (SECNAV Instruction 1730.7C, Feb. 1, 2006). The 20-page document gives extensive guidance to chaplains and their commanders. It says that except in extraordinary circumstances, any religious element in a Navy function that is not a religious service must be non-sectarian. However a chaplain may refuse to participate in any program that is inconsistent with his or her religious beliefs. The instructions call on chaplains to function in a pluralistic environment that respects the free exercise of religion by all military members.

Yesterday, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore joined dissident Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt at a news conference. Klingenschmitt says that the Navy's policy violates his First Amendment rights by prohibiting him from reciting Christian prayer at non-religious events. Today's Birmingham, Alabama News reports that Klingenschmitt disobeyed an order not to wear his Navy uniform at the news conference. Instead, he invited disciplinary action by appearing in uniform, with a stole around his neck, where he specifically invoked Jesus Christ in prayer. Later, he changed into civilian clothing and a clerical collar and explicitly criticized the Navy's policy.

Apparently Klingenschmitt is not the only chaplain who has had a run-in with the Navy. There has just become available on LEXIS a case from last year brought by another chaplain who was forced into early retirement. In Wilkins v. United States, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41268 (SD Cal., June 29, 2005), a Navy chaplain claimed that various institutionalized practices of the Navy's Chaplain Corps violated the First Amendment's Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, as well as the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. In particular, he allged discrimination against non-liturgical Protestant chaplains. The court rejected all of his claims.

Ohio Autopsy Law Respects Jewish Halacha

The Ohio General Assembly last week passed and sent to the Governor for signature Am. Sub. H.B. 235. The bill, which amends the Coroner's Law, includes provisions to take account of religious concerns about autopsy procedures. Ohio law already has a provision (ORC Sec. 313.131) relating to autopsy when the deceased had religious objections to the procedure. It permits a rapid judicial hearing to determine if the autopsy is a compelling public necessity. The new bill, which more generally deals with disposal of specimens after an autopsy, provides:
If an autopsy is performed ... and pursuant to section 313.131 ... the coroner has reason to believe that the autopsy is contrary to the deceased person's religious beliefs, the coroner shall not remove any specimens ... from the body of the deceased person unless removing those specimens ... is a compelling public necessity. Except [for a DNA specimen retained for diagnostic, evidentiary or confirmatory purposes]] ..., if the coroner removes any specimens from the body of the deceased person, the coroner shall return the specimens, as soon as is practicable, to the person who has the right to the disposition of the body.
These provisions are consistent with Jewish religious law regarding disposal of body tissue and organs. (Background.) Ohio Jewish Communities and Agudath Israel worked with drafters of the law to assure that the final version respected Halacha (Jewish law). (See prior posting.) [Thanks to OJC March 24, 2006 Internal Newsletter for the information.]

Muslim Classes Permitted In Syria's Military

AsiaNews today reports that in Syria, for the first time since 1963 when the Baath Party declared Syria a secular state, imams will be permitted to hold religious classes in the barracks of the Military Academy. The move is seen as an attempt to counter the fundamentalist Islamic teachings of the Muslim Brothers.

New Publications of Interest

From BePress:
From SmartCILP: Don Willenburg has recently published a review of Noah Feldman's book, Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem--And What We Should Do About It, 80 Tulane Law Review 713-725 (2005).

Eugene Volokh, Parent-Child Speech and Child Custody Speech Restrictions, 81 New York Univ. Law Review 101- 202 (2006). The article is discussed by Austin Cline in a posting titled Religious Discrimination in Child Custody Settlements.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

No Damages Awarded In "Atheism Is A Religion" Case

Last August, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found that atheism qualified as a religion for a prisoner who wished to form a study group while incarcerated. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is currently revising its policies to reflect this holding. Now, on remand of the case, a Wisconsin federal district court has granted prison officials summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff's claim for damages. In Kaufman v. Witch, (WD Wis., March 24, 2006), the court accepted prison officials' defense of qualified immunity because, in light of pre-existing Establishment Clause precedents, the unlawfulness of their original decision refusing to treat atheism as a "religion" was not apparent to them.

As Rahman Gets Asylum In Italy, New Questions Raised In U.S.

Abdul Rahman, the convert from Islam to Christianity who faced a possible death sentence in Afghanistan, was granted political asylum in Italy on Wednesday. The Chicago Tribune reports that even though Afghanistan's Parliament sent a letter to the Interior Ministry demanding that Rahman not be allowed to leave the country, he was secretly flown to Italy Wednesday night. Today's Middle East Times says that Afghanistan's Parliament will conduct an inquiry into the judiciary's decision to free Rahman. Meanwhile the Taliban said that the developments show President Hamid Karzai's government to be a "puppet" to foreign powers, and called for jihad against Karzai's administration.

In the wake of these developments, this week's issue of Forward carries an excellent article analyzing the impact that the Rahman affair has had on evangelical Christians in the United States. The paper says that the controversy left evangelicals questioning the Bush administration's assumption that Muslim countries can become democratic while adhering to Islamic law and Muslim customs.

Largest Chaplains' Group Says No New Executive Order Is Needed

According to today's Washington Post, the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, a long-standing multi-faith organization representing over 70 per cent of the chaplains in the military, has written the Senate Armed Services Committee opposing a call by conservative members of Congress for the President to issue an order guaranteeing chaplains the right to pray in the name of Jesus. Rev. Herman Keizer Jr., chairman of NCMAF, said: "This has been portrayed as though chaplains are not allowed to pray in Jesus's name, without any distinction between what they do all the time in worship services and what they do occasionally, in ceremonial settings where attendance is mandatory." Calls for an executive order to protect the right to pray in Jesus's name have originated mainly from a two-year old rival association, the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers that represents about 800 chaplains, exclusively from evangelical Christian churches.

Indian Supreme Court Rejects Religious Discrimination Challenge To Election Law

The Times of India reports that on Tuesday, the Supreme Court of India decided Ewanlangki-e-Rymbai v. Jaintia Hills District Council. The decision upheld against constitutional attack a statutory provision that precludes Christians from contesting the results of any election to the post of Dolloi (headman) of the Jaintia Scheduled Tribe. Ewanlangki-e-Rymbai, a Christian, supported by the Elaka Jowai Secular Movement, claimed that the provision discriminated against him on the basis of religion. However, Justice Singh said: "The ground for exclusion of Christians is not solely on the ground of religion, but on account of the admitted fact that a Christian cannot perform the religious functions attached to the office of Dolloi."

Arizona Bill To Require Recognition of Student Religious Organizations Nears Passage

In Arizona, the state Senate has passed and sent on to the House the "Associational Freedom in Higher Learning Act" (SB 1153). The ASU Web Devil reports that on Tuesday, the House Committee on Universities, Community Colleges, and Technology voted 5-2 to approve the bill that would prohibit universities from refusing to recognize or grant benefits to a student organization because the organization limits membership based on the religious, political or philosophical views of the organization. However recognition could be denied to groups that engage in "invidious" discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin or sex. The bill was proposed after Arizona State University last year denied recognition to the Christian Legal Society because it limited membership on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. The lawsuit was settled after the University permitted the group to keep its requirement that members be Christians. (See prior posting.) ASU opposes the pending bill, arguing that student organizations at state universities should comply with the Arizona Board of Regents Code of Conduct that prohibits a wide variety of discriminatory activities.

