Friday, August 31, 2007

Group Asks Kenya's High Court To Declare Jesus' Crucifixion Illegal

Interfax today reports that in Kenya, a group called Friends of Jesus has filed a petition in Kenya's High Court asking it to declare Jesus Christ's conviction for blaspheming the Holy Spirit null and void and his crucifixion illegal. A spokesperson for the High Court suggested that the statute of limitations might not be a bar to the suit because it involves human rights matters. Some lawyers suggested that the suit should have been filed in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, while others say it should be dismissed because the conduct at issue did not take place in Kenya.

Christian Evangelists Permitted To Preach Inside Pentagon

Truthout reports today that another use of Pentagon facilities by evangelical Christian groups has been uncovered by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. In 2005, in connection with its two-week "D.C. Crusade", the North Carolina-based H.O.P.E. Ministries International was permitted to conduct two services in the Pentagon courtyard where employees eat their lunch. Evangelist David Kistler was permitted to preach, but could not invite employees to openly respond to his invitation to them to accept Jesus. This past June, H.O.P.E. was invited to speak at a prayer breakfast at the Pentagon, and the next day in the Pentagon auditorium. Kistler wrote in his organization's newsletter that "three souls were saved among those who attended those events". Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said H.O.P.E Ministries' presence inside the Pentagon was a violation of required church-state separation.

Swedish Paper Creates New Muhammad Caricature Controversy

SFGate reports today on a new Muhammad caricature controversy, this time in Sweden. The newspaper Nerikes Allehanda recently published a picture, drawn by artist Lars Vilks, of what was apparently the head of the Prophet Muhammad on the body of a dog, standing in the middle of a traffic circle. Both Pakistan and Iran have summoned Swedish diplomats to complain about the drawing. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying: "Regrettably, the tendency among some Europeans to mix the freedom of expression with an outright and deliberate insult to 1.3 billion Muslims in the world is on the rise.... Such acts deeply undermine the efforts of those who seek to promote respect and understanding among religions and civilizations." Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed "Zionists" for the drawing.

Australia's Herald Sun reported earlier this week that the drawing was part of a series that Swedish art galleries had declined to display. Nerikes Allehanda defended its publication of the drawing, criticizing the galleries for unacceptable self-censorship.

UPDATE: On Friday, some 300 Muslims in Sweden rallied outside the offices of Nerikes Allehanda to protest the cartoon publication. (AP).

More On Church's Tax Breaks In Italy and EU Competition Law

Yesterday London's Times Online published additional details on the demand by the European Commission that Italy justify the tax benefits it gives to the Catholic Church. (See prior posting.) The EU's Competition Commissioner has received complaints that the arrangements amount to illegal state aid to EU businesses. The problem stems from a decision in 2005 by then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to extend the Church's property tax exemptions to buildings the Church uses for businesses such as hostels and health clinics. Last year the Italian government backtracked somewhat by limiting the tax exemptions to activities that "are not exclusively commercial", but that still allows exemptions where the religious activity on a property in minimal. The EU request has led to political charges of "anticlericalism" from the Right, and to charges from the Left that the Italian government has given the Church a "privileged position".

Political Asylum Being Sought By Christians From Muslim Middle East

Petitions for asylum in the United States by Christians from Middle Eastern countries who fear persecution if they return seem to be a growing issue. Three cases have recently been in the news. WorldNetDaily reported yesterday on the campaign being organized to prevent the deportation of Onsy and Fadia Zachary, an elderly Christian couple from Egypt who have been in the United States since 1998. Supporters say that Onsy Zachary escaped from Egypt in 1970 after being imprisoned and tortured for refusing to convert to Islam. His ability to stay in the U.S. is complicated by an assault conviction here, for which he is now completing a jail term. The couple fears imprisonment and torture if they are returned to Egypt.

On Thursday, according to the AP, a Pennsylvania federal court heard arguments in the long-running legal battle by Sameh Khouzam to avoid deportation back to Egypt. The Coptic Christian says he fled Egypt eight years ago to avoid religious persecution. His lawyers say Egyptian authorities arrested, beat and sodomized him when he refused to convert to Islam. Egypt, however, says Khouzam is a convicted murderer. U.S. officials have obtained assurances from Egypt that Khouzam will be treated humanely when he returns, but Khouzam's lawyers say that such assurances are meaningless.

In Harlingen, Texas, an Iraqi Christian who illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico in 2006 has been granted political asylum by an immigration judge, according to an AP report yesterday. Amar Bahnan Boles-- who was arrested as he swam the Rio Grande-- told the judge that he faces physical brutality if he is deported to Iraq.

Las Vegas Policemean Sues For Right To Wear Yarmulke and Beard

Represented by the ACLU of Nevada, an Orthodox Jewish detective on the Las Vegas police force has sued in federal court for the right to wear a yarmulke (skullcap) and a close-cropped beard while on duty. Yestereday's Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that as Detective Steve Riback became more religiously observant, the Metropolitan Police Department seemed to change its rules. Riback began on the force as an undercover agent where he wore a beard and a baseball cap as part of his disguise. When he moved to his present non-uniformed desk job, the Metropolitan Police Department had a policy against beards, but would grant medical waivers. It did not have a policy against wearing head coverings, but in May it changed its civilian clothing policy to prohibit wearing of hats indoors. When Riback pointed out that officers were permitted to wear International Fellowship of Christian Police Officers pins that featured an open Bible,the Department banned wearing of the pins rather than expand permissible religious attire. The suit claims religious discrimination and retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint.

China Bans Religious Discrimination In Employment

China's legislature, the National People's Congress, yesterday adopted a new Employment Promotion law. Among its provisions is one that permits job applicants to sue if they have been discriminated against on the basis of religion, or on various other grounds. Yesterday's People's Daily Online reports that after January 1, job seekers can sue if they were subjected to discrimination because of sex, age, religion, race or physical disability.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Paper Carries Essays On "Islam and State"

Today's Christian Science Monitor carries four interesting essays expressing divergent views on "Islam and State". Author Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im writes an essay titled I Need a Secular State. Harvard professor Jocelyne Cesari's essay is Burqas and Ballots. From Damascus, Danish Institute Director Jorgen S. Nielsen writes The Leery Arab Street. Finally, Bill Warner, director of the Center for the Study of Political Islam, writes an essay titled Political Islam's Ethics.

10th Circuit Dismisses Challenge To Polygamy Laws On Standing Grounds

In Bronson v. Swensen, (10th Cir., Aug. 29, 2007), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed on jurisdictional and procedural grounds a constitutional challenge to Utah's polygamy laws. After a Salt Lake County, Utah Clerk of Courts refused to issue a marriage license for a polygamous marriage, the couple, along with the husband's existing first wife, filed suit claiming that the denial violated their free exercise, associational and substantive due process rights. The court, however, held that plaintiffs failed to adequately raise a challenge to Utah's civil polygamy statutes, and that they lacked standing to challenge the state's criminal prohibitions on polygamy. Among other reasons for a lack of standing, the court held that the state's current policy of not enforcing its criminal laws against polygamy removed any credible threat of prosecution in the future. Today's Salt Lake Tribune reported on the decision.

New Jersey Rabbi Claims Unconstitutional Surveillance

A release from the Rutherford Institute says it has filed suit in a New Jersey federal district court on behalf of a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi who claims that police are conducting illegal surveillance of his home in retaliation for his filing a RLUIPA claim against the Township of Freehold. Rabbi Avrom Bernstein lives in an area zoned only for residential dwellings. On the Sabbath and certain holidays, Rabbi Bernstein and guests he invites hold worship services in the rabbi's living room. Earlier this year, the Township notified Bernstein that these gatherings violated zoning rules, and issued a summons charging him with illegally operating a house of worship. Bernstein responded with a state court lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Township's actions. Then, allegedly in retaliation, the Township set up a camera across from Bernstein's home to monitor the number of individuals who visit for Sabbath and holidays. The suit claims that the surveillance has chilled the free exercise rights of Bernstein and his guests, has impaired the use of property and interferes with Bernstein's access to the courts.

