Saturday, March 31, 2007

Slovakia's Parliament Makes Church Recognition More Difficult

The Slovak Spectator says that Slovakia's Parliament last Thursday approved an amendment to the country's Law on Religious Freedom that will make it more difficult for churches to obtain official recognition. In the past, an group was required to submit a petition with the signatures of 20,000 adult permanent residents stating they share the beliefs of the community. Under the amendment, signatures must be from adults who are actually members of the group and who are Slovak citizens as well as permanent residents.

North Carolina County Commission Sued Over Sectarian Prayers

WGHP reported on Friday that the ACLU and Americans United have filed a federal lawsuit against the Forsyth, North Carolina, County Commissioners challenging their practice of opening meetings with a sectarian prayer. The lawsuit says that a majority of the prayers offered by religious leaders to open commission meetings in 2006 invoked the name of Jesus Christ. (See prior related posting.)

UPDATE: Here is the full text of the complaint in the lawsuit. Sunday's Winston-Salem Journal reports that commissioners will meet on Thursday to discuss whether they should fight the lawsuit. The high cost of mounting a defense will be one consideration.

Compromise Reached Over Ownership Of Czech Cathedral

AFP reports today that the government of Czech Republic and the Roman Catholic Church have reached a compromise over control of St. Vitus' Cathedral, one of Prague's best known landmarks. After 14 years of litigation, the parties have agreed that the Church and president's office will jointly manage the Cathedral. The Church has claimed that it still holds title to the Church and that the Communist regime of the country did not effectively cancel its ownership. (See prior posting.)

British Veiled Teacher's Appeal Rejected

In a widely followed case, Britain's Employment Appeal Tribunal has upheld the suspension of a Muslim teacher who was fired last year for refusing to remove her full-face veil while teaching children at a school in West Yorkshire. (See prior postings, 1, 2.) A Press Association report says the Tribunal found that the school had justified its actions in this case. However, the Tribunal held that it is possible for religious discrimination laws to be violated when action is taken against a person because the person wears particular religious symbols or clothing.

Religious Defamation-- UN Defends Muslims While NY Catholics Object To Art Display

On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution urging countries to take action to protect "against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions". It also focuses on racist and xenophobic materials. (UN Press Release.) The resolution, proposed by Pakistan, expresses concern over measures designed to control and monitor Muslim and Arab minorities which serve to stigmatize Muslims and legitimate discrimination against them. (Associated Press of Pakistan). Reuters reports that the vote on the resolution was 24 yes, 14 no and 9 abstentions. Western European states opposed the resolution, saying that the role of the Council was to deal with rights of individuals, not rights of religions. They also objected that it focused too much on Islam.

Meanwhile, CNN today reported on a different kind of concern over defamation of a religion. New York's Roger Smith Hotel closed down a display titled "My Sweet Lord" after a flood of objections from Catholics to the display's nude, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus. Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, said the life-size statue was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."

In a series of releases from the Catholic League, Donohue first said: "All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don’t react the way extremist Muslims do when they’re offended—otherwise they may have more than their heads cut off." (March 29 Release). Then, saying that sculptor Cosimo Cavallaro has invited the public to show up at midnight on April 1 to take a bite of his chocolate sculpture, he continued: "The Roger Smith Hotel is morally bankrupt. It is the goal of the Catholic League to make it financially bankrupt as well." (March 29 Release #2). Finally, after the exhibit was closed, Donohue said: "While we are delighted with the outcome, we are not pleased with the comments of the gallery’s creative director, Matt Semler. For him to say that our objection to this outrageous display constitutes hate speech and is the equivalent of a fatwa shows how deliriously irresponsible this man is." (March 30 Release.)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Turkey's Secularist Tradition At Issue In Murder Trial

Today's Wall Street Journal carries a front page article titled "In Turkey, a Judge's Murder Puts Religion in Spotlight". [subscription required]. It details the background of the trial in Ankara of a radicalized Muslim lawyer who murdered a secularist judge of Turkey's top administrative court last year. The attack wounded three other judges. The attack stemmed from the judges' decision upholding a school's refusal to promote a kindergarten teacher because, in its view, she set a bad example by insisting on wearing a Muslim headscarf near her school. (See prior postings 1, 2, 3). Earlier this month, Turkey's Public Prosecutor urged that the assassin, Alparslan Arslan, and three others be given life sentences in solitary confinement with no possibility of parole on charges of "establishing and running an illegal armed gang to subvert the constitutional regime through coercion." (New Anatolian, March 2.) [Thaks to Steven H. Sholk for the lead.]

Motion Seeks Dismissal of Trespass Charges Against Gideon Bible Distributors

The Baptist Press yesterday carried a story about the Motion to Dismiss (full text) filed earlier this month in a Monroe County, Florida court by the Alliance Defense Fund seeking the dismissal of trespass charges against two members of The Gideons International who were arrested for distributing Bibles on school property. The two men were arrested in January after being asked to leave the elementary-middle school campus by sheriff's deputies called by the school's principal when she received complaints from parents. Much of the legal argument turns on a Florida statute (F.S.A. 810.097) which prohibits any person who "does not have legitimate business on the campus or any other authorization, license, or invitation to enter or remain upon school property." The motion argues that defendants did have legitimate business, had permission to be there, and in any event that the enforcement of the statute against them violates their First Amendment rights. It also argues that the statute is vague and overbroad.

Kansas Legislature Passes Ban On Funeral Protests

The Kansas legislature yesterday followed the lead of 32 other states, passing and sending to the governor for her signature a bill that outlaws funeral protests. The bill prohibits demonstrations within 150 feet of a funeral from one hour before to two hours after the funeral service. (House Sub for SB 244). Today's Wichita Eagle reports on the bill, enacted by the state that is home to Westboro Baptist Church whose members regularly picket funerals of veterans to protest homosexuality in the United States. The bill directs the state attorney general to seek a judicial determination of the constitutionality of the new law. Apparently this provision is designed to prevent Westboro pastor Fred Phelps and his followers from recovering attorneys' fees in a challenge to the new law. The bill provides that it will not take effect until the state Supreme Court or a federal court rules that it is constitutional. The bill also allows family members to sue funeral protesters for defaming a deceased. Normally a cause of action is not available for defaming a dead person. A legislative note summarizes the bill's provisions.

UPDATE: On Friday, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announced that she would sign the anti-funeral protest bill into law. (Lawrence Journal-World).

Pakistan Brothel Owner Kidnapped, Then Released By Muslim Students

In Pakistan, a religiously motivated kidnapping has come to what some consider a happy ending. Late last Tuesday in Islamabad, after a brothel owner, known as Aunty Shamim, refused to close down her establishment, a group of 30 female and 10 male Muslim students broke into the brothel and took Shamim, her daughter, her daughter-in-law and her 6-month-old granddaughter as captives inside their Jamia Hafsa seminary. The incident was reported by the Associated Press and by Al Jazeera. A student, saying that their religion authorizes their conduct, said the women would be released if they promised to close the brothel. Authorities responding to the kidnappings on Wednesday arrested two of the seminary's female teachers and two male students. This in turn led to protests by students and by the seminary's vice-principal who threatened "jihad" unless the female teachers were released.

Today's Gulf Daily News reports that Aunty Shamim has been released after she put on a burqa and signed a statement saying in part: "I seek forgiveness for the sins that I have committed and declare I will live like a true Muslim and preacher of religion." Aunty Shamim's relatives and the arrested teachers have also all now been released, as have two policemen who were seized by protesting students.

Oregon Church Loses RLUIPA Land Use Appeal

An Oregon church has been unsuccessful in forcing a county to grant it a special use permit to locate a school in its planned church and day care building. In Timberline Baptist Church v. Washington County, (OR App., March 28, 2007), in a 2-1 decision, an Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the denial of a special use permit to Timberline Baptist Church, finding that under RLUIPA the denial did not impose a substantial burden on the church's free exercise of religion. The majority rejected the church's claim that requiring it to seek out other suitable property would itself be a substantial burden. The dissent argued that the denial does create a substantial burden because Timberline is being forced to give up its approved church and day care facility on the property it owns, or else to abandon its religious precept of operating a church and religious school on the same property.