Alternative Synod Leaders Prosecuted In Bulgaria

Forum18 yesterday reported on the dispute in Bulgaria between two wings of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The "Alternative Synod" was created by members who claimed that Patriarch Maksim was improperly elected to head the Church in 1971. Now two Alternative Synod leaders are being prosecuted for claiming to be Orthodox bishops, despite their lawyer's claim that the charges violate required separation of church and state in the country. Article 274, part 1, of the Criminal Code, punishes by large administrative fines or up to one year in prison anyone who is found to be "unwarrantedly committing an act within the scope of the office of an official which he does not occupy." Forum 18 says the cases were brought at the instigation of the Bulgaria's National Security Service. The Patriarchate remains the wing recognized by the rest of the Orthodox world and favored by government officials. Officials say that Bulgaria's 2002 religion law was specifically aimed at "reuniting" the divided Orthodox Church.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

U.S. Agencies Debate Whether Title VI Covers Anti-Semitism

Today's New York Sun reports that the U.S. Department of Education is backing away from an earlier position that permitted it to investigate complaints of anti-Semitic harassment at universities receiving federal funds. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by recipients of federal funding. However, Title VI does not mention religious discrimination.

In 2004, the Department's Office of Civil Rights said that under Title VI it could investigate discrimination against students of Jewish heritage even if they are Caucasian and American born. This is consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in the 1987 case of Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb that held Jews could make a racial discrimination claim under a 19th century federal law because at the time it was passed Jews were considered a distinct race. Recently, however, Stephanie Monroe, head of the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, has apparently taken the position that while harassment driven by a student's perceived Jewish ethnic origin would be subject to an OCR investigation under Title VI of the 1964 Act, harassment because of a student's Jewish religious beliefs, such as the wearing of a kippa, would not be covered by Title VI.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission is also bogged down in dispute over how far it should go in addressing anti-Semitic propaganda and harassment on campuses, including anti-Semitic activities disguised as anti-Israel advocacy. The issue will be on the agenda of the Commission's April 3 meeting.

City Council Prayer Dispute In Canada

The debate over legislative prayer has now moved to Canada. Today's Globe and Mail reports that the city of Laval is trying to retain its practice of opening council meetings with a non-denominational prayer. City resident Danielle Payette, an atheist, filed a religious discrimination complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission complaining about the practice. Payette is backed by Mouvement Laïque Quebecois which promotes the separation of church and state. The case will be heard by the Human Rights Commission tomorrow.

DC Circuit Holds Damages Not Available From U.S. Under RFRA

Yesterday in Webman v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, (DC Cir., March 28, 2006), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit held that damages are not an available remedy for individuals suing under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It held that RFRA's authorization of "appropriate relief against a government" did not waive the federal government's sovereign immunity against damage claims. This is the first circuit court opinion directly dealing with the issue.

NY Civil Liberties Union Sues Coast Guard Over Merchant Marine Religious Bias

Just two days after the New York Times reported that the U.S. Coast Guard is considering changing its policy prohibiting wearing of religious head coverings indoors while in uniform, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a related religious discrimination suit against the Coast Guard on behalf of Muslim ship worker Khalid Hakim. The suit involves Coast Guard requirements for licensing merchant marine crew members who serve on commercial ships. Newsday yesterday reported that the suit accuses the Coast Guard of requiring anyone seeking a merchant marine license to submit photographs showing himself or herself without a head covering. Before September 2001, Hakim regularly received licenses after submitting photographs in which he wore his Kufi (religious skull cap). After 9-11, the Coast Guard said Hakim would have to remove the kufi. However, without explanation, the Coast guard issued Hakim a new license shortly before the NYCLU suit was filed. The full text of the complaint in Hakim v. Chertoff, charging that Hakim's rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were violated, is available online.

Religious Party Gets 3rd Highest Number of Seats In Israel's Election

While the big news out of yesterday's Israeli election is that the Kadimah Party won the most seats in the Knesset (28), less noted was the fact that the party receiving the third highest number of seats (13) was the Sephardic religious party, Shas. (Results from Arutz Sheva.) Earlier this month Ynet News reported on Shas' platform which includes the following:
  • Integrating Jewish tradition into the education system. The doctrine guiding the party's platform is that Israel is the Jewish people's state and Jewish identity must be preserved when it comes to decision making, while curbing moves that would see "a country of all its citizens" emerging. The party does not call for a state based on religious law, but rather, "a state with a Jewish soul" where Jewish character is preserved within state laws.
  • Every diplomatic question on the agenda has answers in Jewish law. The party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, determines the party's official position. Yosef and other leading rabbis believe territorial compromise is allowed, but only when life is at stake and something is received in return.
In addition to the 13 seats won by Shas, two other religious party slates did reasonably well. The National Union/National Religious Party got 9 seats, and United Torah Judaism won 6 places in the 120-seat Knesset.

Lutheran School's 1st Amendment Defense Against Discrimination Claim Rejected

In Riverside, California Monday, a judge refused to dismiss a case brought against a Lutheran high school on behalf of two students who were expelled because the school suspected that they were maintaining a lesbian relationship. The San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday reported that by allowing the case to proceed to trial, Superior Court Judge Gloria Connor Trask implicitly rejected defense arguments that their First Amendment free exercise rights precluded application of the Unruh Civil Rights Act to the private religious school. (See prior related posting.) The case is Mother Doe v. California Lutheran High School Association.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

San Francisco Reaction To Catholic Adoption Agency Stand

The refusal earlier this month of Boston's Catholic Charities to continue to offer adoption services if required to place children with gay and lesbian parents triggered events leading to a heated exchange last week in San Francisco on the same issue. The San Francisco Chronicle and KTVU TV reported last week on the controversy. In the Vatican, Cardinal-elect William Levada, the former archbishop for San Francisco, was asked by the press to comment on the Boston situation. He said, "it has been, and remains, my position that Catholic agencies should not place children for adoption in homosexual households."

In response to this, first the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a measured editorial criticizing Levada's statement. Then the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a strongly worded non-binding resolution. It said in part: "It is an insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great city's existing and established customs and traditions, such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need." Also, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a divorced Catholic, canceled his planned trip to Rome to attend the elevation of Levada at a ceremony held last Friday. Finally, the National Center for Lesbian Rights said last week that it might sue the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco if it bans its affiliated social service agency from allowing adoptions by same-sex couples.

Dutch Agency Finds Discrimination Against Muslim Teaching Applicant

In Netherlands, the Dutch Equal Treatment Commission has held that the Regional Education Center in the city of Utrecht illegally "discriminated, indirectly, on the basis of religion," when it rejected Fatima Amghar who had applied for its teacher training program. Today's Khaleej Times reports on the case. Amghar's Muslim religious beliefs preclude her from shaking hands (or otherwise coming into physical contact) with men over 12 years of age. The Education Center argued that shaking hands was a routine part of a teaching assistant's job. However, the Equal Treatment Commission said that "there are other conceivable manners of greeting that can be considered proper and respectful".

Connecticut Captive Audience Bill Killed In Committee

The Stamford, Conn. Advocate reports that on Monday a legislative committee defeated the "captive audience bill". The legislation would have prohibited companies from requiring employees to attend meetings at which management expresses opinions on political or religious matters. Opponents said the legislation was hostile to business, and Connecticut is attempting to attract more employers. An AFL-CIO spokesman said that his group would continue to press for the legislation.

Church Challenges To Building Limits Survive Motion To Dismiss

In The Cathedral Church of the Intercessor v. The Incorporated Village of Malverne, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12842 (ED NY, March 6, 2006), a New York federal district court denied the Village of Malverne's motion to dismiss a suit brought against it challenging its refusal to permit the expansion of a church building of a Charismatic Episcopal congregation. The court found that plaintiff's complaint adequately alleged an equal protection claim based on selective enforcement of governmental regulations. It also permitted plaintiffs to move forward on both substantive and procedural due process claims, on claims of retaliation and on RLUIPA claims. Finally the court held that the city officials being sued had not alleged sufficient facts to show that they had qualified immunity.