Wiccan Widow Not Invited To President's Meeting With Soldiers' Families;[Update- Bush Apologizes]

On Tuesday, President George W. Bush was in Nevada to address the American Legion Convention (full text of speech). While he was there, he met with family members of soldiers from northern Nevada who had been killed in battle. Yesterday's Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that one relative was conspicuously not invited to the meeting. Roberta Stewart, whose husband was killed when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan in 2005, was not asked to attend, even though her husband's parents and brother were. Roberta and her late husband Sgt. Patrick Stewart were Wiccans, and Roberta has battled for the right to display the Wiccan pentacle on Sgt. Stewart's memorial marker in the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. (See prior posting.)

Americans United for Separation of Church and State criticized Roberta Stewart's exclusion, saying: "President Bush seems to be continuing a pattern of hostility toward the Wiccan faith. That’s an outrage. America is a nation of great religious diversity, and all public officials, especially the president, have an obligation to serve all of the people. Our Constitution mandates equal treatment of all faiths." (AU Release.)

UPDATE: On Thursday, President Bush phoned Roberta Stewart and apologized for failing to invite her to the meeting with veterans' families. He offered her his condolences and said that he would not discriminate against someone because of their religion. (AU Release.)

Sabbatical Year Approaching In Israel Poses Legal and Agricultural Issues

In two weeks the Jewish New Year of 5768 begins. In Israel, that prospect is posing unique legal and religious problems since that year will be a sabbatical year during which traditional Jewish law requires that land in Israel owned by Jews lay fallow. Over the years, a number of rabbis developed a legal fiction that allowed crops to continue to be grown. Farms in Israel were symbolically "sold" to non-Jews, usually Druze citizens, and then at the end of the year, were "sold" back to their former owners. Yesterday, both Haaretz and the Forward reported that increasingly ultra-Orthodox ("Haredi") rabbis are rejecting this loophole, and are insisting that the government help them enforce a stricter reading of Jewish law.

Earlier this month, the director-general of the Jerusalem Religious Council said that only produce that complies with the stricter interpretation should be marketed, and specified two wholesalers-- chosen without formal competition-- who would be certified as selling complying produce. Three petitions challenging that method of selecting the wholesalers have been filed with the High Court of Justice. Yerachmiel Goldin, supervisor of sabbatical year issues in the Ministry of Agriculture, believes that the High Court of Justice may instruct the rabbinate of Jerusalem and other towns to accept produce cultivated under the more liberal rules.

In past sabbatical years, the Haredi community has solved the problem by purchasing produce grown by Palestinians and crops exported from Cyprus. Leaders of one Haredi group now want the Israeli army to provide security for kosher supervisors sent to Palestinian farms in the West Bank. Other options include Jewish farmers growing crops using a method in which produce is planted on detached beds having no contact with the ground, and using crops grown in areas such as the southern Arava that are not defined by traditional Jewish law as being in the area subject to sabbatical restrictions.

RLUIPA Suit Filed By Yeshiva Against NJ Town

On Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed by a synagogue and yeshiva against the borough of Roosevelt, New Jersey, its Planning and Zoning Board and others. The lawsuit claims that defendants violated RLUIPA by undertaking a systematic campaign to prevent Yeshiva Me'on Hatoraha from being housed at Anshei Roosevelt synagogue. Apparently the borough's former mayor, Neil Marko, was removed in a recall election after it was alleged that he had a conflict of interest in representing the borough in connection with matters relating to the yeshiva.The Allentown (NJ) Examiner today says that Joshua Pruzansky, executive vice president of the yeshiva said that in addition to raising legal hurdles, "opponents of the yeshiva have also used disparaging language in describing the lifestyle of Orthodox Jews, argued that the yeshiva would take properties off the tax roll, and claimed that the yeshiva faculty and families would harm the local public school."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

South Korea Gets Hostage Release; Pledges End To Missionaries In Afghanistan

In Afghanistan today, Taliban militants released 8 of the remaining 19 Christian volunteers that they had kidnapped an held as hostages since July 19. The International Herald Tribune reports that as part of the deal, South Korea has agreed to prevent South Korean churches from engaging in evangelical activities in Afghanistan. South Korean church groups said they will go along with the agreement. South Korea will also withdraw its 200 troops from Afghanistan by year's end, as it had already planned to do.

Court Refuses To Enjoin New Texas Pledge Containing "Under God"

A Texas federal district judge on Tuesday refused to issue a temporary injunction to stop schools from reciting the newly modified Texas pledge of allegiance which for the first time contains the phrase "one state under God". (See prior posting.). According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Judge Ed Kinkeade said that parents David and Shannon Croft did not show that they would show irreparable injury if the preliminary injunction was not granted. (Croft v. Perry, ND TX, Aug. 28, 2007). Texas attorney general Greg Abbott issued a release welcoming the ruling, saying: "the Texas Pledge is an acknowledgment of patriotism and citizenship." The Attorney General's brief in the case is available online.

New DHS Rules Let Screeners Search Sikhs' Turbans For Explosives

The United Sikh Coalition has complained to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about a newly implemented policy at airports that gives screeners discretion to ask Sikhs to remove their turbans for a security search, even if the wearer has not set off a metal detector. Authorities are concerned about detecting plastic explosives. The Argus (Alameda County, CA) reports today that the new DHS rules took effect Aug. 4, and are seen by Sikhs as racial profiling, even though screeners are also permitted to search travelers wearing cowboy hats or straw hats. Sikhs say that turbans do not lend themselves to hiding of explosive devices anymore than do skullcaps worn by Orthodox Jews-- a head covering that is not on the list of those that can be examined. The Sikh faith only permits the turban to be removed at home or in private.

Court Refuses To Dismiss Christian Student Group's Claim Against University

Last week a Georgia federal district court refused to dismiss claims brought by a Christian student group against Savannah State University. (ADF Press Release.) In Commissioned II Love v. Yarbrough, (SD GA, Aug. 24, 2007), the court refused to dismiss claims by Commissioned II Love (C2L) and its president that their right to assemble and their right to intimate association were infringed when the group was suspended, and then was expelled, from operating. The University charged that the group violated Code of Student Ethics rules against hazing and harassment. Those charges were filed after a student petition claimed that C2L badgered members of fraternities and sororities to accept Jesus, and that at a retreat current members would wash the feet of new members as a symbol of Jesus' washing of his apostles' feet. (See prior posting.) The court however dismissed individual claims by student members of C2L, finding that expulsion of C2L did not affect their individual rights to assemble and pray together.

Illinois Governor Vetoes School Moment of Silence Mandate

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has vetoed SB 1463, an amendment to the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act that would have required public school teachers to open each school day with a moment of silence. Current law gives teachers an option of whether or not to use a moment of silence. In his veto message, Blagojevitch said that mandating a moment of silence would be unconstitutional. The bill passed both houses earlier this summer by majorities that are large enough to override Blagojevich's veto.

US Military Apologizes To Afghans For Religious Offense Caused By Soccer Balls

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military has apologized for the unintended religious insult it caused when it distributed soccer balls to children in Khost province. Monday's International Herald Tribune reports that at least one of the balls-- made in China and purchased in a market in Kabul-- carried the picture of the flag of Saudi Arabia. That flag features in Arabic the Shahada (Muslim declaration of faith): "There is no god but Allah; and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah". Villagers were upset because they found it disrespectful and deeply offensive to kick a ball that contains a verse from the Quran, the name of Allah or of his prophet. [Thanks to Matthew Caplan for the lead.]

Anti-Semitic and Nazi Clips On YouTube Trigger Legal Questions

The growing use of YouTube to disseminate anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi videos is raising legal questions around the world. In Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday the police department began an internal investigation into police officer Susan L. Purtee's involvement in making of a number of videos criticizing Jews, blacks and immigrants. (Columbus Dispatch.) The videos, made by Purtee and her sister, were originally placed on their own website. Some ended up on You Tube, including a ten-minute anti-Semitic clip titled "The Jews". (Columbus Dispatch 2.)

Meanwhile, in Germany the country's neo-Nazi party was until recently using You Tube to broadcast its own anti-Semitic edition of the news. Videos of Nazi rallies and neo-Nazi rock bands were also posted there. In response, Germany's Interior Ministry has encouraged people to file suit against YouTube under the country's laws that ban neo-Nazi propaganda in the country. YNet News reported yesterday that Google, which owns you Tube, has said it will examine whether the videos violate its policy against "malicious use of stereotypes designed to attack or humiliate gender, sexual tendency, race, religion or nationality".