Suit Against California School By Jehovah's Witness Settled

A Jehovah's Witness minister has settled her suit against the Modesto, California school district. Eon Walden claimed that her grandson was required to participate in Sonoma Elementary School holiday activities even though she had requested he be excused from them because they conflicted with their religious beliefs. According to an Associated Press report, the school child was forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and color a Thanksgiving turkey. The suit, settled for payments totally $30,000, also alleged racial discrimination. The school district has denied the allegations.

NY Church Challenges Refusal To Rent It Space In State Building For Easter Services

On Tuesday, the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit in a New York federal district court on behalf of a Watertown, NY church that wishes to rent a conference room in the Dulles State Office Building to use for Easter services. (Release). Seeking an injunction and declaratory relief, the complaint (full text) challenges state rules that permit building space to be rented out by private groups for educational, cultural, or civic purpose, but prohibits its use for religious activities or services. It claims that the policy violates the First and 14th Amendments. News10now reports on the lawsuit.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Maldives Says Islamic Identity Is Crucial To Protect National Unity

Last August, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief issued a report strongly critical of the Maldives for its lack of religious freedom. The report said that in the country, the concept of national unity appears to have become inextricably linked to the concept of religious unity. Minivan News reported yesterday on a response to the report. On Tuesday, Maldives Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Hassan Sobir, addressed the UN's Human Rights Council, saying: "It is of paramount importance to the Government of the Maldives to maintain our Islamic heritage and identity and to protect the national unity and harmony that flow from it...The current challenge facing the Maldives is therefore to preserve our identity and unity while at the same striving to conform to international standards."

House Presses For Liability Shield For Passengers In "Flying Imams" Case

As previously reported, a suit by six imams who were removed from a U.S. Airlines flight in Minneapolis last November after passengers became concerned about their behavior has stirred a great deal of controversy. Now Congress is weighing in. On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 304-121 to send the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007 back to committee so that language shielding passengers can be inserted into the bill. CNS News reports that Republican proponents of the amendment want to prevent passengers from hesitating to report suspicious behavior, while Democratic opponents were concerned that the amendment would encourage racial profiling. Here is a summary of the Republican motion to recommit from a news release on Congressman Bill Shuster's website:
The Republican motion to recommit H.R. 1401, the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007, provides that any person who makes a voluntary disclosure regarding suspicious activity that constitutes a possible threat to transportation security to appropriate security and law enforcement authorities shall be immune from civil liability for such disclosure.

The amendment protects any such disclosure relating to threats to transportation systems, passenger safety or security, or possible acts of terrorism.

The amendment also shields transportation systems and employees that take reasonable actions to mitigate perceived threats.

The amendment is retroactive to activities that took place on or after November 20, 2006 - the date of the Minneapolis incident involving six Islamic leaders who were removed from a U.S. Airways flight after they were observed acting suspiciously.

Finally, the motion authorizes courts to award attorneys fees to defendants with immunity.
Additional coverage is at Michelle Malkin's blog and at OmniNerd.

Congressmen Call America to Prayer

The 35-member Congressional Prayer Caucus at a press conference on Wednesday launched an initiative to encourage every American to spend five minutes a week praying for the nation. Today's Detroit Free Press reports on the effort. The group has created a "Wall of Prayer Around America" page on the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation website. Using a graphic of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, it seeks individuals to sign up for specific times to pray so that all times are covered. Reacting to the effort, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said: "Lawmakers should stick to their constitutional duties and leave religious decisions to individuals.... Religion is too important to become a political football." Additional coverage of the story is on Blog from the Capitol and Melissa Rogers websites.

Employees Lodge Religious Objections To Hand Scanners

On Point Legal News today carries an interesting story on recent lawsuits brought by employees who object to using biometric hand scanners to clock their arrival and departure from work. They interpret the Biblical Book of Revelation, Chap. 13, as warning against taking the "Mark of the Beast" on one's forehead or right hand. Plaintiffs, citing religious concerns, want to use an alternative method to record their working hours. Some employers have accommodated employees by permitting them to place their left hands, instead of their right hands, under the scanners.

Illinois Court Dismisses Pharmacists' Challenge to Rules for Lack of Ripeness

In a recent decision in Morr-Fitz, Inc. v. Blagojevich, (IL 4th Dist App., March 19, 2007), an Illinois state appellate court, by a vote of 2-1, dismissed a challenge brought by pharmacists and drug stores to State Board of Pharmacy rules that require drug stores to fill prescriptions for the "morning-after" pill, even where doing so violates a pharmacist's religious beliefs or conscience. (See prior related posting.) The court held that the claim was not ripe for a pre-enforcement challenge since the allegations in the plaintiffs' complaint suggest that it is extremely unlikely that these parties will ever be placed in a position to choose between their conscientious objections and following the rule's requirements. Justice Turner dissenting argued that plaintiffs' claims are ripe for review under the state's Health Care Right of Conscience Act and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Michigan Woman Sues Judge Who Insisted She Remove Veil To Testify

Alleging that she was denied her free exercise rights and access to the courts because of her religion, a Muslim woman has filed a civil rights complaint in federal district court in Detroit. The AP reported yesterday on the case against against Hamtramck, Michigan small claims court Judge Paul Paruk who, last October, dismissed Ginnnah Muhammad's claim against a car rental company when Muhammad refused to remove her niqab (full face veil) before she testified. (See prior postings 1, 2. ) The judge insisted that he needed to see the plaintiff's face in order to assess her truthfulness. Muhammad says she would have removed her veil for a female judge. Meanwhile the car rental company has now filed a small claims suit against Muhammad and a hearing is set for April 18 before the same judge. Muhammad's attorney will ask the judge to remove himself from the case.

Jurisdiction Of Malaysian Islamic Courts Debated

Malaysian courts continue to struggle with the appropriate jurisdictional reach of the country's religious Syariah courts. On Wednesday, the Syariah High Court rejected an application by a 24-year-old non-observant Muslim woman to renounce her Islamic affiliation. According to a report in today's Daily Express, the court held that it has jurisdiction to determine if an individual's actions have made the person an apostate, but it has no jurisdiction to grant conversion based only on a person's wish to change religions.

Meanwhile, earlier this month Malaysia's civil Court of Appeal held that a Hindu woman had to seek recourse through the Syariah Appeal Court to stop her estranged husband, who had converted to Islam, from dissolving their civil marriage in a Syariah court and unilaterally converting their children. Sun2Surf today reports that the president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism objected to the decision, arguing that non-Muslims should not be required to go to Syariah courts for relief.

UPDATE: The International Herald Tribune reported on Friday that Malaysia's Court of Appeal has ruled that Muhammad Shafi Saravanan Abdullah — who converted from Hinduism to Islam — cannot convert his son to Islam until after the apex Federal Court hears his estranged wife's appeal of its decision to send the case to a Syariah religious court.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Rights Groups Exchange Charges Over "Flying Imams'" Litigation

A civil rights suit filed earlier this month by six imams who were removed from a U.S. airways flight in Minneapolis has led to an interesting exchange of letters between the CAIR-- the group representing the Muslim clerics-- and the Becket fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund letter, dated March 23, strongly criticizes CAIR for including as defendants several "John Does", some of whom are apparently senior citizens who contacted U.S. Airways to report what they saw as suspicious behavior by the imams.

CAIR's letter in response, sent yesterday, says that the lawsuit targets only individuals "who may have knowingly made false reports against the imams with the intent to discriminate against them", and not individuals who acted in good faith. It says that the main focus of the suit is the conduct of U.S. Airways and its employees. Finally it charges the Becket Fund with "contributing to a national environment that chills the right of American Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asians to redress violations of their civil rights. This chilling effect is caused by [the Becket Fund's letter] labeling efforts to protect Muslim civil rights in court as 'legal terrorism'." (See prior related postings on the litigation 1, 2.)