Senate Committee Approves Immigration Bill with Church Protections

With Republicans divided on the issue, the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved a wide-ranging immigration reform bill. The New York Times reports that the bill was praised by immigrant advocacy organizations and church groups that had been demonstrating in recent days in favor of immigrant rights. The bill includes an amendment authored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) which protects charitable organizations and churches involved in offering humanitarian assistance. They will be protected from prosecution even if in providing assistance they aid undocumented aliens. A release from Sen. Durbin's office reports that this amendment was adopted by a bipartisan vote of 10-7. (See prior related posting.) If this bill is passed by the full Senate, it will still need to be reconciled with H.R. 4437, a more restrictive bill already passed by the House. [Thanks to Blog From the Capital for the lead.]

Brief Filed For Congress Members Supporting National Motto

An amicus brief (full text) was filed yesterday by the American Center for Law and Justice in federal district court in Sacramento, California on behalf of 47 members of Congress in support of the government's request to dismiss a pending lawsuit filed by Michael Newdow challenging the constitutionality of the national motto, "In God We Trust." (See prior posting.) The release announcing the filing quotes this from the brief: "The Establishment Clause was never intended as a guarantee that a person will not be exposed to religion or religious symbols on public property, and the Supreme Court has rejected previous attempts to eradicate all symbols of this country's religious heritage from the public's view. Although enterprising plaintiffs can find support for just about any proposition in the Court's multifarious Establishment Clause pronouncements, a claim that the national motto violates the First Amendment borders on frivolous."

Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Depriving Prisoners of Protected Material

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Beard v. Banks (04-1739), raising the question of whether state prisons may deprive inmates of access to newspapers and magazines as part of their punishment for violating prison rules. According to the AP's report on the case, Pennsylvania prison officials permit inmates in the high-security disciplinary unit to have access to religious materials, two paperback books of general interest, their legal documents and letters from family. But newspapers, magazines and personal photographs are banned. The Becket Fund For Religious Liberty had filed an amicus brief (full text) in the case arguing that if the Court permits fundamental rights to be taken away as punishment in order to modify behavior of prisoners, in the future officials might begin to deprive inmates of religious texts as well as secular ones.

In the decision below, the Third Circuit had held the restrictions unjustified. Circuit Judge (now Justice) Samuel Alito dissented, finding the restrictions constitutional.

Monday, March 27, 2006

New Scholarly Publications Of Interest

From SSRN:

From SmartCILP:

    Florida Voucher Programs Face Uncertain Future

    Yesterday's Lakeland, Florida Ledger reports on the latest skirmish on school vouchers in the Florida. In January the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state's Opportunity Scholarship Program on state constitutional grounds, holding that the program interfered with the state's providing a "uniform" school system. The Court did not reach the issue of whether the program violates the state constitution's prohibition on aid to religious organizations. (See prior posting.)

    Now pro-voucher politicians, including Governor Jeb Bush, want an amendment to the state constitution to protect vouchers, claiming that otherwise the ACLU will bring suit to invalidate those voucher programs still in existence. However, the ACLU says it has no intention of challenging either the McKay Scholarship Plan for students with special needs or the Bright Futures program that provides funds for college students. The Florida House of Representatives has a proposed constitutional amendment under consideration, but nothing has happened in the Senate.

    The House measure, HJR 1573, proposes a constitutional amendment that provides, in part: "the Legislature is not limited from enacting and funding for the people education programs, public or private, without regard to the religious nature of any provider or participant..." The amendment would also provide that "every child deserves an equal opportunity to receive a quality education regardless of his or her family's income, religion or race. Funding for quality education through classroom instruction is paramount, and the legislature shall ensure that funding provided for public schools shall primarily be used for classroom instruction rather than administrative expenditures."

    John Kirtley, a Tampa millionaire who has supported vouchers, says that the ACLU's statement that it does not intend to challenge the McKay or Bright futures programs is a ruse. He thinks the group will wait until it is too late to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot, and will then file suit against remaining voucher programs. The ACLU agrees that it is considering challenging a program approved in 2002 that funds private pre-school programs, including programs run by religious groups.

    Rahman Case Sent Back to Prosecutors; Protests In Some Cities

    Yesterday, Afghanistan's Supreme Court, under intense pressure from Western countries, dismissed the case against Abdul Rahman and sent it back to prosecutors to look into problems with the evidence against him, according to reports in yesterday's Guardian and today's Financial Times. Judge Ansarullah Maulavezada, who had been set to try Abdul Rahman for converting from Islam to Christianity, said the case had been dropped because of questions over Rahman's mental state and whether he held dual citizenship in Germany. Meanwhile, Rahman asked for a Bible, insisting he was sane and was willing to die for his faith.

    Rahman is being moved to to Pul-i-Charki, a high security facility housing hundreds of Taliban convicts, after fellow prisoners threatened to kill him at Kabul's main jail. Deputy Attorney General Mohammed Eshaq Aloko said Rahman would be sent to the Aliabad hospital in Kabul for psychiatric evaluation and might be examined by U.S. or NATO doctors. He raised the possibility that Rahman might be sent abroad for treatment, opening the possibility of his being granted political asylum abroad.

    Meanwhile, India's NDTV reports that thee has been a "massive uproar" across Pakistan in protest against the court's decision to dismiss the Rahman case. Thousands protested in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

    In a related development, in India, the Supreme Court has before it a petition to dissolve all Islamic and Sharia courts in the country. Outlook India today reports that Advocate Vishwa Lochan Madan filed the complaint, alleging that the courts threaten the Indian judicial system.

    UPDATE: A March 28 report from the Chicago Tribune says that Rahman has been released into the custody of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations mission in Afghanistan. Also, it appears that Monday's demonstrations in Mazar-e-Sharif involved hundreds, not thousands as reported above.

    Sunday, March 26, 2006

    Coast Guard Policy On Religious Head Coverings May Change

    This week, the Coast Guard's Uniform Board will meet in Washington. On its agenda, according to today's New York Times, is the issue of whether it will relax its restrictions on wearing of religious head coverings with Coast Guard Uniforms. The Times article recounts the problems faced by Jack Rosenberg, a Hasidic Jew who is a certified pilot and has enlisted in the Coast Guard. While his skullcap is concealed by his uniform hat worn outdoors, wearing his skullcap indoors would violate the Coast Guard General Uniform Policy (Sec. 2.A.1.) requiring that religious items must be concealed or worn only during religious services.

    The other military services have a different rule. Back in 1986, in the case of Goldman v. Weinberger, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Air Force regulations that prohibited an Orthodox Jewish Air Force officer from wearing his yarmulke indoors. However, Congress quickly responded and in 1987 enacted 10 USC 774 that permits members of the armed forces to wear "neat and conservative" items of religious apparel with their uniforms so long as the item does not interfere with performance of military duties. The Department of Defense promulgated regulations consistent with the provision. Department of Defense Directive DODD-1300.17 (Feb. 3, 1988). Since the Coast guard is under the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense, DOD directives apparently do not apply to it, even though it would seem that 10 USC 774 also applies to the Coast Guard. 10 USC 101 defines "armed forces" for purposes of Title 10 to include the Coast Guard.

    Inmate Claims Veganism Is a Religious Belief

    Does belief in a vegan diet amount to a religion? That is the contention in a lawsuit filed against Sacramento, California's jail by Eric Taylor McDavid who is being held there on charges of conspiring to blow up Nimbus Dam and a nearby fish hatchery in Rancho Cordova, and a U.S. Forest Service genetics lab in Placerville. According to today's report from the Sacramento Bee, Mark Reichel, McDavid's attorney, argues that his client's beliefs are protected under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. He claims his client's avoidance of animal products comes from "strongly, sincerely and firmly held beliefs, which are the same as a religious belief."