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Turkey Elects Gul As President Despite Concerns About Preserving Secularism

Turkey's Parliament today elected Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to be the country's next president, according to a report by the AP. Gul's candidacy has been controversial because he is a devout Muslim in a country that was founded on the principle of secularism. (See prior posting.) Gul's wife wears an Islamic-style headscarf, even though Turkish law bans them in government offices and schools. On Monday, just before the election, the Turkish army issued a statement warning against those who would undermine Turkey's democratic and secular status. (Reuters.) Upon assuming office, Gul also defended Turkey's secular tradition, saying: "Secularism -- one of the main principles of our republic -- is a precondition for social peace as much as it is a liberating model for different lifestyles."

UPDATE: Today's Zaman runs the full text of Gul's inaugural speech to Parliament.

Pakistani Police Sued Over Failure To Locate Girls Allegedly Forced To Convert

In Pakistan, lawyers have filed suit against the police in the Punjab city of Faisalabad, claiming that authorities are stalling efforts to locate two Christian girls-- age 11 and 16-- who disappeared after they allegedly were forced to marry and convert to Islam. BosNewsLife yesterday reported that these disappearances are part of a larger pattern of kidnappings of Christians, threats against Christians if they do not convert and attacks against churches. The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, however, said that it was encouraged that there is growing concern over Muslim extremism and the growing influence of the Taliban.

9th Circuit: Forest Service Ban On Rock Climbing OK Under Establishment Clause

In The Access Fund v. United States Department of Agriculture, (9th Cir., Aug. 27, 2007), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to ban recreational rock climbing on Cave Rock, a large rock formation on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Cave Rock is a sacred site for the Washoe Indian tribe, and the Washoes consider rock climbing to be a desecration of the site. Plaintiff, a climbing advocacy group, argued that the Forest Service's decision violated the Establishment Clause. The court, however, disagreed, finding that the Forest Service had a secular purpose in banning rock climbing-- the preservation of an historic cultural area. It also held that "the climbing ban cannot be fairly perceived as an endorsement of Washoe religious practices." Judge Wallace concurred, but said he did not believe that the Lemon test should be used to decide the case. The AP yesterday reported on the decision. [Thanks to Robert H. Thomas for the lead.]

2006 Graduation Leads To New Lawsuit On Student Religious Speech Rights

Liberty Counsel announced that yesterday it filed suit in federal court against Lewis Palmer School District in Monument, Colorado to challenge actions taken over a year ago at a district high school's 2006 graduation. At the graduation, 15 students co-wrote a speech, and each person delivered 30 seconds of it. Erica Corder's portion consisted of testimony about her faith in Jesus and a plea for others to learn more about Jesus. The content of her presentation came as a surprise to the principal, since it differed from the draft that Corder had submitted in advance. The principal required Corder to compose an apology which was e-mailed to the entire high school community. (See prior posting.) Corder says that since the 2006 graduation, the school has continued to portray her publicly as a student whose mention of Jesus was improper. Her suit was filed after the school board failed to respond to Corder's request for an apology and for a change in school policy to ensure that no future free speech violations occur. Citizen Link also reports on the lawsuit.

Italian Catholic Church May Renegotiate Its Tax Benefits

Under pressure from the European Commission and Italy's government, a Vatican spokesman has said that the Italian Catholic Church is willing to "revisit" the issue of the benefits it receives from tax exemptions and from government payments. Today's Guardian reports that renegotiation of the 1984 version of the Concordat between the Vatican and Italian government is needed because the Italian treasury loses 1.3 billion Euros each year from a combination of the Church's receipt of income tax monies, its exemption from most local property taxes, and the reduced tax rate on its business activities (schools, hospitals, clinics and hotels). The EU has suggested that the Church's tax treatment in Italy may pose unfair business competition issues.

UPDATE: BNA Daily Tax RealTime reported on Aug 28: "The European Commission has taken the first steps toward a possible official illegal state aid case against Italy and the Catholic Church by requesting that Italian government authorities provide information about a range of tax breaks the Vatican receives for various economic activities."

Thomas More Law Center Joins As Co-Counsel Opposing NY Arabic School

The Thomas More Law Center announced yesterday that it will act as co-counsel in a pending Freedom of Information Act case seeking more information about New York City's new Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA). The controversial KGIA-- opening this year in Brooklyn-- is a specialized middle and high school focusing on Arab language and culture. (See prior posting.) In announcing the Thomas More Law Center's involvement, its President and Chief Counsel Richard Thompson leveled a series of broad accusations at the new school:
KGIA is a Trojan Horse New York City is building for radical Islam with taxpayer money. That the Quran calls for Muslims to subjugate the world, especially Christians and Jews, is a fact that anyone can look up. New York City School Chancellor, Joel Klein, who is aggressively promoting this Islamic school, is the same person who refused to allow two Christian students, a second and a fourth grader, to display a nativity scene during Christmas—another example of how political correctness is leading to a malicious double standard when it comes to religious expression in public schools.

Israeli Rabbi Says Soldiers Died Because They Were Not Religiously Observant

In Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas party and former Chief Rabbi, stirred controversy when, in a sermon broadcast on Monday, he said that Israeli soldiers were killed in last year's Lebanon War because they were not religiously observant. BBC News says that Yosef's remarks have been criticized not just by secular Israelis, but also by Eli Ben-Shem, head of Yad Labanim, a group representing fallen Israeli soldiers, who said Yosef's remarks were particularly hurtful to religious families whose children had been killed.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Recent Scholarly Articles On Law and Religion

From SSRN:

From SmartCILP (and not previously reported from SSRN of Bepress):

Article Says Apocalyptic Christians Place Pressure On Military

On Friday, carried an article by Thomas D. Williams and JP Briggs II titled Fringe Evangelicals Distort US Military Policy. The article asserts: "For decades, especially since the end of the Vietnam War, the US military has been wrestling with aggressive sects of doomsday Christians demanding control and conversions of those of other faiths as well as nonbelievers within the armed forces." The analysis is based in part on a 2006 US Army War College study by Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Millonig: The Impact of Religious and Political Affiliation on Strategic Military Decisions and Policy Recommendations.

Austria's Right Wing Leaders Urge Anti-Islam Steps

In Austria, right-wing political leader Joerg Haider has proposed that Austria's Constitution be amended to prohibit construction of mosques and minarets in the country and to require religious groups use German in their services and sermons. M&C today reports that Haider, who is former leader of the BZ party and is governor of the province Carinthia, called for the changes over the week end, saying he was protecting Austria's western culture. Right-wing Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who is usually feuding with Haider, expressed his support for Haider's proposals, and urged also that headscarves be banned in schools, universities and public service, that radical preachers be deported and that the government issue an annual Islamization report.

California Cities Sue Woman For Painting God's Messages On Her Houses

Belmont, California officials are about to enforce the city's sign code against homeowner Estrella Benavides who has painted a "message from God" on the front of her house. Today's San Mateo Daily Journal reports that the sign exceeds the 12 square foot limit imposed by Belmont's city code. San Mateo officials have already sued Benavides because of signs with messages from God that she has plastered over another home she owns there. Benavides said, "I am not worried about anything. God is on my side."

Couple Claims State Removed Children Because of Father's Religious Beliefs

Last week, Stephen and Bedra Starkey filed a lawsuit in a Denver (CO) state court against the Boulder County Department of Social Services and several of its employees claiming that the county took temporary custody of Stephen Starkey's three children because of Starkey's fundamentalist religious beliefs. Today's Denver Post reports that Starkey makes similar claims in a pending federal court case. County officials say the children were removed in 2004 because of abuse, not religion. Police found that Starkey disciplined his children by forcing them to lie on the floor for hours while reading the Bible, withholding meals and hitting one child on the head. Starkey is quoted as saying: "Children should live in fear of their parents, the police and others to prevent them from an immoral life."

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Chambers v. Arpaio, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60327 (D AZ, Aug. 16,2007), an Arizona federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that an Arizona jail permitted only 3 of its 70 inmates to attend church each week. The complaint lacked allegations that plaintiff was prevented without penological justification from engaging in conduct mandated by his faith.