Justice Department Begins Seminars on Protecting Religious Freedom

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its new initiative on religious freedom called the First Freedom Project. A part of that project is a series of regional seminars presented by senior Civil Rights Division attorneys. The seminars are titled "Federal Laws Protecting Religious Freedom. The first of those seminars takes place tomorrow in Kansas City.

Topics will include: Religious Discrimination in Public Schools, Colleges and Universities; Religious Discrimination and Public Employees; The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act; Religion-based Housing and Lending Discrimination; Religious Discrimination in Access to Public Accommodations and Public Facilities; and Prosecuting Religion-based Hate Crimes, and Arson and Vandalism of Houses of Worship.

Similar seminars are scheduled for Tampa, FL on April 25 and Seattle, WA on May 10.

Israel Cancels Vatican Meeting On Church Tax and Property Issues

In a surprise move, Israel's delegation has cancelled its March 29 meeting with the Vatican that was to have been held in Rome to work out a "comprehensive agreement" on all tax and property matters affecting the Catholic Church in Israel. The Vatican wants a reconfirmation of the historic tax exemptions that it possessed at the time that Israel creation in 1948, and the return of certain Church properties. It also wants assurances that property disputes will be heard by Israeli courts. Asia News reports that there had been high expectations for the meeting, which would have been the first Plenary Session of the Israel-Holy See Permanent Bilateral Commission in five years. (See prior related posting.)

UPDATE: Israel's ambassador to the Vatican said that the postponement of the Commission meeting was merely for technical reasons and that a new meeting date would be set soon. (CNS).

US Files Brief In Bald Eagle Act Appeal

The Free New Mexican yesterday reports on the brief filed last week by the U.S. Department of Justice in its appeal to the 10th Circuit in United States v. Friday, a case in which a Wyoming federal district court found that the government’s implementation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act violated the free exercise rights of a member of the Northern Arapaho Indian Tribe. (See prior posting.) The brief appears to focus on countering the trial court's conclusion that the government has little intention of accommodating Native American religious rights. It cites examples of permits that have been issued to allow the taking of eagles for Native American religious ceremonies.

Rabbinic Court Appointments In Israel Challenged

In Israel, petitions have been filed both with the High Court of Justice and with Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann objecting to the procedures used last week to appoint 15 new judges to the country's rabbinic courts. (See prior posting.) The petitions demand that the election results be cancelled and new judges appointed. Yesterday's Jerusalem Post reports on the judicial challenge and Haaretz reports on the filing with the Justice Ministry.

The petitions were filed by The Tzohar organization of modern Orthodox rabbis and Emunah, the National Religious Women's Organization. They claim that the new ultra-Orthodox appointees will be insensitive to women's issues. The High Court petition alleges that the appointments were the result of a political deal between two ultra-Orthodox parties. It says that election committee members were not given the protocols of the subcommittees that interviewed and rated the candidates and were not told to which courts the nominees would be assigned. When the head of the committee began to read the names of the candidates and give his opinion of each, apparently committee members interrupted him and said there was no need for that, even though some new committee members were unfamiliar with the candidates.

Italian Bishops Speak Out Against Civil Unions; Public Thinks They Shouldn't

In Italy, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the new president of the Italian bishops' conference, has rejected charges of interference in secular politics and has strongly defended the involvement of Church leaders in Italy's public debate over legal recognition of civil unions. Yesterday's Catholic World News quotes the Archbishop as saying: "Church leaders have a solemn obligation to protect marriage and the family." However, a poll by Demons-Eurisko for found that more than 60% of Italians-- including 44% of those who describe themselves as practicing Catholics-- oppose Church leaders telling politicians how to vote on the government's proposed recognition of civil unions. (Catholic World News.)

Meanwhile, there are disagreements within the Italian bishops' conference on whether Catholic politicians who vote for civil-union legislation should be subject to some religious sanction, such as denial of the Eucharist. (Catholic World News.)

Permanent Injunction Permits Anti-Abortion Literature Distribution At School

In M.A.L. v. Kinsland, (ED MI, March 19, 2007), a Michigan federal court converted its January preliminary injunction into a permanent injunction, barring a Monroe, MI middle school from enforcing its policy on distribution of non-school sponsored literature. (See prior posting.) The ruling permits a student to distribute anti-abortion literature before and after school, and during the lunch period. It also permits him to wear a sweat shirt carrying the slogan "Pray to End Abortion" and to place tape on his wrists, but not on his mouth. The school retains the right to control these activities only if they they threaten or pose material and substantial disruptions of discipline or intrude on other students' rights. The case grew out of a student's participation in last year's Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity. A release by Alliance Defense Fund announced the court's ruling.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Settlment Reached In FL Community Center's Exclusion of Religious Groups

The Alliance Defense Fund yesterday announced the settlement of a lawsuit that had been filed against Ocala, Florida's Marion Oaks Community Center. The Marion County public facility allows groups and individuals to rent rooms at the community center, except that the community center and park would not be rented out "for formal religious services, informal study programs, or revivals". The complaint in Quinones v. Marion County, filed last January, alleges that the policy violates the speech and religion clauses of the First Amendment and denies equal protection of the law to religious groups. It also alleged violation of Florida's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Under the settlement, Marion County has agreed to remove the religious prohibitions from its policy and to treat the plaintiff, Iglesia Cristiana Fe y Esperanza (Faith and Hope Christian Church), equally with other groups seeking to use Marion Oaks facilities.

Indiana Distributes "In God We Trust" License Plates

Since January, the state of Indiana has given drivers an option to obtain license plates carrying the motto "In God We Trust". Yesterday's Marion (IN) Chronicle-Tribune says that legislators are surprised at how popular the option has become. More than 321,000 of the plates have been distributed since January. They cost no more than standard plates, though for individuals who have already registered their autos for 2007, a $9 transfer fee is involved to get the plates for this year. A posting on Dispatches from the Culture Wars reviews the discussion on Religionlaw listserv on whether Indiana has created an Establishment Clause problem by charging an added fee for other specialty plates, but not for this one.

Macedonia Will Require Religious Education For 5th Graders

In Macedonia, religious education will be mandatory for all 5th graders starting in the 2008-09 school year. MRT reports today that students will have a choice between a religious instruction course on Orthodoxy and Islam, or a course in religious history

Suit Filed Over Expansion of Tiburon, CA Synagogue

In wealthy Marin County, California, controversial plans to expand the county's only synagogue have hit another hurdle. Yesterday's Marin Independent Journal reported that even though the Town of Tiburon finally approved the construction-- with a number of conditions imposed-- now neighbors of the synagogue have filed suit in Marin Superior Court. The lawsuit against both Tiburon and the synagogue alleges that in granting a construction permit, Tiburon failed to address environmental concerns in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act as well as Tiburon's own land use regulations

Nigerian City Gets Women-Only Rickshaws

Two years ago in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, in an attempt to impose stricter Islamic law, women were banned from riding on motorcycle taxis on which they came into physical contact with the male cycle drivers. (See prior posting.) Now, subsidized yellow motorized rickshaws for women, bearing the slogan "Be Pious," are appearing on the streets of Kano. Yesterday's International Herald Tribune reports that the rickshaws have pull-around shades to hide the women from being seen by men.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Quebec To Require Muslim Women To Lift Veils To Vote

Marcel Blanchet, chief electoral officer of the Canadian province of Quebec, on Friday reversed his earlier interpretation of Quebec's voting law and ruled that Muslim women would be required to lift their niqab to show their face in order to identify themselves to vote. Saturday's National Post reports that Blanchet reversed himself after numerous e-mails and telephone calls suggested that voters might disrupt elections today. A campaign on the Internet encouraged voters to show up at the polls wearing paper bags over their heads or wearing Darth Vader masks. Blanchet said, however, that after today's election a serious debate on the issue must take place. Dr Mahfooz Kanwar, head of the Muslim Canadian Congress has suggested that Canada totally outlaw the niqab. He was quoted in today's Daily Times as saying that the veil is not required by Islam and "It should be against the law to hide your face in this society, period."