    The sheriff's legal affairs spokesman, Lt. Scott Jones, says veganism is a lifestyle choice. He says the jail only makes dietary accommodations for medical reasons, and McDavid will get sufficient nutrition even if he only eats the acceptable portions of his meals. Also, inmates who keep kosher, halal and vegetarian diets can supplement their diets with items for sale in the jail's commissary. Jerry Read of the Corrections Standards Authority said his office does not regulate religious diets. He adds, "Case law changes too often. It comes up a lot - I don't know how many lawsuits there are, but enough that we can't keep up with it."

    Prince Charles Speaks At Conservative Saudi University

    As part of his tour of the Middle East, yesterday Britain's Prince Charles spoke to a small VIP audience at Imam Muhammad Saud Islamic University. The Associated Press reported on the visit. The University, which produces many of Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi clerics and Islamic judges, is seen by many as the center of Saudi conservatism. While Charles did not specifically mention the lack of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, he did say: "Islam called Jews and Christians the peoples of the book because they, like Muslims, are a part of a religion of sacred texts." Because the sexes are segregated in Saudi Arabia, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, had a different schedule from her husband. She visited the Nahda Philanthropic Society for Women, the first women's charity to be set up in Saudi Arabia.

    Saturday, March 25, 2006

    Some Thoughts On The Rahman Case and the Issue of Religious Conversion

    The fate in Afghanistan of Abdul Rahman, the Muslim convert to Christianity who is threatened with capital punishment, continues to draw worldwide attention. Less attention has been given, however, to the origins of the situation. Free Internet Press yesterday carried one of the most complete accounts. The Daily Telegraph , Reuters , Washington Times and the Baptist Standard all add some details. Rahman converted some 15 years ago while living in Pakistan and working for a Christian group that was offering aid to Afghan refugees. His conversion led his wife to obtain a divorce, and her family took custody of the couple's children. Rahman moved around, living in Germany and Belgium. Finally, having been denied asylum in Belgium, Rahman recently returned to Afghanistan and attempted to obtain custody of his two daughters. Since Afghan courts give custody to Muslims over apostates, Rahman's father-in-law, in order to retain custody, informed the court about Rahman's conversion.

    Radio Free Afghanistan today posted a detailed analysis of the issue of apostasy under Islamic law. It's author, Joyce M. Davis, points out that not all Islamic scholars advocate the death penalty for those who leave the faith. Meanwhile, pressure on Afghan president Hamid Karzai continued. A letter in Pope Benedict XVI's name was sent to Karzai by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano. BBC News today reports that the letter appealed to Karzai to respect freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed by the Afghan Constitution.

    Conversion to other faiths is not a concern only to Islam or to Afghans. In the Indian state of Rajasthan, according to today's New India Press, the cabinet has just approved a bill that would impose a jail term of 2 to 5 years for "forceful" religious conversion. The bill would cover conversions through social boycotts, intimidating a person in the name of God, or any threat leading to personal losses. Encouraging a person to convert by promising financial assistance or personal profit would also violate the law. As Asia News reported earlier this week, India's largest political party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has repeatedly argued that Christian missionaries practice "terrorism" against tribal communities. Last Tuesday, thousands of Christians, joined by Muslims and others, marched to protest growing violence against Christians in Rajisthan.

    Courts Rule On When Cases Pose Theological Issues

    Two cases that have recently become available involve the question of when adjudication of a dispute will involve the court in deciding issues of religious doctrine.

    In Geiser v. International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, (Cal. Ct. App., March 22, 2006), a California appellate court, while upholding a volunteer assistant pastor’s claim against a church for battery, dismissed his claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court held that the First Amendment requirement that a court not become involved in adjudicating issues of religious practice or orthodoxy precluded it from deciding the validity of the claim which was based on accusations that plaintiff made "unauthorized deliverances" and refused to "follow church policy". Deciding the case would involve the court in deciding the truth or falsity of defendant’s religious beliefs, or at least in making judgments about them. That, in turn, would place the court’s imprimatur on one version of church doctrine over another.

    A case from Montana, decided some ten months ago, has just become available on LEXIS. In Raihl v. Passmore, 2005 Mont. Dist. LEXIS 1464 (Mont. Dist. Ct., July 21, 2005), a Montana trial court held that issues of negligent hiring, negligent supervision, breach of fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress involving the Church of God could be decided without inquiring into religious teachings and beliefs. The court added: "to dismiss these causes of action on that basis would give a clear, green light to any church to conduct themselves in the same fashion given similar circumstances."

    Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

    In Phipps v. Morgan, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12199 (ED Wash., March 6, 2006) a Washington federal district judge adopted the Magistrate’s recommendations and upheld a state prison’s policy of serving ovo-lacto vegetarian meals to Muslim prisoners requesting a Halal diet. The Magistrate Judge’s opinion is at 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12198 (ED Wash., Jan. 13, 2006).

    Following up an earlier decision permitting a Native American prisoner to move forward with his suit claiming he was intentionally denied the right to attend religious pipe and drum ceremonies, a Wisconsin federal district judge issued an opinion outlining in detail to the pro se litigant the exact procedures he must follow at trial and the elements that he must prove to win his case. Meyer v. Teslik, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5700 (WD Wis., Feb. 10, 2006). (Earlier decision discussed here.)

    In Blount v. Johnson, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11961 WD Va., March 2, 2006), a Virginia federal district judge denied prison officials’ motion of summary judgment and sent to the Magistrate Judge for trial a Virginia state prisoner’s claims under the Free Exercise clause and RLUIPA. Inmate Donell Blount who was a member of the House of Yahweh was denied his request to be served the Common Fare Diet because officials determined that his religion did not require it. Subsequently the Virginia Department of Corrections added House of Yahweh to the list of religions requiring a special diet.

    In Pepper v. Carroll, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11907 (D. Del., March 22, 2006), a Delaware federal district court rather summarily reject a prisoner’s claim that his free exercise rights were infringed when he was not furnished a television set on which to watch church services. He was, at his own request, housed in the Security Housing Unit where televisions are not permitted.

    In Stewart v. Barr, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11516 (D. Wis., March 17, 2006), a Wisconsin federal district court granted summary judgment to prison authorities, finding they had shown a legitimate penological reason for their requirement that plaintiff, a prisoner claiming to be a Rastafarian, remove his dreadlocks before leaving the prison for medical treatment.

    Friday, March 24, 2006

    City Considering Law To Limit Pickets Protesting Jewish Divorce Concerns

    Washington Jewish Week reports today that in Gaithersburg, Maryland, city council held a public hearing Monday night on an emergency ordinance that would restrict pickets in front of the house of Gaithersburg resident Sam Rosenbloom. The protesters are attempting to convince Rosenbloom to grant a "get" (Jewish bill of divorce) to his wife Sarah. The couple was granted a civil divorce almost six years ago, but Sam Rosenbloom refuses to give his ex-wife a get because she filed a criminal complaint against him. The complaint was dropped before coming to trial, but Sarah has refused to apologize and make restitution. Under Jewish law, a woman may not remarry until her husband gives her a "get".