In Said v. Donate, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55007 (MD PA, July 30, 2007), a Pennsylvania federal judge rejected a Magistrate's recommendation (2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60658 (June 29, 2007)) that an immigration detainee's free exercise claim be dismissed. Instead the court permitted plaintiff to amend his complaint to identify defendants who deprived him of his request for a Halal meat meals, to describe those meals and how failure to receive Halal meat places a substantial burden on his religious exercise.

In Dye v. Lennon, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62123 (ED WI, Aug. 22, 2007), a federal district court held that an inmate stated colorable free exercise and RLUIPA claims. He alleged that defendants interfered with his right to practice his religion when they obtained a temporary guardianship over him based on his refusal to eat. He says that the guardianship interferes with his fasting for religious reasons.

In Hetsberger v. Department of Corrections, (N.J. Super. App. Div., Aug. 24, 2007), a New Jersey appellate court held that the trial court should have analyzed a plaintiff's claim under RLUIPA as well as under First Amendment standards. Plaintiff in the case, a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths, complained that the Department of Corrections' designation of the Nation as a security risk placed a substantial burden on its members' ability to participate in activities central to their religious beliefs.

In Searles v. Bruce, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62451 (D KA, Aug. 23, 2007), a Kansas federal district court granted a directed verdict for defendants, finding that an inmate failed to prove his claim that he was denied apples and honey for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and failed to show any personal participation by defendants in the alleged denial.

Lebanese Paper Decries Lack of Civil Marriage Code

Lebanon's Daily Star today carries a lengthy report on Lebanese laws that impact women's rights. A significant portion of the article focuses on the absence of a civil code on marriage and family law. Instead each of the 19 religious denominations in the country has its own personal status code, and its own courts to enforce it. This preserves the cultural identity of each group, defenders say.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Vermont's Proposed Regulation of Prisoner Religious Practices Criticized

In July, the Vermont Department of Corrections issued for comment proposed Directive 380.01 on religious observances and programs in the state's correctional facilities. Last week the Becket Fund wrote the Department of Corrections objecting to a number of provisions in the proposal. (Full text of letter.) As summarized in its press release, the Becket Fund argued:
These new regulations are incredibly stringent, and in some cases ominous, such as the mandatory registration of an inmate’s religious identity.... In addition to mandatory registration, the regulations deny inmates the right to lead religious services--even if they are ordained clergy--and prohibit inmates from "demonstrative prayer" and prayer with others. The regulations also force inmates to wait for up to a year to change their religious affiliation, and prohibit them from attending interfaith religious services without applying for a permit first.
In response to these objections, as well as concerns expressed by the ACLU, Vermont Corrections Commissioner Rob Hoffman has already made some changes, according to yesterday's Boston Globe.

Prof Suggests New Approach To Religious Accommodation In Education

Universal Faith is the title of a piece by Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman in today's New York Times Magazine. In it he suggests a new approach to accommodating religion in public education:
The source of the confusion is the mistaken notion that the categories "religious" and "secular" are strictly binary, like an on-off switch. It's true that some things are inherently religious... But it's also true that many things that are not inherently religious are not inevitably secular either: they can be infused with religious meaning through the intention of a believer. A gymnasium or a warehouse has a perfectly secular use but also can be consecrated by worshipers who invoke God's name there for purposes of worship. Examples of what you might call "dual use," such things can be at once secular to one person and religious to another.

The most convincing interpretation of our constitutional tradition is that the government may not engage in or pay for conduct that is inherently religious but may accommodate religion when the steps taken to do so are not inherently religious in themselves. The phenomenon of dual use suggests a helpful way of restating this requirement: the state may expend resources to accommodate activities that are religious in the eyes of the believers as long as those activities can still be performed by the general public that interprets them as secular.

More Developments In San Diego Diocese Bankruptcy Case

There has been another development in the bankruptcy reorganization of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, according to yesterday's San Diego Union-Tribune. While not yet formally lifting the stay on lawsuits, Bankruptcy Judge Louise DeCarl Adler ruled Friday that abuse victims in 42 of the 127 pending lawsuits have a constitutional right to a state jury trial on their claims. Pressing the Diocese to settle, Adler also said that the Church’s current settlement offer is well below the state average for abuse claims. The Diocese had sought, instead of a jury trial, to have the federal bankruptcy court place a value on the abuse claims and then let the victims accept or reject that amount. Meanwhile, a hearing is scheduled for Sept. 6 to decide whether the entire bankruptcy case should be dismissed. Bankruptcy professor Scott Erlich said: "If I were the judge, I would dismiss this action. The only reason to be in Chapter 11 is that the debtor is willing to come up with a plan that the victims can agree to. That is not happening here, and we are wasting our time." (See prior related postings 1, 2.)

China Begins Campaign Targeting Christian Proselytizing Ahead of Olympics

Bos News reported yesterday that China's Ministry of Public Security has urged local officials to undertake a month-long campaign against "illegal religion and evil religious activities" to eliminate "political unstable elements" in the countryside. The crackdown is especially targeting Christians, including leaders of unregistered "house churches". Rights groups say that new arrests and harassments are an attempt to discourage Christian groups from engaging in proselytizing at next year's Beijing Olympic Games.

Justice Department Files Amicus Brief In Support of Mormon Student

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has filed an amicus brief in support of a Mormon college student, David Haws, who is suing West Virginia's PROMISE Scholarship Board for religious discrimination. (Yesterday's Washington Post.) Represented by the ACLU, Haws is challenging the Scholarship Board's policy that led to the loss of his scholarship when he left school temporarily to serve a two-year church mission. The Scholarship Board argues that since Haws' church mission was not a required tenet of his faith, but was only encouraged, he was not compelled to choose between his faith and receipt of the scholarship.

Irish Sikh Group To Challenge No-Turban Policy of Police Reserve

Ireland's Sikh Council is planning to sue to challenge a policy of the Garda Reserve that prohibits Sikh members from wearing turbans while on duty. The Garda Reserve is a volunteer section of Ireland's police force. Today's Malaysia Sun says the planned action stems from a complaint by a Sikh IT professional who had wanted to volunteer for the Reserve.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tie Vote Means No En Banc Review of "7 Aphorisms" Cases In 10th Circuit

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals split 6-6 on a motion to review en banc two decisions by a 3-judge panel handed down last April. The decisions ruled in favor of members of the Summum faith who sought to put up displays of their Seven Aphorisms in parks where Ten Commandment displays already exist. The en banc ruling is Summum v. Pleasant Grove City, (10th Cir., Aug. 24, 2007). Plaintiffs had argued that parks in Pleasant Grove City and Duchesne City, Utah were public forums. The 3-judge panel agreed as to Pleasant Grove, and sent the Duchesne case back for further fact finding. The en banc split results in no review of those decisions.

Two interesting dissents to the denial of an en banc rehearing were filed along with the ruling. Judge Lucero argued that parks are public forums for temporary events such as protests and concerts, but not for permanent monuments. Judge McConnell, joined by Judge Gorsuch, argued that managers of city parks should be able to make reasonable content-based judgments on the kinds of monuments that will be in the parks. Accepting the donation of a war memorial for the park from the VFW should not open the park to "an influx of clutter", they wrote. Yesterday’s Salt Lake Tribune reported on the en banc determination.

More New Jersey Schools Rent Space To Churches

Today's Washington Post carries a story from Northern Jersey's Record pointing out the large number of New Jersey public schools that rent out space to churches for use on Sundays. The practice is encouraged as space becomes more limited, congregations grow and zoning requirements become more difficult to meet. The rent is also an attractive income source for schools. Schools also rent out space to churches on a more temporary basis when they are displaced by a fire, or when they are in the process of constructing a new building. Synagogues sometimes rent school space for overflow services for the High Holidays.