Christian Pastors Arrested In Indian State For Conversionary Activity

In the Indian state of Rajasthan, two Christian pastors have been arrested on charges of insulting Hindu gods and forcing people to convert to Christianity. Today's Pakistan Christian Post reports that the two have been charged under section 295 of the Indian Penal Code that prohibits insulting the religion of any class of persons. In Rajasthan last year, the governor refused to sign an anti-conversion bill passed by the legislature. (See prior related posting.)

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Jefferson v. Wolfe, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18625 (WD PA, March 16, 2007), a federal Magistrate Judge rejected an Establishment Clause, a Free Exercise Clause, a retaliation and an Equal Protection Clause claim by a Muslim inmate, Leonard Jefferson. It found that Jefferson had not been coerced into participating in religious-based rehabilitation programs; that forcing him to participate in non-Islamic based programs did not violate his free exercise rights; that his removal from his job as Chapel clerk was justified based on his inflammatory and disruptive poetry; and that he was offered access to the same programs and benefits as other prisoners.

In Henderson v. Ayers, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18791 (CD CA, Feb. 23, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge permitted an inmate to move forward with a claim under RLUIPA that his rights were violated when he was denied time off work to attend Friday Islamic prayer services.

In Phillips v. Stanley, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19608 (WD VA, March 20, 2007), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a prisoner's claim that he was not able to go to church or get religious books because the prisoner failed to particularize the facts surrounding his claim.

In Goodrick v. Roane, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19360 (D ID, March 19, 2007) an Idaho federal court permitted a prisoner to move to trial with his claim that a correctional officer violated a settlement agreement in his prior free exercise claim that permitted him to keep a limited amount of religious prayer oil in his cell.

In Busick v. City of Madison, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19432 (SD MI, March 19, 2007), a Mississippi federal district judge dismissed a prisoner's challenge to a policy that permitted him to receive religious material by mail only from one approved source.

In Stanko v. Patton, (8th Cir., March 20, 2007), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court's finding that a prisoner's Free Exercise claim is frivolous. The inmate claimed that he is a member of the Church of the Creator, and that eating nuts and fruit is a genuine dietary requirement of the religion.

In Hightower v. Schwarzenegger, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20520 (ED CA, March 8, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge dismissed without prejudice a prisoner's claim that defendants refused boxes of religious books sent to him directly by the publisher on more than one occasion. The court said that plaintiff needed to amend his complaint to link the named defendants with the alleged conduct.

In Larry v. Goetz, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20619 (WD WI, March 20, 2007), a Wisconsin federal district court rejected a Muslim inmate's claim that a volunteer chaplain at the Dane County jail violated his free exercise rights by failing to arrange Jumah services. There was no evidence that the chaplain had the authority to determine whether such services would be offered.

In Coronel v. Paul, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 6928 (9th Cir., March 12, 2007), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an Arizona federal district court dismissal of a claim against a prison chaplain, the warden, and Corrections Corporation of America at a CCA-operated prison. It held that the lower court erred in finding these defendants uninvolved in alleged infringements of an Hawaiian inmate's rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA. They had implemented an order of the Hawaii Department of Corrections that Hawaiian inmates be prohibited from participating in Pascua Yaqui Native American sweat lodge ceremonies because prison gangs were using these services to organize disruption.

Last week the Associated Press reported on the settlement of a lawsuit brought by by the ACLU on behalf of a Mormon prisoner against Louisiana State Penitentiary. The prison will now permit the inmate to buy books from several previously-unapproved Church of Jesus Christ vendors, including Brigham Young University's bookstore.

Controversial Australian Mufti Retains His Position

In Australia, Muslim clerics meeting in Sydney have decided that the controversial Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali should remain as Mufti of Australia, a position he has held since 1988. Developments were reported yesterday by M&C. Controversial past remarks by the sheik led to calls for his removal by Prime Minister John Howard and New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma. Last year the sheik raised widespread protest when he suggested that women who do not wear a head covering invite rape. This year he suggested that Muslim immigrants have greater entitlement to live in Australia than did the country's colonial settlers.

Pakistani Muslims Fail To Rally Opposition To Hindu Chief Justice

Ohmy News reports that religious parties in Pakistan have failed in their attempts to generate opposition to the appointment of an observant Hindu as the country's Chief Justice. A senior religious cleric, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq said that it is not permissible under Islamic law for a non-Muslim to become the chief justice of an Islamic state. Legal experts disagree. The appointment follows the controversial suspension of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry who was charged by President Pervez Musharraf with misusing authority. (See prior posting.)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rice- Mubarak Spar Over Egypt's Proposed Constitutional Changes

On route to her visit to Egypt, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly criticized a proposed package of constitutional amendments that will be voted on in a referendum in Egypt on Monday. One of them, aimed at the Muslim Brotherhood, bans political parties based on religious denomination. (See prior posting.) The Associated Press reports that in a nationally televised speech on Saturday, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak defended the amendments. He said that history had taught him "the dangers of mixing religion with politics," and that the amendments would cut off those "attempting to strike at the unity of this nation's Muslims and Christians." AP reports on Sunday indicate that Secretary Rice raised her concerns directly in her opening talks with Mubarak.

UPDATE: On Tuesday Egypt announced that the voters had approved the 34 proposed constitutional amendments by a vote of 75.9% in favor. It said that turnout in Monday's referendum was 27%, but the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights says the turnout was much lower than that. (AP).

Recent Scholarship On Law and Religion

From SSRN:
David E. Guinn, Erecting the Barrier: Creating the New Liberal Compact on Religion, Chap. 3, and The Terrors of Christendom, Chap. 2. in Constantine's Standard: Religion,Violence, Politics, Law & Faith to Die For.

Mostly from SmartCILP:
Richard M. Esenberg, You Cannot Lose If You Choose Not To Play: Toward a More Modest Establishment Clause, 12 Roger Williams University Law Review 1-69 (2006).

Larry O. Natt Gantt, II, Charles H. Oates & Samuel Pyeatt Menefee, Professional Responsibility and the Christian Attorney: Comparing the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Biblical Virtues, 19 Regent University Law Review 1-93 (2006-2007).

James L. Heft, S.M., Religion and Politics: the Catholic Contribution, 32 University of Dayton Law Review 29-46 (2006).

Erin E. Goodsell, Constitution, Custom, and Creed: Balancing Human Rights Concerns with Cultural and Religious Freedom in Today’s South Africa, 21 BYU Journal of Public Law 108 (2007).

Symposium Issue: God & War. Foreword by Linda Bevilacqua; articles by John D. Carlson, Liaquat Ali Khan, David A. Bosworth, Jeffrey F. Addicott and John D. Altenburg, Jr. 7 Barry Law Review 1-163 (2006).

Pope Criticizes EU 50th Anniversary Statement

Pope Benedict XVI yesterday strongly criticized European Union leaders for excluding any mention of God in the declaration marking the EU's 50th anniversary. (See prior posting.) Reuters quotes the Pope who said: "If on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome the governments of the union want to get closer to their citizens, how can they exclude an element as essential to the identity of Europe as Christianity, in which the vast majority of its people continue to identify."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ohio's Anti-Funeral Picketing Law Largely Upheld

The Cleveland Plain Dealer today reports that an Ohio federal district court on Friday upheld key portions of Ohio's "Let Them Rest in Peace Act" (ORC 3767.30) that bans protests within 300 feet of a funeral from one hour before to one hour after the ceremony. The court held that the law protects people from unwanted communication, while allowing protesters to demonstrate elsewhere. The law is aimed at the Westboro Kansas Baptist Church whose members picket veterans' funerals around the country with signs claiming that God is killing American soldiers as punishment for "the sin of homosexuality." However the court struck down a provision of the law that creates a 300-foot floating buffer around a funeral procession. The AP reports that Westboro church members are still planning a funeral protest on Monday. Usually their protests are outside the 300-foot zone in order to get their message out near streets with heavy traffic.