    Protests in front of Rosenbloom's home have been held for almost two years, and recently have been occurring on an almost weekly basis. They are organized by the New York-based Organization for the Resolution of Agunot. Pickets hope that signs and slogans such as "Unchain your wife" will "apply social pressure to free" Sarah Rosenbloom. The proposed ordinance (full text) would prohibit picketing by or in front of a private residence, though it would not ban marching in a residential area without stopping in front of a particular home. It would also not apply if the residence was also the occupant's sole place of business or if a public meeting were being held there. A similar law was upheld against constitutional attack by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1988 in Frisby v. Schultz. Protesters said that if the new law is passed, they will continue their protests in conformity with it. [Thanks to Eugene Volokh via Religionlaw for the lead.]

    Easter Bunny Banned From City Hall

    Yesterday's Washington Post reports that Easter this year is bringing a mini-rerun of the "Christmas wars". In St. Paul, Minnesota, a secretary had placed a toy rabbit, pastel-colored eggs and a sign with the words "Happy Easter" in the lobby of City Council offices. But St. Paul's human rights director, Tyrone Terrill, asked that the decorations be removed, saying they could be offensive to non-Christians. That has upset City Council member Dave Thune. It has also distressed the Catholic League. Its director, Bill Donohue, issued a rather sardonic release protesting the action.

    California Agency Refuses To Fund Historical Mission Repair

    Yesterday's Modesto Bee reports that the California Culture and Historical Endowment has refused a funding request by the Friends of Mission San Miguel, citing a Feb. 23 Advisory Letter received from the California Attorney General's Office that the funding would violate California's constitution. The decision disappointed the California Missions Foundation, which has launched a $50 million campaign to help restore and preserve the state's 21 historic missions, 18 of which still are used for religious services. The Foundation had hoped that money from Proposition 40, passed in 2002 to help fund parks and cultural and historic restorations, could be used to repair the earthquake-damaged Mission San Miguel. However the 208-year old Mission is owned by the Catholic Church, and California's Constitution, Art. XVI, Sec. 5, prohibits the grant of anything in aid of any sectarian purpose and prohibits help to "support or sustain" a sectarian institution. Also California Constsitution, Art. I, Sec. 4, prohibits governmental preference of one religion over another. (See earlier related posting.)

    University of Wisconsin Settles Suit On Dormitory Bible Studies

    The University of Wisconsin yesterday agreed to settle a suit challenging a ban on resident assistants holding Bible study sessions in their dormitories. The settlement was announced by the Alliance Defense Fund that had filed the suit on behalf of RA Lance Steiger. The Consent Order says that the University has implemented a new policy as of March 10, 2006, that allows Resident Assistants to participate in, organize, and lead any meetings or other activities (including Bible Studies), in their rooms, floors or residence halls, or anywhere else on campus, to the same extent as other students. The University agreed to pay plaintiff Steiger nominal damages of $1 as well as attorneys' fees and costs of $2500. (See prior posting.)

    Indonesia To Adopt New Decree On Houses of Worship

    In Indonesia, the government is ready to promulgate a new ministerial decree on houses of worship, according to today's Jakarta Post. This will replace a 1969 decree that required allowed the local populace to veto a new congregation. That meant that Christians in predominantly Muslim areas often had difficulty getting approval to build churches. Under the new decree, local governments can no longer escape their obligation to provide houses of worship for religious minorities. New places of worship must have congregations of at least 90, and at least 60 people of other faiths living in the area must consent. The congregation must also obtain a building permit from the local administration and the Communication Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB). However, unlike in the previous decree, if locals object but consent is granted by the administration and the FKUB, local bodies are required to find an alternate space for the church. Christians remain dissatisfied with the new decree, seeking lower threshold numbers for congregants and local resident approval. 42 mostly Christian legislators in the House of Representatives have filed a petition to reject the new decree.

    Study On Attitudes Toward Atheists In US

    UMN News reports that three University of Minnesota sociology faculty have authored a study on public attitudes toward atheists, to be published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. They find that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry. Many of the study’s telephone respondents associated atheism with evils ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism. Reacting to the study, Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, said that one reason for the findings is the unconstitutional promotion of religion by government and political leaders. [Thanks to Nick Gillard-Byers and Larry Mundinger for the leads.]

    Secy. Hughes Speaks At Conference On Faith and Service

    Wednesday, Karen Hughes, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, spoke (full text) in Washington at the first International Conference on Faith and Service. Here are some excerpts:

    [S]ome might question why a government official, especially one from a nation that prides itself on the separation of church and state, would be asked to speak at a conference on interfaith dialogue.... Why would a government -- a United States Government official convene a meeting of religious leaders? And the answer is both simple and profound. It's because faith plays such a critical role in the lives of so many people across our world. Governments would be foolish to ignore its power and impact or to leave the floor only to those who seek to use religion as a force to divide or destroy....

    Voices from our diverse faith communities, such as those represented here today, are often the most credible voices to say that terror and violence are not a matter of religion at all. When you think about it in its starkest terms, urging young people to strap bombs on their bodies, to kill themselves, and in the process try to kill as many other innocents as possible, is not a legitimate tenet of any faith....

    Promoting religious freedom is a central element of the President's agenda for democracy and freedom across our world.... We must not rest in this effort, nor ever forget those who are persecuted for their beliefs and denied the rights of conscience that we sometimes take for granted here in the United States.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    Afghan Charge Against Muslim Convert Draws U.S. Criticism

    The possibility that a Muslim convert to Christianity in Afghanistan might be sentenced to death by Afghan courts has led to widespread protests in the West and a defensive reaction from Afghan officials. In a speech yesterday in Wheeling, West Virginia, (full text) President George W. Bush said of Afghanistan:

    We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom. I'm troubled when I hear -- deeply troubled when I hear the fact that a person who has converted away from Islam may be held to account. That's not the universal application of the values that I talked about. Look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship.

    Later, in answer to a question, the President said: "It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another.... [W]e can solve this problem by working closely with the government that we've got contacts with -- and will. We'll deal with this issue diplomatically and remind people that there is something as universal as being able to choose religion."

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called President Karzai yesterday to express deep concern, according to the Ottawa Star.

    The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also issued an unusually strong statement on the matter:

    Religious decisions should be matters of personal choice, not a cause for state intervention. Faith imposed by force is not true belief, but coercion. Islam has no need to compel belief in its divine truth.... We urge the government of Afghanistan to order the immediate release of Mr. Abdul Rahman.
    Afghanistan responded by saying that the matter would be handled by its courts. Reuters yesterday reported that Mahaiuddin Baluch, a religious affairs advisor to President Hamid Karzai, said: "We in Afghanistan have the prosecutor who observes the law and the court that executes it. Whatever the court orders will be executed as the court is independent."

    ISN Security Watch today has an excellent analysis of the constitutional issues and political pressures inside Afghanistan. (See prior related postings, 1, 2.)

    Supreme Court Arguments Yesterday In Procedural Prisoner Free Exercise Case

    Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Woodford v. Ngo, a case involving procedural questions, but growing out of the alleged denial of religious rights to a California prisoner. As described by the Associated Press, Ngo was punished for alleged inappropriate activity with volunteer priests. He was barred from Bible study and from corresponding with a Catholic chapel volunteer after the alleged incidents at San Quentin State Prison in 2000. Ngo filed a grievance with prison officials, but it was denied because he missed the 15-day deadline for grievances allowed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Ngo then sued in federal court claiming a violation of his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, and alleging that prison officials defamed him by saying he engaged in sexual relations with volunteer Catholic priests.

    At issue before the Supreme Court was whether inmates should be able to file federal lawsuits even if they miss state filing deadlines. Ngo's attorney, Meier Feder, argued that Congress never intended to block valid inmate complaints in passing the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act. Attorneys for California and for the Bush administration argued that in enacting 42 USC Sec. 1997e, Congress wanted inmates to comply with state prison grievance procedures, including deadlines. Northwestern University has a further summary of the case, along with links to the 9th Circuit's opinion below and to the briefs filed in the Supreme Court.