High School's Refusal to Recoginze Bible Club Limited to Christians Upheld

In Truth v. Kent School District, (9th Cir., Aug. 24, 2007), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision made by the Associated Student Body Council in a Washington state high school. The Kentridge High School Council refused to grant official recognition to a student Bible club that limited its membership to those "complying in good faith with Christian character, Christian speech, Christian behavior and Christian conduct as generally described in the Bible." The school argued that state anti-discrimination laws precluded recognition of the club. The court held that the denial of recognition violated neither the federal Equal Access Act nor the club’s First Amendment rights. The court said that the club's policy of excluding those who do not meet Christian criteria did not have an expressive function, and forcing the group to include them as non-voting general members would not convey a message in conflict with the club’s views. Yesterday’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on the decision.

Lesson Learned—This Year’s Jacksonville Prayer Rally Gets No Government Funds

Last year, Jacksonville, Florida ended up in litigation when it spent over $100,000 to support a Day of Faith anti-violence rally. The city settled the lawsuit, agreeing that in the future it would sponsor only secular programs. This year, 50 churches in Duval county are holding a similar prayer service, but without government funding. The mayor and other officials will be invited to the Sept. 8 "It’s Time To Pray Jacksonville" event, but this year the faith community will have "entire ownership" of the event, according to one of its organizers, Rev. Gary Wiggins. Yesterday's Florida Times-Union reported on plans by the organizers to invite 1,400 houses of worship—including synagogues and mosques—to attend.

Two Miliary Chaplains Discuss Their Roles

Yesterday's Bucks County (PA) Courier Times carries an interesting interview with two military chaplains—one recently back from Iraq and one about to go there. Army National Guard Chaplain Douglas Etter, a Presbyterian, talked about how he prayed with soldiers before each mission. He said that the dominant problem soldiers faced was loneliness in being far from home and the strain on relationships with spouses that this separation imposed. Etter also reached out to Muslim leaders while he was in Iraq. Navy Chaplain Rabbi Jon Cutler-- deploying in November-- says he will spend a good deal of time counseling service members dealing with family problems. More than 90% of the troops he counsels are not Jewish. Previously Cutler spent four months in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm and was called to duty at the Pentagon following 9-11 to help counsel grieving families and to assist the mortuary team.

Suit On Native American Graves In Highway Construction Dismissed

A Tennessee suit involving the appropriate treatment of Native American graves discovered during highway construction was dismissed on the basis of mootness and res judicata on Friday. In re: Order To Encapsulate Native American Gravesites, (TN Ct. App., Aug. 23, 2007) [WordPerfect document], was one in a series of suits against the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Initially the Department proposed to relocate remains found in three Native American grave sites. A Native American group and three individuals objected to this proposal, arguing that disturbing the graves would violate their rights of conscience and free exercise of religion. While litigation was pending, the Department decided instead to re-inter the remains in place and encapsulate the graves in concrete. This too was challenged in litigation, but while the lawsuit seeking an injunction was pending, the construction was completed. So the court dismissed the claims as moot. This suit was then filed seeking declaratory relief, instead of the injunction that was sought in the first litigation. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that this suit is "Plaintiffs' second bite at the very same apple."

Sikh Charges California Night Clubs With Discrimination

In Carlsbad, California, 22-year old Dave Bindra has filed a religious discrimination complaint after he was denied entry to two night clubs because he was wearing a patka, a tighter fitting version of the traditional Sikh turban. The clubs have strict rules against headgear associated with gangs, and apparently his patka resembled the banned do-rag. Eventually a heated exchange between club personnel and three female friends of Bindra's ensued. Yesterday's San Diego Union-Tribune says that the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund has contacted the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service to ask them to mediate.

Head Of Civil Rights Division of Justice Department Resigns

Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim, head of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, has resigned effective the end of this month. (DOJ release, 8/23). Reporting on the resignation, Thursday's New York Times emphasizes that this adds to the vacancies in top posts at the Department. Blog from the Capitol points out that it was under Kim's leadership that the Division began the First Freedom Project that placed a new emphasis on religious freedom cases.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Welsh Legislator Wants Multi-Faith Assemblies In Schools

In Wales, Liberal Democrat National Assembly member Peter Black has called for a change in the law to provide for multi-faith assemblies in public schools to replace Christian worship that now takes place. Black says that this would promote tolerance and understanding in a diverse society. Welsh law currently requires schools to have daily collective worship that is "broadly Christian", while taking account of other religions in Great Britain. IC Wales today reports that Saleem Kidwai, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, supported Black's suggestion, saying that he did not want religion removed from schools. Black's suggestion came in response to an inquiry from a humanist organization. A number of Christian spokesmen support the current rules.

Reversionary Clause Enforced Through Finding That Church De Facto Dissolved

In Central Coast Baptist Association v. First Baptist Church of Los Lomas, (Ct. App. Cal., Aug. 23, 2007), a California Court of Appeals resolved a church property dispute, enforcing a reversionary clause in First Baptist Church's constitution. the constitution provided that in either of two situations, the assets of the church would go to Central Coast Baptist Association. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction to determine whether the church had "ceased to function as a Southern Baptist Church", since this would require "the court to decide issues involving religious doctrine, polity, and practice, an undertaking forbidden by the First Amendment." However, "the court did have jurisdiction to inquire into the alternate basis stated in the reversionary clause, namely whether there had been a 'dissolution or
winding up of the organization.'" A determination that the church had de facto dissolved does not involve religious issues.

Church-State Landmarks In New Book and Movie

Two rather different historical events in the history of U.S. church-state relations are in the news because of a new book and a new movie. New York University law professor Stephen Solomon's new book, Ellery's Protest, (Univ. Mich. Press), examines the 1963 case, Abington v. Schempp, which struck down mandatory Bible reading and recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public school classrooms. Yesterday's Boston Globe reports on Ellery Schempp's life today, and recounts that the landmark litigation began after Schempp, as a high school student, protested by opening a copy of the Quran during Bible reading time.

Meanwhile, yesterday's Christian Science Monitor reports on the new movie, September Dawn, which is about to be released. The movie offers a fictionalized account of the 1857 "Utah War". That largely forgotten incident took place as the U.S. Army was marching toward Utah to confront Mormon leaders. A group of Mormons, aided by Native Americans, massacred 120 unarmed people in a California-bound wagon train. The paper reports that for the first time, the Mormon church is engaged in intensive research on the history of the event, and has featured some of the findings in the September edition of the church's magazine, Ensign.

Ukrainian Churches Named After Politicians

In Ukraine, according to yesterday's Interfax, churches are being named after politicians. A Lvov church is named after Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko, while in Dnepropetrovsk one is named for political leader leader Yulia Timoshenko. Also, a portrait of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich hangs in a church in Donetsk.

Florida Ends Kosher Food Option In Its Prisons

The Florida Department of Corrections has ended its Jewish Dietary Accommodation Program in state prisons. The AP reported yesterday that the program provided kosher food for Jewish inmates and was also used to accommodate Muslim prisoners requesting a halal diet. The state offered a variety of reasons for the change, including cost and the difficulty of screening inmates to determine whose religious beliefs are sincere. It also said it was not fair to satisfy demands of only a small group of prisoners when its prison population encompasses over 100 faiths. Instead of kosher food, prisoners will be able to choose a vegetarian or vegan option, and the prison system has totally stopped serving pork products.

Christian Leafleter Challenges Georgia City's Parade Ordinance

The Alliance Defense Fund filed suit yesterday in a Georgia federal court challenging the constitutionality of the parade permit ordinance in Cumming, Georgia, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The suit was filed after a state court avoided passing on the constitutionality of the ordinance earlier this month in a case involving the arrest of Frederic Baumann, who was distributing Christian religious literature on a sidewalk outside the city's fairgrounds. Baumann's conviction was reverse after a court held that the permit ordinance did not apply to his activities. (See prior posting.) The new suit, filed on behalf of Baumann, seeks a declaratory judgment and an injunction to protect Baumann's activities and to find that the ordinance violates the free speech, free exercise, equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. constitution. The suit also asks for damages. (Full text of complaint).