Preacher Challenging NC City's Permit Requirement

In Hendersonville, North Carolina, a street preacher-- Billy Ball-- is challenging the city's ordinance that requires a permit from the police before delivering any speech or sermon, or demonstrating, on any city street, sidewalk or public grounds. The ordinance provides that a permit maybe revoked where "the good morals, safety and public order of the city so demand." Yesterday's Hendersonville News says that Ball claims his First Amendment rights are violated by having to obtain a permit from the police chief. The preacher has been cited twice for violating the ordinance. His most recent citation was for his carrying a sign reading: "Three gays rights: AIDS, hell, salvation." Ball plans to return with 20 demonstrators to again challenge the legality of the city's rule. Police Chief Donnie Parks' response is to quote back to Ball a Biblical verse (Romans 13:1) saying that everyone should submit to the governing authorities.

Ohio Ends Contract With Group Administering Faith Based Funds

As reported previously, Ohio's new Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, has ordered the state's Inspector General to investigate the operation of the Ohio Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Apparently the group that was under contract to manage $22 million in grants that faith-based organizations could access has refused to answer investigators' questions. ABP reports that this has led state officials to terminate the state's contract with the group, We Care America. The Dayton Daily News Dayton has published an investigative series that discloses ties between the White House and leaders of We Care America. Gov. Strickland, himself an ordained Methodist minister, said: "It just really seems as if this is an example of where money that should've legitimately gone to serve the needs of the poor and vulnerable people in Ohio was in my judgment misused, and it was done in the name of God. It's just reprehensible what happened here." Melissa Rogers' blog has more on the story.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Russian Museum Sued Over Anti-Christian Art

In Russia, a Russian Orthodox Church group, the People's Council, has filed suit in Moscow against the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center over a display titled "Forbidden Art -- 2006". Today's Baltimore Sun reports that the suit charges the Museum with inciting religious and ethnic hatred. The display contains two dozen works that were kept out of Russian art galleries by self-censorship last year. Among them is a portrait of Jesus with a Mickey Mouse face and an icon of the Virgin Mary made to look like caviar. The coordinator of the People's Council said: "It's considered blasphemous to mock Christian feelings. It's like insulting the American flag."

Demolition Permit Denial Violates Free Exercise Clause

In Mount St. Scholastica, Inc. v. City Of Atchison, 2007 WL 782196 (D KA, March 12, 2007), a Kansas federal district court held that application of the Kansas Historic Preservation Act to deny a demolition permit to a religious monastic community violates the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. Applying 10th Circuit precedent, the court held that because the law provides for individualized determinations, a strict scrutiny test is to be applied to the government's decisions. In cases of religious hardship the government must have a compelling reason to refuse to grant an exemption from the historic preservation law's requirements. Historic preservation is not a compelling governmental interest. [Thanks to Eugene Volokh via Religionlaw for the lead.]

Clergy Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim Dismissed Under Establishment Clause

In Lowery v. Cook, (UT Ct. App., March 15, 2007), a Utah Court of Appeals held that the Establishment Clause bars a claim for breach of fiduciary duty by a clergyman in connection with an ecclesiastical counseling session. Adjudicating the claim would create excessive entanglement between government and religion.

Tennessee AG Says Creationism Resolution Does Not Violate Establishment Clause

Last month (see prior posting) a Tennessee legislator introduced a resolution in the state Senate that would ask the state commissioner of education a series of questions about why schools are not teaching creationism. Last week, Tennessee's attorney general issued Opinion 07-29 which concludes that: "Senate Resolution 17 violates neither the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, nor Article I, Section 4 of the Tennessee Constitution." In reaching that conclusion, the Opinion says:

Senate Resolution 17 compels no action regarding religion, and imposes no sanction for disobedience. This resolution is therefore not the type of "law" that may infringe upon the terms of the Establishment Clause.

Furthermore, insofar as Senate Resolution 17 merely asks three questions concerning religion and the teaching of creationism in Tennessee schools, it is difficult to interpret the resolution as a measure "establishing" religion in contravention of the Establishment Clause....

We further do not consider that any reasonable interpretation of Senate Resolution 17 runs afoul of this provision of the Tennessee Constitution. The resolution is completely devoid of any provision suggesting that the Commissioner of Education must satisfy any religious "test" in order to qualify for her office.
Despite the resolution, its sponsor Sen. Raymond Finney says that he may reword the resolution. (NCSE release.)

NY State Takes Over Religious Discrimination Complaint Against Clinic

The New York state Division of Human rights has taken over administration of a religious discrimination complaint filed in Spring Valley, NY with the Rockland County Commission on Human Rights by the NAACP. (See prior posting.) The complaint claimed that the Ben Gilman Medical and Dental clinic -- which had received federal funding -- unlawfully imposed the its owners beliefs on others by closing on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. The clinic in turn argued that forcing it to open on Saturdays would constitute illegal religious discrimination. The New York Journal News today reports that the state takeover places in question a tentative settlement that the parties had negotiated. It provided for opening on the clinic on Saturdays for an eight-week trial period; maintaining a diverse, multilingual staff and providing diversity training to the staff.

French Paper Acquitted On Charges of Publishing Caricatures of Muhammad

A French court yesterday acquitted the satirical newspaper Charlie-Hebdo and its director, Philippe Val, of charges of "publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion" by publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Several of the cartoons had first appeared in a Danish newspaper. The court ruled that Charlie-Hebdo had no intention of insulting the Muslim community with the caricatures. The Associated Press reported on the decision. (See prior related posting.)

Portland Archdiocese Bankruptcy Reorganization Moves Ahead

Portland, Oregon's Catholic Sentinel reports that parishioners in western Oregon will receive notice this week of a proposed settlement in a class action lawsuit over whether parishes, schools and certain funds are available to pay claims of the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland. The Notice (full text) says that in the settlement no property of schools or parishes will be used to pay debts of the Archdiocese. Parishes and schools will receive a discharge from all liabilities of the Archdiocese. Then the Archdiocese will restructure itself, Parishes and Schools into various charitable trusts or nonprofit religious corporations, separate from the reorganized Archdiocese. Property will be transferred among the new entities in a way that does not diminish the Archdiocese's ability to make payments under the plan of reorganization.

Vietnam Recognizes Baha'i and 3 Other Groups

Vietnam News Service yesterday reported that the Baha'i Community of Vietnam is celebrating its receipt last month of a certificate of operation from the Government's Committee for Religious Affairs. Three additional groups have also recently received certificates: "Four Debts of Gratitude"; "The Pure Land Buddhist Home-Practice Association"; and "The Vietnam Christian Religion Missionary Alliance". Previously six other religions had been recognized by the government: Buddhism; Catholicism; Protestantism; Cao Dai; Hoa Hao Buddhism; and Islam. Buddhism is the largest of these, with 10 million followers in the country.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Final Attempt To Overturn Britain's Sexual Orientation Regulations Loses

Yesterday, a final attempt to prevent Britain's Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations from going into effect was defeated in the House of Lords by a vote of 168 to 122. Christianity Today reports that the defeated motion put forward by Baroness O’Cathain, as 1000 Christians in support of the motion gathered outside Parliament in a prayer vigil. Following the vote, the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship issued a statement saying in part: "The result of the vote will mean that rather than balancing rights, the right to live a homosexual lifestyle will trump the right to live a Christian lifestyle." (See prior related posting.)