    2nd Circuit Holds Asylum Applicant Need Not Have Religious Knowledge

    In Rizal v. Gonzales, (2nd Cir., March 21, 2006), the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an immigration judge's denial of asylum to an Indonesian citizen who claimed that he would be persecuted in Indonesia because of his Christian beliefs. The Washington Post today reports on the case. Rizal's asylum claim had been rejected because he incorrectly answered a number of questions about Christianity. He said Jesus was crucified in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, and he did not know which disciples wrote the New Testament. Asked who prepared the Ten Commandments, Rizal answered Jesus instead of Moses. But the Court of Appeals said that people who identify with a religion but lack detailed knowledge about it can still be persecuted for their religious affiliation.

    Georgia House Permits Bible As Textbook In High School

    The Macon Telegraph reports that yesterday the Georgia House of Representatives passed by a vote of 151-7 a bill (HB 1133) permitting high schools to offer elective courses on the history and literature of the Old Testament and New Testament eras. The classes would focus on the law, morals, values and culture of the eras. Interestingly, the bill provides that the Old Testament and New Testament would be the primary text for each class and the local school board would decide which version of each text to use. Students would also have the option to use a different version.

    The bill was originally introduced by Democrats in the Georgia Senate. Republicans, upping the ante, quickly substituted their own version, specifying that the Bible itself would be the course textbook. The measure easily passed the GOP-controlled Senate last month by a 50-1 vote. House lawmakers changed the Senate bill by taking out requirements that the New Testament courses must document the parables of Jesus and the travels of Paul. These changes now must be approved by the Senate. [Thanks to Jean Dudley via Religion law for the information.]

    Meanwhile, the Auburn Plainsman today reports that the Alabama Senate Education Committee recently cleared SB472, a Democratic-sponsored bill that would permit the Bible to be taught as literature in public schools. A different version of the bill (HB58) is pending in the House. It is opposed by Republicans because it prescribes The Bible and Its Influence as the required text. (See prior posting.)

    UPDATE: On March 27, the Georgia Senate also approved HB 1133, and Gov. Sonny Perdue is expected to sign the law, according to the New York Times.

    Church Contributes Funds For Investors In SEC Suit

    The Securities and Exchange Commission last week announced a settlement in a securities fraud case filed in Massachusetts involving a unique cooperative effort between a church and government enforcement authorities. In 2001, Eric Resteiner sold $22 million in fictitious securities, defrauding at least 50 investors, many of whom were members of the Christian Science Church. In earlier litigation, the SEC obtained disgorgement of $700,000 from one of Resteiner's co-defendants. Under the securities laws, this will be used to partially compensate Resteiner's victims. Now, the First Church of Christ Scientist in Boston has agreed to donate an additional $2.3 million to the disgorgement fund so that victims can be more adequately compensated. Section 308(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act permits the SEC to accept gifts to a disgorgement fund for eventual distribution to defrauded investors. This is the first time that such a donation has been made since the enactment of Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002.

    Background On Pending Satmar Litigation

    Yesterday's New York Sun carries a long and fascinating article detailing the intricacies of litigation ongoing for 5 years in Brooklyn over control of the vast holdings of the Orthodox Jewish Satmar community. The dispute, now in a state appellate court, involves rival factions-- each following a different son of the Satmar's grand rebbe. Each faction claims to have elected a president of the Satmar's Williamsburg congregation. The board has the power to manage the Satmar's assets. The congregation's bylaws are written in Yiddish, and one of the 26 buildings in dispute is the partially built skeleton of a 10,000-seat Brooklyn synagogue. New York Judge Melvin Barasch, who heard the case at trial, decided in 2004 that because the dispute raised the question about congregational membership, it was essentially a religious dispute and was not a matter for a New York courts to decide. "What civil court is capable or would want to evaluate whether a person is sufficiently observant of Satmar religious doctrine to qualify as a member?" said Scott Mollen, who represents followers of one of the sons, Rabbi Zalmen. (See prior related postings, 1, 2.)

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    British House of Lords Upholds School Policy Banning Jilbab

    In a widely followed case, R (on the Application of Begum) v. Headteacher and Governors of Denbigh High School, a unanimous 5-judge panel of the British House of Lords today overturned a lower court ruling and held that Art. 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights was not violated when student Shabina Begum was banned from wearing a traditional Islamic jilbab at school. Similarly, it held that her right to education under Article 2 of the First Protocol to the Convention was not infringed.

    Denbigh High School had a uniform policy that allowed Begum to wear the shalwar kameez (trousers and tunic), but not a jilbab that covered her entire body. (See prior posting.) Today's Education Guardian reports that Lord Bingham's opinion emphasized that courts, lacking the experience, background and detailed knowledge of the headteacher, staff and governors, should not interfere in the school's decision. He pointed out that the school's policy was acceptable to mainstream Muslim opinion.

    Shabina's counsel, Cherie Booth QC, said that the kameez was no longer suitable for Begum because she had reached sexual maturity and it did not sufficiently protect her modesty. Lord Bingham said any sincere religious belief such as that held by Shabina must command respect, but the issue was whether her freedom to manifest her belief by her dress was subject to limitation and whether that limitation was justified. He said Shabina could have attended another school, where the jilbab was permitted. He was satisfied there was no interference with her right to manifest her belief, and even if there was interference, it was a "proportionate" response by the school.

    Agreeing, Lord Hoffmann said that Article 9 of the European Convention "does not require that one should be allowed to manifest one's religion at any time and place of one's own choosing." Shabina's family had chosen that school with knowledge of its uniform requirements.

    Begum said she would be discussing with her lawyers whether they would appeal the case
    to the European Court of Human Rights.

    Afghan Who Converted May Be Mentally Unfit To Stand Trial

    In Kabul, Afghanistan today, according to the Guardian Unlimited, a state prosecutor said that Abdul Rahman, facing a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity, may be mentally unfit to stand trial. (See prior posting.) The case has attracted widespread international attention. The United States, Britain and other countries that have troops in Afghanistan have raised concern about Rahman's fate. A Western diplomat in Kabul and a human rights advocate both said the government was desperately searching for a way to drop the case because of the reaction it has caused. Afghanistan's constitution provides that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."

    Additional Group To Recruit Jewish Military Chaplains

    The Jewish Welfare Board's Jewish Chaplains Council-- an organization that works with all streams of Judaism-- is about to lose its monopoly on endorsing chaplains for the U.S. military. Only 29 of the military's 2850 chaplains are rabbis. The Forward reports that the Aleph Institute, an organization known for helping Jewish prisoners, was approved last month by the Department of Defense as an additional body that can recruit rabbis for the chaplains' corps. Aleph is affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Currently Chabad rabbis generally are unable to become chaplains because of the military's ban on wearing of beards. It is expected that Aleph will work to change the military's grooming rule. In the meantime, it is likely to reach out to rabbis in other parts of the Orthodox movement.

    Are Islamist Enclaves Constitutional?

    The Spring 2006 issue of The Middle East Quarterly carries an article by David Kennedy Houck, titled The Islamist Challenge to the U.S. Constitution. He focuses particularly on a proposal by a Little Rock, Arkansas Muslim group to create an internal Islamic enclave. Here are a few excerpts from his much longer article:

    While the U.S. Constitution enshrines the right to religious freedom and the prohibition against a state religion, when it comes to the rights of religious enclaves to impose communal rules, the dividing line is more nebulous. Can U.S. enclaves, homeowner associations, and other groups enforce Islamic law?...