DC Police Get Training To Understand Sikh Community

Yesterday's Panthic Weekly reports on a cooperative program between the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department (MDP). The program is training all 3,000 MDC police officers to understand the Sikh religion and is making suggestions on how to interact with the Sikh community in non-emergency, non-crisis situations. SALDEF's training program has previously been used in other agencies and police departments as well.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Native American Religious Rights Pose Complexity In Massachusetts Case

The complexity in protecting religious rights of Native Americans is illustrated by a case heard in Famouth, Massachusetts yesterday, and reported on in today's Cape Cod Times. In January, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council "shunned" four tribe members who had filed a lawsuit against the Council charging financial mismanagement. This meant that the four were banned from the tribe's annual Pow Wow in July. However, they attended anyway, claiming that the Pow Wow is a religious activity and the Tribal Council was interfering with their religious exercise. Tribal leaders called Mashpee police who issued trespass complaints against the four. Those complaints were dismissed yesterday by a Falmouth District Court Magistrate after the defendants, while still asserting their right to attend the Pow Wow, agreed to obey an order not to trespass on tribal lands for the next three months. Meanwhile, the financial mismanagement lawsuit filed by the four dissidents has been dismissed because in February the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe received federal recognition, and a Superior Court judge held that this deprived state courts of jurisdiction over the lawsuit.

Ukraine Officials Accused of Failing to Prevent Anti-Semitic Attacks

In the Ukraine, chief-rabbi Azriel Chaikin has released a letter charging government and law enforcement officials with failing to prevent a series of anti-Semitic assaults in the country. News yesterday quoted Chaikin as saying that authorities "either don't have the desire or are incapable of preserving security".

Parent Loses Challenge To In-School Anti-Drug Speaker

Marion, Illinois parent Robert Marsh has failed to convince a federal court jury that his daughter's school district endorsed religion or fostered excessive entanglement when it permitted Texas evangelist Ronnie Hill to speak at school assemblies in November 2003. Yesterday's Houston Chronicle reports on the decision handed down last week. Originally Marsh sought an injunction against the evangelist's appearance. A judge permitted the secular in-school presentations to go on, but ordered the evangelist not to use the school talk to promote his later appearance at a local church. However, it turns out that tickets to Hill's evangelical church rally, which included a pizza party, were handed out at the school on the day Hill spoke. Then a judge dismissed Marsh's lawsuit as moot because the school assemblies had already taken place. Later, however, a second judge reinstated Marsh's claim for damages. After the jury last week found against Marsh, the court ordered him to pay the school district's court costs. (See prior related posting.)

Anonymous Airline Passengers Dropped From Imams' Civil Rights Suit

Now that a new federal law grants immunity from suit to individuals who, in good faith, report on suspicious activities of fellow airline passengers, a group of imams who are plaintiffs in a Minnesota case yesterday dismissed the "John Doe" passenger defendants from their lawsuit. (Dismissal Notice.) The Beckett Fund yesterday issued a release setting out its involvement in demanding that the plaintiffs drop the passengers as defendants in the civil rights suit alleging that six imams were wrongfully removed from a U.S. Airways flight last November.

Louisiana School Board Adopts New Prayer Policy for Meetings

Now that plaintiffs challenging the prayers that open school board meetings in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana have lost their case on standing grounds, the school board on Tuesday adopted a new policy, according to The Advocate. The Board will create a database of congregations with an established presence in the local community and will send out a letter once a year to them inviting their clergy to lead the prayers on a first-come, first-served basis. No individual may lead prayers more than three times each year, and the School Board will not review the prayers in advance. [Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the lead.]

Suit Claiming Dams Impede Tribal Religious Ceremonies Proceeds

A Northern District of California federal judge on Friday rejected a motion by PacifiCorp to dismiss the lawsuit filed against it by a number of plaintiffs including Yurok and Karuk Tribal members. The lawsuit seeks damages for toxic water conditions caused by PacifiCorp's dams on the Klamath River. The court also refused to delay the case while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission completes long-running dam re-licensing proceedings. Plaintiffs allege, in part, that toxic blue-green algae thriving in reservoirs above the dams have seriously interfered with river-based tribal religious ceremonies. Yesterday's American Chronicle reports on the court's holding that the grant of a federal permit for the dams does not preclude the bringing of a nuisance claim against PacifiCorp.

Suit Challenging Removal of Prison Religious Books Refiled As Class Action

Two New York prisoners have refiled a lawsuit challenging the federal Bureau of Prisons policy that severely limits the number of books in prison chapel libraries, according to yesterday's International Herald Tribune. An earlier suit they filed was withdrawn after the court ruled that they had not exhausted internal prison channels to complain. The new suit seeks class action certification so that plaintiffs can sue on behalf of prisoners around the country. The Bureau of Prisons implemented the challenged policy after it concluded that prison chapel libraries were not being adequately supervised, fearing that radical religious books might fall into the hands of violent inmates. The rules now limit prison libraries to between 100 and 150 titles for each religion. Many books previously in the libraries were removed. The lawsuit claims that this had led to hundreds of religious books and media being removed from prisons since February, often without review to learn if they are objectionable. (See prior related postings, 1, 2 .)

Quebec Closes Down Mennonite School-- Families Move Away

In Canada, Quebec's Education Ministry is threatening to take the province's only Mennonite community to court if it does not close down its faith-based school. The school that enrolls eleven children is operating without a permit, employs uncertified teachers and does not follow required curriculum standards. In response, according to Today's Family News, several Mennonite families with young children are planning to move to another province. Roxton Falls Mayor Jean-Marie Laplante has asked the Education Minister to allow the Mennonite school to continue to operate.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Germans Concerned Over Proposed New Mosque In Cologne

In Cologne, Germany, unexpectedly strong opposition has arisen to plans for the building of a new $20 million mosque on the site of a current one that is housed in a refurbished factory. The design for the new mosque-- a combination of classical and modern architecture-- came from a design competition held by the Turkish-Islamic Union. Today's Detroit Free Press (reprinting an article from last week's Chicago Tribune) says that German politicians and religious leaders have both expressed concerns. Criticism spread after Ralph Giordano, a respected German-Jewish writer, said the mosque demonstrated the creeping Islamization of Europe. Joerg Uckermann, deputy mayor of the Ehrenfeld district, said: "The mosque is not a symbol of integration, it's a symbol of isolation, the symbol of an isolated enclave of Oriental culture." And Germany's Cardinal Joachim Meisner said that the plans for the mosque give him an "uneasy feeling." The comments reflect growing concern in Germany over its failure to fully integrate the country's 2.7 million Turkish immigrants, at the same time that Turkey is pressing for admission to the European Union.

9th Circuit Voids Settlement In Synagogue's RLUIPA Case

In League of Residential Neighborhood Advocates v. City of Los Angeles, (9th Cir., Aug. 21, 2007), the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's approval of a settlement agreement in a RLUIPA case that would have permitted a synagogue to operate in an area zoned for residential use. The appellate court agreed with neighbors of Congregation Etz Chaim that the settlement process cannot be used to evade state law requirements for notice and a hearing for the affected community before a conditional use permit is granted. Merely a potential violation of federal law is not reason enough. "Before approving any settlement agreement that authorizes a state or municipal entity to disregard its own statutes in the name of federal law, a district court must find that there has been or will be an actual violation of that federal law." Today's Los Angeles Times reports on the decision.

Florida Hebrew Language Charter School Has New Problems With Curriculum

A controversial Hebrew language Charter School in Hollywood, Florida has encountered new problems. (See prior posting.) Today's South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that yesterday thee Broward County School Board told the Ben Gamla school to stop teaching Hebrew until its curriculum was approved as being totally secular. After having two previous programs rejected for being based, in part, on traditional Jewish texts, the program presented to the Board yesterday contained only a "curriculum map" that outlined the skills that students would develop at each level. However the Board objected to the content of some of the websites the "map" listed as teacher resources. So now the Board has hired Nathan Katz, a professor in Florida International University's religious studies department, to review the curriculum. The Board will not meet again for three weeks.

UPDATE: An August 23 report by the New York Times reports that school founder Peter Deutsch wants to start similar charter schools in Los Angeles, Miami and New York and hopes to eventually open 100 Hebrew-English charter schools around the country. He is already seeking four more charters in Florida.