Taxpayer Challenge To Funding Faith-Based Marriage Counseling Group Dismissed

A federal district court in Washington state has dismissed a lawsuit brought by 13 Washington taxpayers alleging that federal grants made to the Northwest Marriage Institute were used to finance religious activities in violation of the Establishment Clause. In Christianson v. Leavitt, (WD WA), March 20, 2007) [available in PACER], the court found that capacity-building grants, and a grant to support a secular marriage workshop, met the requirements of the Lemon test-- and so there were no Establishment Clause violations present. Americans United for Separation of Church and State that represented plaintiffs issued a statement saying it was disappointed in the ruling, but that the court reaffirmed key principles of church-state separation. (See prior related posting.)

UPDATE: The full opinion is now available online, as is defendant's motion to dismiss, thanks to the Christian Newswire (CLS press release). [Thanks to Blog from the Capitol for the lead to this update.]

Jordan's Parliament Deletes Controversial Provision In Proposed Press Law

Playfuls today reports that both houses of Jordan's Parliament have voted to eliminate a provision in a new press and printing law that would have permitted imprisonment of journalists for "degradation, defamation, vilification or abuse of religion". The earlier version of the bill that contained the provision led met widespread objection. (See prior posting.)

Court Finds Cross On City Water Tower Unconstitutional

In American Atheists, Inc. v. City of Starke, Florida, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19512 (MD FL, March 19, 2007), a Florida federal district court held that Starke, Florida's placement and maintenance of a lighted cross on the top of the city's water tower violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. and Florida constitutions. The court held that the case was not moot even though the city had removed the cross. It granted plaintiffs' request for an injunction because it is not clear that city will not put the cross back up at a later date. Today's Gainesville (FL) Sun reports on the decision.

German Judge Cites Koran Verse In Denying Accelerated Divorce

Under German law, a person seeking a divorce must wait one year after separation from his or her spouse, except in cases of unreasonable hardship. Spiegel Online yesterday reported on a judge's decision in January holding that domestic violence and death threats by a husband against his wife did not meet the hardship criterion because the man and wife both have Moroccan backgrounds. In denying the accelerated divorce, the judge cited a passage in the Koran that some have interpreted as permitting a husband to beat his wife. The judge said: "The exercise of the right to castigate does not fulfill the hardship criteria as defined by Paragraph 1565 (of German federal law)." (Background on German divorce law.) However now that the wife's attorney has gone public about the case, a court in Frankfurt granted the wife's motion to disqualify the judge for conflict of interest.

UPDATE: In response to widespread criticism of the judge's decision to deny an accelerated divorce, the Court's vice president said that the judge "regrets that the impression arose that she approves of violence in marriage." (International Herald Tribune).

UPDATE: German lawyer Andreas Moser has posted more information on the case suggesting that the media have been exaggerating the holding. He says that the opinion focuses on whether the government will pay for counsel for the wife instead of requiring her to wait 2 more months to obtain her divorce after the 1-year waiting period. [Thanks to Dispatches from the Culture Wars for the lead.]

Father Sues LDS Church Over Ordination Of Sons

In Utah yesterday, a state court of appeals heard oral arguments in a case in which a father claimed that the Mormon church ordained his two sons without his permission. Yesterday's Salt Lake Tribune says that he sued after the LDS Church refuse to issue an apology. The case is part of a broader fight between the boys' father, Michael Gulbraa, and his former wife Etsuko Tanizaki Allred over custody of the two boys. Their mother had requested the ordinations in Japan where she had taken the boys, but at a time after the father had been awarded custody of them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Catholic-Jewish Commission Speaks On Religious Freedom

Last week, the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel's Delegation for Relations with the Catholic Church -- known as the Bilateral Commission-- met in Jerusalem. The topic for the meeting was "Freedom of Religion and Conscience and Its Limits." Zenit yesterday published the conclusions of the Commission's 3-day session. Here are some excerpts:

Even though the Enlightenment helped bring about a purification from the abuse of religion, secular society still requires religious foundations to sustain lasting moral values....

While on principle the state should not at all limit freedom of religion for individuals and communities nor of moral conscience, it has the responsibility to guarantee the wellbeing and security of society. Accordingly it is obliged to intervene wherever and whenever a threat is posed by the promotion, teaching or exercise of violence and specifically terrorism and psychological manipulation in the name of religion.

In addition to respecting the freedom of religious choices, the integrity of faith communities should also be guaranteed. Accordingly it is legitimate for a society with a predominant religious identity to preserve its character, as long as this does not limit the freedom of minority communities and individuals to profess their alternative religious commitments, nor to limit their full civil rights and status as citizens, individuals and communities....

[T]here is a special obligation upon religious leaders and communities to prevent the improper use of religion and to educate towards respect for diversity which is essential in order to ensure a healthy, stable and peaceful society.

NY Appellate Court Upholds Photographer's Rights Against Free Exercise Claim

Yesterday, a New York appellate court affirmed the dismissal of a free exercise claim in an unusual suit under New York's privacy law. In Nussenzweig v diCorcia, (NY App. Div., March 20, 2007), Erno Nussenzweig, a Hasidic Jew, sued Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, a professional photographer who took a series of photographs of persons passing through Times Square, including Nussenzweig. Then, without consent, DiCorcia used the photos in a gallery exhibition, and in a catalogue that was published to go along with the exhibit. Nussenzweig's religious beliefs -- in particular his interpretation of the second commandment against making graven images-- are violated by the use of the photo. (See prior posting.) In the appellate court, three of the five judges dismissed the claim on statute of limitations grounds. However, in a concurring opinion, Justices Tom and Malone also agreed with the lower court that the privacy act was not violated and that no free exercise claim was established because the photographer's conduct did not amount to state action. It rejected Nussenzweig's claim that the issuance of the trial court's decision protecting the photographer's free expression rights created the necessary state action.

EU Anniversary Statement Will Not Mention Religion

European Union officials are placing the final touches on a formal statement that will be issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the EU. Poland and some other predominately Catholic countries in Europe are distressed that the statement makes no mention of God or Christianity. Yesterday's Belfast Telegraph reported that the declaration will highlight EU achievements, values and future challenges. The omission of any religious reference is in deference to member states that are secular or that stress separation of church and state.

Santeria Priest Rejects Settlement Offer In RLUIPA Suit

The city of Euless, Texas has offered a compromise to settle a lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act brought against it by a Santeria priest. (See prior posting.) Yesterday's Dallas Morning News reported that instead of totally prohibiting animal sacrifices, the city would permit the priest to kill chickens and hold weekly gatherings of up to 25 people at his home. However, the city would continue to prohibit the sacrifice of goats. That restriction has led Jose Merced to reject the city's offer. He says that using an animal with four legs is critical to his religious practices. Followers of Santeria believe that the energy in blood from animal sacrifice opens a channel of direct communication with orishas (spirits).

Philippines Mandates Moderate Muslim Curriculum

Reuters reports today that the Philippines government and some members of the Muslim community are taking steps to prevent Islamic militants from influencing young Muslims. The education department has introduced a new curriculum offering Arabic and Islamic studies to state schools in Muslim-dominated areas outside the southern island of Mindanao. Some 3 million Muslims live on Mindanao. Also nearly 1,000 privately-run madrasas around the country funded by communities or by donations from abroad are now required by the government to adopt a moderate curriculum for Islamic studies.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Amici Urge Application of RFRA to Gitmo

According to a release by the Baptist Joint Committee, seven religious organizations yesterday filed an amicus brief (full text) with the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the case of Rasul v. Rumsfield. The brief argues that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act should be interpreted to apply to protect both detainees and service personnel at Guantanamo Bay. The case involves a series of claims by four British citizens, captured in Afghanistan and detained at Guantanamo, who say that they were repeatedly harassed on the basis of their Muslim faith. While dismissing their allegations of violations of international law and the Constitution, the lower court held that plaintiffs could proceed on their RFRA claims. Defendants, federal officials, appealed.