    On their face, the fundamental principles of the internal Muslim enclave are no more invidious than any other religious enclave. But ideology matters. Many proponents of an Islamic polity promote an ideology at odds with U.S. constitutional jurisprudence and the prohibition against the establishment of a state-sponsored religion. The refusal to recognize federal law makes Islamist enclaves more akin to Ruby Ridge than to the Hasidic and Amish [communities]....

    Prince Charles Gets Honorary Degree, Speaks At Al-Azhar University

    Prince Charles on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post, was awarded an honorary degree by Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the foremost Islamic institution in the Sunni Muslim world. He was accompanied on his visit to Egypt by his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, who wore a headscarf as she toured the mosque at Al-Azhar. Charles' speech at the University criticized Islamophobia in Europe, including the cartoons that appeared in Danish and other newspapers. He also criticized restrictions on Christians imposed by some Muslim nations. In Egypt, the large Coptic Christian community complains of restrictions on building churches and of discrimination in employment.

    USDA Finds Violations At Kosher Slaughtering Plant

    Last week, the Forward reported on the release by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of its Inspector General's April 25, 2005 Report (full text) on AgriProcessors, a large kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. The report questioned certain methods used by AgriProcessors, calling them "inhumane slaughter" techniques. The company has since changed the questionable procedures. The USDA's investigation of AgriProcessors began after People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a vegetarian group, released an undercover video of animals being slaughtered in the plant. A lawyer who represents AgriProcessors, Nathan Lewin, said the report makes it clear that everything done at the plant was approved by the Agriculture Department until PETA released its video. The video and all relevant documents are available on the PETA Undercover website. The USDA report also faulted government inspectors who ignored the violations, accepted gifts of meat from the plant, and played video games instead of carrying out their inspections, according to a report in Jewish Week.

    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    Texas School Sued Over Bible Group's Access To Website

    The Liberty Legal Institute yesterday filed suit in federal district court against Plano, Texas school officials on behalf of Students Witnessing Absolute Truth, a Bible-study group. Today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the group was not permitted to post an organizational description in the "Campus Programs" section for their school on the Plano Independent School District's website. In its announcement of the litigation, Liberty Legal Institute said: "The website page is specifically designated as a listing of all student groups offered within the school. By banning only the religious group, Plano ISD is in direct violation of the First Amendment and The Equal Access Act." An earlier suit by Liberty Legal, challenging the school district's refusal to permit a student to distribute religious-themed candy-canes, is in litigation in the same court.

    Church-State Tidbits From Bush Q&A In Cleveland

    Yesterday, at the City Club of Cleveland, President George W. Bush spoke on The War On Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom (full text). The Q&A following his talk produced two interesting colloquies involving church-state:

    Q [A]uthor and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?

    THE PRESIDENT: The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way. (Laughter.) Here's how I think of it. The first I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow. I vowed after September that I would do everything I could to protect the American people....*** I take a practical view of doing the job you want me to do -- which is how do we defeat an enemy that still wants to hurt us; and how do we deal with threats before they fully materialize; what do we do to protect us from harm? That's my job. And that job came home on September the 11th, for me -- loud and clear.....

    Then, as part of a long answer to a question asking about domestic policy aimed at helping unsafe and poverty-stricken neighborhoods, the President promoted his faith-based initiative:

    I believe that the idea of empowering our faith-based institutions -- government can help, but government sometimes can't find -- well, it just doesn't pass -- it's not a loving organization. And so I believe strongly -- I believe strongly in empowering faith-based and community-based programs all throughout America to help achieve certain objectives.

    Mentoring, for example, mentoring of children in prisoners -- whose mother or dad may be in prison is an initiative I started. Drug rehabilitation, giving those who are eligible for drug money a voucher, money themselves, a scrip so they can redeem it at a program that they choose, not that the government assigns them to. In other words, there's a variety of social service programs aimed at lifting people up.

    Nuns and Priests May Be Lawyers In India

    In India today, the High Court of Kerala affirmed the decision of a lower court and held that nuns and priests are not barred from practicing law. The Bar Council of India had filed an appeal challenging the lower court's decision. According to, the appeals court held that "professing religion" by itself was not enough to reject an application for admission to the bar.

    Pennsylvania Pastors Network Nears Line On Tax Code Limits

    The new determination of the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the tax code's restrictions on non-profit organizations is about to be tested in Pennsylvania. Today's New York Times reports that the Pennsylvania Pastors Network is holding training sessions to teach clergy how to get their parishioners out to vote in the November election. Hosted by Colin A. Hanna, founder of the conservative advocacy group Let Freedom Ring, the first training session featured a seven-minute videotaped message from , Sen. Rick Santorum who faces a difficult re-election fight. He encouraged the pastors to support a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. The tax code permits non-profits to register voters and to express views on public issues, but they may not support a particular political party or candidate. Inviting just one candidate to speak, singling out one candidate's accomplishments and highlighting a combination of issues tailored to one candidate's campaign are all factors that the I.R.S. considers in determining whether a non-profit has engaged in prohibited partisan activity.

    Mother Theresa Statue Controversial In Northern Albania

    In Albania, the Culture Ministry has proposed erecting a statue of Mother Theresa, an ethnic Albanian, in the northern city of Shkodra, according to yesterday's Washington Post. Mother Theresa is widely admired in Albania, and she has been honored in the capital city of Tirana by having an airport and hospital named after her and an annex at the National Museum devoted to her works. However, on Sunday, representatives of the Charity Islamic Association, Islamic Intellectuals and Albanian Muslim Forum opposed the bust, saying the statue was a provocation. They said a cross in a nearby area was vandalized in January. However, the next day, Selim Muca, head of the Albanian Muslim Community, the organization representing all Muslims in Albania, said those objections from small Muslim groups were not the community's official position.

    Lawyer Criticizes Ontario's Ban On Religious Arbitration Panels

    An interesting article titled Faith Based Arbitrations In Ontario: A Lost Opportunity has been posted by Canadian lawyer Faisal Kutty. It criticizes Ontario's decision last month to preclude the use of religious laws in resolving family disputes under the province's Arbitration Act. Kutty says that misunderstanding, ignorance, and careless pronouncements, as well as inaccurate media coverage, led to the Family Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005. The FSLAA goes against the recommendations in the Boyd Report, a study commissioned by the Ontario government. Kutty argues that Ontario lost an opportunity to show the world how to balance the rights of a religious community with those of potentially vulnerable individuals, and to demonstrate how Islamic law and liberal democracy could co-exist. He fears that "back alley" arbitrations will continue in Ontario, but now without any regulation or supervision.

    An earlier article by Kutty discussed the recommendations made by the 2004 Boyd Report that called for retaining religious-based arbitration, but imposing new regulation on arbitration tribunals and the family law arbitration process.

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    Indonesia Increasingly Convicts For Deviating From Islam

    Today's Los Angeles Times carries a story on the increasing prosecution in Indonesia of those who deviate from accepted Muslim teachings. Article 28E of Indonesia's Constitution guarantees the right to practice one's religion and freely express one's beliefs. However blasphemy and insulting religion are both crimes under Indonesian law. Courts are increasingly convicting for one of these offenses when individuals violate a fatwa (ruling) by the Muslim Council of Ulemas. For example, Yusman Roy, a former boxer and a convert to Islam, is serving two years in prison for distributing a video of a bilingual prayer session he holds at his East Java boarding school. Conservative Muslims believe true prayer can be conducted only in Arabic. In August, a court acquitted Roy of deviating from Islam, but found him guilty of inciting hatred by challenging the views of local clerics.