Michigan Church Sues Over Permission To Run Counseling Program

Tomorrow a Michigan federal district court will hear arguments in a dispute between a Lennox Township (MI) church and township officials over the church’s residential counseling program. According to today’s Macomb Daily, Grace Community Church (GCC) has taken over 54 acres of land containing a former Catholic church and monastery that housed 25 people. The Township forced GCC to stop operating its Discipleship Training Center in the former monastery building, claiming that GCC was offering substance abuse counseling in addition to the religious counseling that is allowed under its land use permit. GCC’s pastor, Bill Pacey, says that is not so, even though he is a licensed substance abuse counselor. GCC’s lawsuit claims that the Township is violating RLUIPA by preventing it from operating its program.

Australian Law Student Suspended For Religious Interruptions

A student at Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra was forcibly removed from campus and suspended for 28 days after he continued to interrupt lectures by shouting his religious beliefs. AAP today reports that the incidents, which apparently involved a Muslim law student, took place last week.

Rhode Island Policy Banning Religious Group Use of State House May Be Changed

In Rhode Island, a recently appointed state official has discovered a long-ignored formal state polciy that prohibits religious functions or functions held by religious groups from taking place at the State House, even though other non-profit groups may use the State House for events and fundraisers. Today's Providence Journal reports that Department of Administration official Marco Schiappa has recommended that an application by Hispanic Protestant congregations to hold a day of prayer on the State House lawn be approved because the policy has been ignored for so long. Regularly, events like a Catholic group's recitation of the rosary to pray for an end to legalized abortion and a menorah lighting by a Jewish group have been permitted. Religious and civil liberties groups and state officials, including Governor Donald Carcieri, have all called for the policy to be changed. Rev. Eliseo Nogueras, resident of the Hispanic Ministerial Association of Rhode Island, pointed out that Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams who left Massachusetts because of religious persecution.

8th Circuit Upholds Injunction Against Bible Distributions In School

Yesterday, in Doe v. South Iron R-1 School District, (8th Cir., Aug. 21, 2007), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's preliminary injunction prohibiting a Missouri school district from allowing the Gideons to hand out Bibles to elementary schoolers on school property during the school day. (See prior posting.) In the appeal, the school district argued that the injunction required it to impose a content-based restriction on speech. The court said that this argument was without merit, since Establishment Clause cases always make content-based distinctions when they prohibit government from endorsing religion. Yesterday's Kansas City Star reports on the case.

Suit Challenges Graduation Prayer Policy of Texas High Schools

On Monday, six parents and a former student sued the Round Rock (TX) Independent School District, alleging that its policy on prayer at high school graduation ceremonies is unconstitutional. The Texas school district allows a yearly vote by seniors on whether there should be prayer at their graduations. The suit, filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argues that the vote is an official school-sponsored event in which the district makes clear that they want students to vote in favor of prayer. In one case, the school district ordered a re-vote when students voted against prayer. The complaint in Does v. Round Rock Independent School District was filed in federal district court for the Western District of Texas. (Press release).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ADA Held Not Applicable To State Prisons- Free Exercise Issues Discussed

An interesting decision in Chase v. Baskerville, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60640 (ED VA, Aug. 2, 2007) may have an impact on religious freedom issues in prisons. The case invovles a claim by a deaf inmate under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act. He argued that a Virginia prison should have provided him with an interpreter to assist him in his school work. Much of the decision focused on whether the ADA could be applied constitutionally to state prisons. That in turn, under the U.S. Supreme Court's test developed in City of Boerne v. Flores, depends on whether applying the ADA in this context is an attempt to redefine the substantive meaning of the 14th Amendment, or is merely a congruent and proportional response to identified unconstitutional conduct.

The court ultimately concluded that Title II of the ADA is not tailored to remedy likely constitutional violations in state prisons. In the course of its opinion considering whether the ADA is an appropriate response to potential prison problems the court included this observation:
Admittedly, there is some congruency between an inmate's right to the free exercise of his religion and Title II's reasonable accommodation requirement and certain due process protections. For example, the lack of a handicap accessible chapel may substantially burden a disabled inmate in the free exercise of his religion. Thus, the imposition of an accessibility requirement is facially congruent and proportional in that context with the inmate's underlying free exercise rights. Nevertheless, the strict liability imposed by the ADA in this context is not entirely congruent with the jurisprudence that "negligent acts by officials causing unintended denials of religious rights do not violate the Free Exercise Clause."

Baptisms In Prisons Face Hurdles

A recent article in the Christian Chronicle discusses the problems encountered by Christian ministers in accommodating prison inmates who wish to be baptized. Staff prison chaplains often deny the request on security grounds. William Crossman, of the Church of Christ Prison Ministry in Leavenworth, Kan., says: "There are many, many chaplains that do not believe in baptism, and they're not going to go out of their way to see that it’s done." However, as the article chronicles, in a number of institutions, hundreds of inmates have been baptized, sometimes under the threat of litigation if prison officials do not permit it. Often portable baptisteries or inflatable kiddie pools are used for the ceremony.

Romania Considering Compulsory Religion Classes In Schools

Romania's Education Ministry is considering introducing compulsory religion classes in grades 1 through 10 in public schools. reports today that the move is endorsed by all recognized religious groups in the country. Currently, non-compulsory religious education classes are offered in schools. Students have a choice of enrolling in them, or instead taking a course in the history of religions.

British Columbia Agency Mediates Settlement In Complaints By FLDS Women

In Canada on Monday, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal released an agreement that it had mediated in order to settle a complaint brought by several women charging that the government had discriminated against women members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the community of Bountiful by failing to enforce the province's law against polygamy. (See prior posting.) The complaint also claimed that the province had failed to provide girls and women in the community with equal access to government services.

Today's Vancouver Sun reports that the settlement gives a partial victory to the complainants. One part of it deals with government-funded schools operated by the FLDS under the Independent School Act. Government officials will be advised that the Act does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, but it does prohibit the schools from teaching doctrines of racial or ethnic superiority or persecution, or religious intolerance. Also under the agreement, the government will provide funds for basic crisis intervention training and an information package on all available government services, including counselling and safe houses. Finally, the government will work to refine the way in which its current level of services are delivered to residents of the closed community.

Indiana Reps Want Churches To Pay For Basic Government Services

Sunday's Indianapolis (IN) Star features an article on the large amount of tax revenues being lost because of property tax exemptions for churches. It estimates that church properties in Marion County, Indiana are worth $1 billion. Two state representatives, Bill Crawford and Thomas E. Saunders, are suggesting that religious groups begin to pay some fees to cover basic services such as police and fire protection. [Thanks to Blog from the Capital for the lead.]

USCIRF Delegation Visiting Turkmenistan

A delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom yesterday began a 6-day visit to Turkmenistan where they will meet with government officials and be greeted by the country's president. reports that the group is headed by USCIRF Chairman Michael Kromartin. In May, USCIRF recommended that Turkmenistan be added to the U.S. list of "countries of particular concern", a compilation of nations with the most egregious records of trampling on religious rights. (See prior posting.) Last January, USCIRF issued a long release on conditions in Turkmenistan, emphasizing the possibility for human rights reform with the death of former president Saparmurat Niyazov.

Iraqi Christians In Mosul Face Difficulties

Yesterday's Boston Herald reports on the particularly difficult problems being faced by Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Their churches have been bombed and clergy have been murdered. Many have fled to Kurdish controlled territory in the north, or to Syria. The city's 23 churches have stopped functioning publicly, and many Christian women have been forced by militants to wear Islamic dress.

Deportation of High-Profile Immigrant Focuses Attention On Sanctuary Movement

On Sunday night, federal officials arrested and deported high-profile immigration activist, Elvira Arellano, to Mexico. Part of the growing "sanctuary movement", Arellano had taken refuge in Chicago's Adalberto United Methodist Church for the last year, and had become a symbol for immigrant rights activists. Today's Los Angeles Times reports on the arrest and deportation, and the Chicago Tribune reports on Arellano's difficult decision on whether her 8-year old son (who is a U.S. citizen) will stay with her in Mexico or remain in the U.S. Interestingly, officials did not arrest Arellano until she left her sanctuary church in Chicago and went to Los Angeles to attend a rally.

This series of events poses the question of the extent to which government officials are de facto respecting churches as a place of sanctuary, even though it is fairly clear that they have no legal obligation to do so. Arellano said she left Chicago because she thought authorities were preparing to enter the church to arrest her. However, U.S. immigration enforcement officials said that it was her decision to leave the church that led to her arrest. They said it was safer to arrest her outside the church. Rev. Walter "Slim" Coleman, pastor of the Chicago church where Arellano had lived for the past year, said: "I think they obviously didn't want the embarrassment of breaking into a church and separating a mother from her son in front of the cross."