The organizations who joined in the brief are the Baptist Joint Committee, American Jewish Committee, National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

New Rabbinic Court Judges Appointed In Israel Amidst Controversy

In Israel yesterday, according to the Jerusalem Post, 15 new judges were appointed to vacancies in rabbinic courts amidst strong criticism by women's rights organizations who say the new judges will not be sympathetic to the problem of women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce. Twelve of the 15 new judges are haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jews). A modern Orthodox member of the selection committee and 2 members from the Israel bar association walked out of the meeting when the committee refused to appoint more non-haredi judges. Opponents blame Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, saying that he could have suspended the meeting until a compromise was worked out. However, new appointment had already been delayed for 4 years as justice ministers have refrained from convening the selection committee because of political power struggles. Haaretz says that many of the 15 judges appointed are relatives of politicians, public figures or veteran rabbinic court judges, and only one has a background in law. (See prior related posting.)

NC Governments Respond To Requests For Non-Sectarian Invocations

Cities and counties in North Carolina struggle with policies on invocations at council meetings, after the ACLU sent letters to many of them urging them to eliminate sectarian prayer. Yadkin County officials have decided to move to non-sectarian prayers to open their board meetings according to today's Myrtle Beach Sun-News. County attorney James Graham says that residents probably will not notice the difference.

However in Thomasville, North Carolina, after heated debate, city council voted 6-1 last night for a policy that permits sectarian prayer. The Winston-Salem Journal reports that the new guidelines provide for council members to volunteer-- on a rotational basis-- to offer an invocation as a private citizen before council meetings formally begin. However the policy states: "No guidelines or limitations shall be issued regarding an invocation's content except that the Council shall request by the language of this policy that no prayer should proselytize or advance any faith, or disparage the religious faith or nonreligious views of others." Backers of the prayer policy say organizations like the ACLU want to strip Christians of their free speech. The Alliance Defense Fund has offered to defend the city in any challenge to its new policy.

Thailand Considering New Regulation Of Islamic Affairs

In Thailand, a 35-member security committee has drafted the Islamic Affairs Administration Draft Bill. The law will now be submitted to the cabinet for consideration. Today's Bangkok Post says that if enacted, the bill will replace the three existing laws. It will create a 31-member National Islamic Council to help oversee the selection of Islamic leaders. The Council will also consider and interpret controversial issues. Council members will be Islamic leaders and experts selected from registered Islamic religious schools around the country. Also, a state-run National Islamic Affairs Administration Office under the Prime Minister's Office, to oversee and promote Islam, will be created.

British Schools Will Be Permitted To Ban Niqab

Great Britain's Department for Education and Skills will issue Guidelines for schools that will permit a ban on Muslim girls wearing full face veils. BBC News today reported on the new Guidelines on uniforms that are expected after a school in Buckinghamshire won its attempt to ban a 12-year old girl from wearing a niqab. (See prior posting.) The Guidelines say that while efforts should be made to accommodate religious clothing, schools need to be able to identify pupils to maintain order and to identify intruders. Also a teacher may not be able to judge a student's engagement with learning if the student's face cannot be seen.

Utah Delays Decision On FLDS Law Enforcement Officers

Utah's Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy voted Monday to put off a determination of whether to remove certification of officers in the Colorado City, Arizona Town Marshal's office, who also patrol Hildale, Utah. (Decertification process.) The two towns are the home of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who engage in polygamy and arranged marriages. The Associated Press yesterday reported that Utah decided it would await the completion of an investigation being carried out by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. The investigation began after allegations that officers had were more loyal to the FLDS Church than to the civil law. Peter Stirba, an attorney for the marshals, says the officers could benefit from more training, but that the officers "support the law of the land and ... take their oaths of office seriously and sincerely."

Egypt Moves Toward Constitutional Ban On Muslim Brotherhood As Politcal Party

The Associated Press reports that yesterday Egypt's Parliament approved a controversial set of constitutional amendments, including one that bans the formation of any political party based on religion. This provision is designed to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from gaining power. (See prior posting.) Under Art. 189 of Egypt's Constitution, the amendments are required to be approved by a vote of the people in order to go into effect. Reuters today reports that the referendum on the amendments is expected to take place quickly-- probably next Monday, March 26-- presumably in order to prevent opponents from rallying voters to oppose the changes.

UPDATE: Lebanon's Daily Star reported on March 22 that both Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition Kefaya movement will boycott the March 26 referendum on Egypt's proposed constitutonal amendments in order to deny legitimacy to them.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Reports and Transcript of "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Arguments in Supreme Court

Accounts of today's Supreme Court oral arguments in Morse v. Frederick (see prior posting) have been posted by the Student Press Law Center, the Associated Press; and Education Week. The full transcript of the oral arguments is also available online. The Education Week report says:
Justice Stephen G. Breyer seemed to capture the court’s concerns.... "It's pretty hard to run a school where kids go around at public events publicly making a joke out of drugs," Justice Breyer told Douglas K. Mertz, the lawyer representing former high school student Joseph Frederick.... [However] Justice Breyer said he worried that if he took the student’s side, "we’ll suddenly see people testing limits all over the place in the high schools. But a rule that's against your side may really limit people's rights on free speech. That’s what I’m struggling with."

McCain Says He Needs Evangelical Support To Win

CBN News today reports on an interview with John McCain who says that he needs support of Christian Evangelicals to win the 2008 presidential nomination. McCain says he has met with a number of leaders of the Christian right, but not with James Dobson "because he has said he prays that I will not be the nominee of the party. I'm not sure where we start the conversation." McCain agreed that he had not been as outspoken on the right-to-life issue as some Evangelicals would like. Some Evangelicals also dislike McCain's championing of campaign finance reform. McCain said he is trying to reach out to religious liberals and moderates as well as to conservatives.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Today In Student Speech Case With Implications For Religious Freedom

Today the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a high-school student free speech case that some say could have significant implications for religious expression in public schools. The case, from the 9th circuit, is Morse v. Frederick, No. 06-278 (see prior posting). In 2002 in Juneau, Alaska, high school students were released from classes to watch the torch for the Winter Olympics-- on its way to Salt Lake City-- pass by. In hopes of getting TV notice, student Joseph Frederick unfurled a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus". The school's principal quickly tore down the banner and suspended Frederick for 10 days. Frederick sued for damages.

The Washington Post last week described the case as "the most important student free-speech conflict to reach the Supreme Court since the height of the Vietnam War". A number of Christian conservatives-- while they do not like the student's apparently pro-drug message-- nevertheless strongly defend Frederick. Religion News Service quotes Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute, who said: "in my opinion this is probably one of the most dangerous cases to religious freedom in the last decade - because you don't think it's about religion". Christian groups argue that a win for the school could empower schools to engage in "viewpoint censorship" to restrict controversial speech-- from anti-abortion T-shirts to student-run Bible clubs.

Meanwhile, SCOTUS blog on Saturday suggested that the case is complicated by basic disagreement on many of the facts. The parties differ over whether or not Frederick was taking part in a school-sponsored event and disagree over the meaning of the message on Frederick's banner.

Law Memo has links to the briefs of the parties and of all the amici, as well as to the petition for cert. and related documents.

New Articles on Law and Religion

From SSRN:
Gregory C. Sisk, John Paul II: The Quintessential Religious Witness in the Public Square, Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, Vol. 45, p. 241, 2007.

From SmartCILP:
Garrett Epps, Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others: The Rehnquist Court and "Majority" Religion, 21 Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 323-347 (2006).

Noah Feldman, Division, Design, and the Divine: Church and State in Today's America, 30 Oklahoma City University Law Review 845-862 (2005).

Richard W. Garnett, Modest Expectations?: Civic Unity, Religious Pluralism, and Conscience, (Reviewing Noah Feldman, Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem--And What We Should Do About It; and Kevin Seamus Hasson, The Right to be Wrong: Ending the Culture War Over Religion in America.) 23 Constitutional Commentary 241-269 (2006).

Jay D. Wexler, The Endorsement Court, 21 Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 263-306 (2006).