    Sumardi Tappaya, a high school religious teacher, is awaiting trial for blasphemy after a relative claimed he was whistling while he prayed. Ardhi Husain and his editors were sentenced to five years in prison for writing a book that the ulemas said contained 70 errors, such as claiming Muhammad was not the last prophet and that non-Muslims could go to heaven. And Lia Aminuddin, who claims to be the Virgin Mary and leads the quasi-Islamic God's Kingdom of Eden cult, was arrested in December for blasphemy after thousands of protesters surrounded her headquarters in Jakarta.

    Fallout From Muhammad Cartoons Continues

    Legal fallout continues in the Muhammad cartoon controversy. Jurist and AFP report that a group of 27 Danish Muslim organizations plans to bring suit in a Danish court against Jyllands-Posten, the paper that originally published the offending cartoons. This follows the refusal by the Danish prosecutor to file charges against the paper. The Muslim group also plan to file a complaint against Jyllands-Posten with the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. Ahmad Akkari, a Danish Imam, claimed that Denmark's failure to proceed against the paper violated the country's obligations under U.N. human rights conventions. [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for this lead.]

    The United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur examining the situation has strongly criticized Denmark, according to a report yesterday in the Turkish paper, Zaman.

    Meanwhile, in France, a draft law criminalizing blasphemy, has been proposed by an MP for the ruling Union for Popular Movement party (UMP). According to Friday's Islam Online, MP Marc Bouraud said he was driven by the Danish cartoons crisis, which "exposed the fragile link between freedom of expression and freedom of belief and thought."

    New Prisoner Cases On Attendance At Religious Services

    In Walee v. Crosby, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10633 (MD Fla., March 16, 2006), a federal district court rejected a prisoner's complaint that his free exercise rights were violated when the prison's computer system was not able to list his religious name along with his commitment name on the list of inmates who have been cleared to attend religious services.

    In Joseph v. Lewis, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10653 (ED Cal., March 15, 2006), a California federal district court found that a prisoner had a valid free exercise complaint growing out of prison authorities' refusal to permit him to leave a vocational instruction class to attend Friday Jumu'ah prayer services. However his claim that his inmate grievance form was improperly processed was dismissed.

    Austria Moves Toward Greater Recognition of Muslims

    Yesterday, Islam Online reported that a proposed new law in Austria would give Muslims more rights than they currently have. The bill would set up a college to graduate imams. It would permit Muslim chaplains and Muslim congregational prayer in the army. Muslim chaplains would similarly be permitted in the police force and in hospitals. The proposal would also call for respect for the dress code of Muslim women and criminalize verbal and body attacks against them.

    In another development, the Catholic Church in the Upper Austria region has decided to allow the teaching of Islam in one of its 55 schools, as the number of Muslim students enrolled increases. Other Catholic schools were expected to do the same, since the education law calls for such classes once the number of Muslim students reaches 3.

    Sunday, March 19, 2006

    Hindu Group Sues Over California Textbook Changes

    On Friday, a week after the California State Board of Education approved changes in the way textbooks treat Hinduism, the Hindu American Foundation filed suit challenging the fairness of the hearing conducted by the Board on the changes. reports on the suit filed in California Superior Court in Sacramento. The HAF complaint alleges that the SBE violated the law when it approved textbooks for sixth grade history-social science that tend to "demean, stereotype, and reflect adversely" upon Hindus, portray Hinduism as undesirable and hold Hindu beliefs and practices up to ridicule or as inferior. However, other Hindu groups praise the action of the Board, saying it assures historically accurate accounts of Indian history. The full text of the complaint and related exhibits is available online.

    Afghan Judge Threatens Death Sentence For Conversion To Christianity

    Today's Melbourne Herald Sun reports that a court in Afghanistan has told a man that he could face the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity. Supreme Court judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada said the suspect, Abdur Rahman, who was arrested after members of his family informed police of his conversion, would be charged with abandoning Islam. Sharia law calls for the death sentence for Muslims who abandon their religion. Article 3 of Afghanistan's 2004 Constitution provides that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."

    UPDATE: The United States on Monday said that it was closely monitoring Rahman's trial, and urged Afghan authorities to deal with the case transparently and according to the rule of law.

    Church Member's Suit Dismissed As Ecclesiastical Matter

    In Wolter v. Delgatto, (TX App-14, March 16, 2006), a Texas state court of appeals held that under the First Amendment, state courts lacked jurisdiction over a suit by a former church member challenging Heights Presbyterian Church's involvement in a low-income senior housing project. The court held that ultimately the suit was over how and when, under the Presbyterian Book of Order, the church may spend its resources, and that question is ecclesiastical in nature.

    Phillips' New Book-- "American Theocracy"

    Kevin Phillips new book, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (Viking, 2006) is reviewed in Saturday's New York Times, and is featured again in today's New York Times Book Review section.

    Saturday, March 18, 2006

    Immigration Proposal Threatens Religious Social Services

    Today's San Antonio (TX) Express-News carries a long article on the dilemmas that will be faced by religious social service organizations if the immigration reform bill pending in Congress is enacted. A part of House of Representatives' proposed legislation would make it a crime for any individual or group to knowingly assist an undocumented alien. Supporting that provision, Texas Rep. John Culberson says, "If a person is here illegally, then they're violating the law. How can anyone or any group be exempt from obeying the laws of the United States?" However, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic, religious leaders all say that critical social services to the undocumented potentially could be reduced --if not stopped -- if that part of the bill becomes law. A number of members of the Senate are hopeful that the final version of the law will permit legitimate relief work to continue.

    UPDATE: Sunday's New York Times adds another dimension to this story in an article titled Rift on Immigration Widens for Conservatives and Cardinals. It focuses on the Catholic Church's opposition to tightening of restrictions on undocumented aliens.

    Lutheran School Seeks Dismissal of Sexual Orientation Bias Claim

    Defense attorneys have moved to dismiss a widely publicized suit against the California Lutheran High School Association and Cal Lutheran High School in Wildomar, California, according to last Wednesday's North Coast Times. The suit brought by two students and their parents claimed that the school violated California's Unruh Civil Rights Act when it expelled the two students who were suspected of having a lesbian relationship. (See prior posting.) Defense attorneys argue that the school merely expelled two students who violated the school's Christian Code of Conduct. They claim that the Unruh Civil Rights Act that covers businesses should not apply to a nonprofit religious school. A provision in Sec. 220 of California's Education Code excludes religious schools from coverage of the anti-discrimination provision that applies explicitly to schools when its requirement would be inconsistent with the school's religious tenets. Defendants also argue that applying the law to the school would violate its associational rights, and that ordering the school to suppress its religious beliefs in admitting students would violate the Establishment Clause.

    Suit Claims University's GLBT Program Violates Establishment Clause

    Earlier this week, the Alliance Defense Fund announced that it has filed suit in federal court on behalf of two students against the Georgia Institute of Technology. The suit alleges that through a program called "Safe Space", the university promotes beliefs of religions that favor homosexual behavior and denigrates religions that oppose such behavior. The suit alleges that this violates the Establishment Clause. The suit also challenges the school's speech code and activity fee policy. The university claims that Safe Space is designed to dispel negative stereotypes and publicize support resources available to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students. The full text of the complaint in Sklar v. Clough, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, is available online.

    6th Circuit Upholds Pro-Life License Plates

    Yesterday, in ACLU of Tennessee v. Bredesen (6th Cir., March 17, 2006), the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision rejected a free expression challenge to Tennessee's sale of specialty license plates bearing the inscription "Choose Life". Individuals are not required to purchase this version of the plates. The majority held that the pro-life message was government speech not subject to requirements of viewpoint neutrality. The Louisville Courier-Journal today assessed reaction to the decision. The decision did not deal with the question of whether license plates carrying explicitly religious symbols-- like that proposed recently in Tennessee-- would violate the Establishment Clause.