Today's Long Beach (CA) Press Telegram runs an article discussing the sanctuary movement more broadly, with a focus on Los Angeles County. It quotes Chicago's Rev. Coleman who says that the movement is "based on faith, not fear. It's not a place to hide, it's a place to bear witness that this country is destroying families."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
Sandeep Gopalan, From Darfur to Sinai to Kashmir: Legalization and Ethno-Religious Conflicts, (August 18, 2007).

Paul E. McGreal, Social Capital in Constitutional Law: The Case of Religious Norm Enforcement Through Prayer at Public Occasions, SUI School of Law Research Paper No. 2007-1 (Aug. 15, 2007).

Belinda M. Smith, From Wardley to Purvis - How Far has Australian Anti-Discrimination Law Come in 30 Years?, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 07/55.

Free Exercise Defense Being Raised To Smuggling Charges

The New York Sun today reports on a free exercise case that is moving toward trial in federal court in the Eastern District of New York. At a hearing earlier this month, a judge ruled that a New York woman-- originally from Liberia-- has standing to raise a free exercise of religion defense to charges of smuggling monkey meat into the United States. The defendant, Mamie Manneh, says that the monkey parts were imported for use in religious ceremonies. Supporting her claim are the pro bono efforts of a major New York law firm and potential testimony from a Harvard Divinity School faculty member.

Losing Plaintiff Gives His Arguments In Church Polling Place Controversy

The unsuccessful plaintiff in a recent Florida lawsuit challenging the use of a Catholic church as a polling place, gives his side of the argument in an op-ed piece in today's South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Jerry Rabinowitz, plaintiff in the federal court case of Rabinowitz v. Anderson, says:
As I approached my polling location I passed a large, anti-abortion banner put there by the host, Emanuel Church. Inside the religious classroom that served as the voting location, I was presented with religious iconography in every direction, including directly above the voting booths.... Although abortion, stem cell research, and gay rights weren't on that ballot, they are issues candidates run on and use to receive support. And they are religious concerns. Thus religion is, in that sense, on the ballot, making a church polling place inappropriate in any fair election.

CNN To Present Series On Religious Radicals

CNN is giving extensive publicity to its 3-part documentary, God's Warriors, scheduled for this week. Produced by Christiane Amanpour, the special will run two hours on three successive evenings beginning tomorrow. Tuesday's program is on Judaism, Wednesday's is on Islam and Thursday's is on Christianity. CNN says the series will explore "the intersection between religion and politics and the effects of Christianity, Islam and Judaism on politics, culture and public life," and it is asking viewers to submit questions ahead of time to Amanpour. David Yonke of the Toledo Blade describes the series this way:
For those who follow the news closely, there will be few major revelations in this series. Most of God's Warriors centers on pivotal events of recent history that have religious connections.... Around this historical framework, however, Amanpour and her crew expand on the events by interviewing extremists and their families and getting insights from political, cultural, and religious experts, seeking to understand the reasons behind the headlines.
The series has been extensively reviewed in newspapers and online forums across the country. Here is a sampling of the reviews from AP, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Toledo Blade, and Variety. A summary of each episode is at Digital Home.

Thais Approve New Constitution by Divided Vote- No State Religion In It

Thailand voters approved its new Constitution yesterday by a divided vote-- only 57% voting in favor of it. (Bangkok Post). Early on the Constitution was controversial because of its failure to make Buddhism the state religion. That issue, however faded after a speech by Queen Sirikit earlier this month. (See prior posting).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Quintana v. Edmond, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58213 (D CO, Aug. 9, 2007), a Colorado federal district court permitted an inmate to move ahead with his claim that he was singled out for additional experimental urinalysis tests because he was permitted to smoke tobacco for religious reasons. The court said this could amount to a violation of plaintiff’s equal protection rights based either on his religion or his status as a Native American heritage. UPDATE: The Magistrate Judge's recommendations in the case are reported at 2007 U.S. Dist LEXIS 62203.

In Kay v. Friel, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58205 , (D UT, Aug. 7, 2007), a Utah federal district court dismissed a prisoner’s complaint after he failed to amend it to adequately state a claim. Plaintiff’s allegation of interference with his free exercise rights was merely conclusive, and did not allege facts about the nature of his religious beliefs or about the items and rituals allegedly denied to him.

In Mustafa-Ali v. Irvin, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58477, (SD MI, Aug. 9, 2007), a Mississippi federal Magistrate Judge rejected an inmate’s equal protection and free exercise claims. Plaintiff complained that the warden had denied him a hardback copy of the Quran, a prayer rug, special toiletry and shower facilities and a pork-free meal during Ramadan.

A case from several months ago, not previously discussed, is David v. Giurbino, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19179 (SD CA, March 16, 2007), in which a federal judge accepted a Magistrate’s Report and Recommendation, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59160,(SD CA, Jan. 22, 2007), that plaintiff’s complaint be dismissed. The case involved a Native American prisoner’s challenge to grooming regulations that did not permit him to wear his hair long enough to extend below his shirt collar. The complaint stems from action before changes in prison policy in response to a 2005 decision by the 9th Circuit. The Magistrate Judge found that prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity because before 2005 it would not have been apparent that the prison’s policies violated RLUIPA.

In Oram v. Hulin, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60264 , (D ID, Aug. 16, 2007), an Idaho federal district court permitted a Seventh Day Adventist inmate to proceed with his claim that his First Amendment free exercise rights were violated when he was denied a religious diet. However, the court dismissed plaintiff’s equal protection claim.

Indian Tribe Seeks To Preserve Sacred Items Far From Reservation

The Day (New London, CT) today reprints a New York Times News Service story on the legal battle being waged by Arizona's Quechan Indians. They are attempting to force Arizona Clean Fuels, developers of a planned $4 billion refinery located 40 miles away from the Quechan reservation, to conduct an archaeological and cultural inventory to look for sacred Quechan remains. At issue is how far beyond the borders of their reservations Indian tribes can extend their demands for cultural preservation. The Quechans have already stopped a planned gold mine and a planned nuclear waste dump in California beyond the borders of their reservation. However in June a federal district court refused to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the land transfers involved in the refinery project. Quechan Indian Tribe v. United States DOI, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47974 (D AZ, June 29, 2007), and the case is on appeal to the 9th Circuit. Meanwhile, last month the district court completely dismissed a portion of the complaint in the case, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50776 (D AZ, July 12, 2007).

Sri Lankan Buddhists Concerned About New Movie, "Music and Lyrics"

The February 2007 Warner Bros. film, Music and Lyrics, has created a legal and religious controversy in Sri Lanka. Colombo's Sunday Times reports that the film has offended Buddhists who have seen it because of the final scene in which film character Cora Corman (played by Haley Bennett) emerges, scantily clad, from a figure of Buddha. Sri Lanka's Secretary of Religious Affairs and Moral Uplift, P. Kodituwakku , said that currently there is no law on the books that allows the government to take action against the film, though the Cabinet has been considering new legislation that would prohibit the misuse of religious symbols. Last year, Ven. Daranagala Kusaladhamma Thera, Chief Incumbent of Sri Sambodhi Viharaya, filed a suit in the Supreme Court challenging misuse of religious symbols in another case, and, while the Court has not yet decided the case, it did order that no religious image should be used in a manner that insults a religion until its decision is handed down.

Connecticut Episcopal Diocese Sues Break-Away Parish

Another lawsuit joins the long list of those involving property disputes between break-away Episcopal congregations and their former Diocese. This time it is the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut suing Trinity Episcopal Church in Bristol. In May, the parish affiliated with the conservative Anglican Church of Nigeria in a dispute over the ordination of an openly gay man as the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Yesterday's Hartford Courant reported the lawsuit claims that by doing so, Trinity's leaders gave up the right to control parish property. Trinity and five other parishes are already appealing a case they lost last year in which they challenged the Diocese's attempt at that time to remove their priests and take over parish property. [See prior posting.] [Thanks to Nick Uva for the lead.]