Historian Says Napoleon's Relations With Jews Could Be Pattern For Muslims In France Today

Yesterday's International Herald Tribune carried an interesting article by historian Michael Goldfarb suggesting that the experience of Jews in Napoleonic France 200 years ago has relevance to Muslims in France today. In response to questions by Napoleon, the Jewish community opted for integration into French society-- at considerable price to the manner in which Judaism had traditionally been practiced. Goldfarb asks whether it is imaginable that French Muslims today would commit to French definitions of secularism, integration, faith and patriotism.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Exclusion of Prison Ministry Workers From Jury OK'd

In People v. Nerys, (CA Ct. App., March 15, 2007), a California appellate court rejected a criminal defendant's claim that the prosecution acted unconstitutionally when it excluded from the jury "people who participate in a religious or spiritual prison ministry". The court held that these individuals do not constitute a cognizable group.

Nashville May Permit Fugitives To Surrender At Churches

The Tennessean today reports that Nashville may join several other U.S. cities and implement a program that would permit some 38,000 non-violent offenders with outstanding criminal warrants to surrender for arrest at selected local churches. Under Operation Fugitive Safe Surrender, those who turn themselves in would be booked at the churches, get a new court date, and be freed without posting a bond. Several criminal justice agencies must still give final approval to participation and the U.S. Marshals Service must still give final approval for funds for the program. (See prior related posting.)

Podcast of Debate On Church-State Available

NPR offers an interesting broadcast and podcast of a debate on government and religion, titled Is America Too Damn Religious? The Oxford style debaters are Rev. Barry Lynn, Susan Jacoby and Alan Wolfe for the proposition. Against the proposition are Jean Bethke Elshtain, Albert Raboteau and William Galston. A 50 minute and a 94 minute version of the debate is available, as are short written excerpts. The debate is entertaining and worth the investment of time to listen.

Preacher's Claim Against University Is Moot

A Pennsylvania federal district court has dismissed as moot a civil rights claim by a preacher growing out of his citation for trespassing growing out of his open-air preaching on the campus of West Chester University. In Marcavage v. West Chester University, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18162 (ED PA, March 15, 2007), a Pennsylvania federal district court found that the university has adopted a new policy on the right of individuals to engage in expressive activities on campus. It also found that defendants had qualified immunity in enforcing the university's old policy.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases All Involve Muslim Prisoners

In Smith v. Nuttal, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18354 (WD NY, March 14, 2007), a New York federal Magistrate Judge rejected the complaint of a Muslim prisoner that he was required to accommodate his religious dietary requirements through the religious alternative meal served to Muslims, and was not permitted to receive the kosher alternative meal that was available to Jews and Hebrew Israelites which contained meat more often.

In Small v. Sirmons, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18410 (ED OK, March 14, 2007), an Oklahoma federal court dismissed the claim of a prisoner that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was not allowed to abstain from off-premise work on Fridays in order to attend Jumah prayer services at his prison facility. Instead he was given time to pray alone at his work site.

In Harvey v. West, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17861 (SD IL, March 14, 2007), an Illinois federal Magistrate Judge rejected claims of a Muslim prisoner that he was not always allowed to attend Muslim services, Muslim services sometimes started late, and he was told that he could attend only one service a week. Also rejected were general claims of discrimination and a claim that he was harassed when attempting to practice his religion.

In Talbert v. Smith, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17108 (WD VA, March 9, 2007), a Virginia federal district court permitted a Nation of Islam member to move forward with a RLUIPA claim that prison officials illegally confiscated Muslim lessons from him.

Korean Conscientious Objectors To Go To United Nations

Today's Korea Times reports that eleven conscientious objectors will submit a complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Committee arguing that Korea's refusal to recognize conscientious objectors to military service violates their basic human rights to freedom of thought and religion. Since 2001, 3,655 Koreans have refused to serve in the military for religious and moral reasons. Most of them have been sentenced to prison terms. Korea's Constitutional Court has upheld the government, but the National Human Rights Commission in 2005 recommended a change in government policy. (See prior posting.)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Proposal In Israel To Expand Rabbinic Court Jurisdiction

Haaretz reports today that Israel's Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann will submit to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation the draft of a bill to expand the jurisdiction of religious courts to include not only family law, but other civil and family matters involved in a divorce proceeding as well, where both parties to the case agree. The bill is designed to overrule a holding by the High court of Justice last April that held that rabbinic courts could not arbitrate financial disagreements in a divorce case. (See prior posting.) Opponents of the legislation fear that women will be coerced by their husbands or the courts themselves to agree to religious court jurisdiction over economic matters. Last July, the Cabinet voted against a similar proposal.

Oklahoma Court Says Christian Medi-Share Is Insurance Company

Friday's Tulsa World reported on a decision earlier this month by an Oklahoma state court that Medi-Share, a Christian organization that pools member money to pay medical bills, is offering contracts for insurance and is not exempt from regulation by Oklahoma's state Insurance Department. Medi-Share had claimed that since it does not guarantee that medical bills will be paid, it is not an insurance company. Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland says that now the state will "treat Medi-Share like an insurance company." Medi-Share is likely to appeal the court's decision. Four other states have made similar rulings, while Kentucky has decided that Medi-Share is not insurance.

Hindu to Become Acting Chief Justice In Pakistan

In the face of protests over the removal of the Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf (Associated Press), it was announced today that the Court's only Hindu judge --who is next in line for the post -- will be sworn in as acting Chief Justice. Some experts had expressed concerns that a Hindu could not preside over cases involving Shariah (Islamic law). (Zee News.)

Congressional Hearing Discusses Establishment Clause and Indian Health Care

Friday's Indian Country reports that lawyer Edward Lazarus has testified before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee (text of March 8 testimony) and the House Natural Resources Committee (text of March 14 testimony) on the constitutionality of the proposed Indian Health Care Improvement Act (HR 1328). The Justice Department had issued a White Paper raising Establishment Clause concerns about the Act's support of traditional Native American health care practices. Lazarus argued that the Act's definition of traditional health care practices does not expressly tie such practices to religious beliefs. They can reflect merely superstition or historical customs. Lazarus also discussed Justice Department concerns that the Act may be creating racial preferences.

Maryland "Get" Bill Defeated In Senate

Yesterday, the Maryland Senate defeated a bill that would have assisted Orthodox Jewish women in obtaining a religious divorce decree from their husbands who were seeking a civil divorce from Maryland courts. (See prior posting.) Today's Baltimore Examiner reports that the bill failed by two votes-- receiving a tie vote of 22-22-- even though it had received preliminary approval on Wednesday. Opponents said that the bill was well-intentioned, but that civil law should not be used to force someone to perform a religious act.

Settlement Permits Equal Use Of Village Property By Religious Groups

The Care and Share Ministry has prevailed in a settlement of its suit against South Orange, New Jersey. (See prior posting.) Village officials have agreed to make the Village Square available for use by religious groups on the same terms as for public and private non-religious groups. The settlement was reported yesterday by Alliance Defense Fund and the Associated Press.

Indian State Considering Controversial Bills On Control Of Religious Matters

In the Indian state of Maharashtra-- which includes India's largest city, Mumbai-- two controversial bills affecting religious organizations are pending in the legislature. reported yesterday that a Hindu group has begun a 3-day hunger strike to protest them. One is the "Eradication of Black Magic, Evil and Aghori Practices Bill", already passed by the Legislative Assembly, and now about to go to the upper house, the Legislative Council. Opponents are concerned that the bill is overly broad. An article from last July's The Hindu Business Line describes the specific practices barred by the proposed law. They include assault under the pretext of expelling a ghost; displaying "miracles" to deceive people into giving money; provoking people to follow cannibalistic practices to be blessed by supernatural powers; creating fear through supposed divine spirits; making past-life connections and forcing people to indulge in sexual activity; and creating for business purposes the impression that a mentally-challenged person has super-natural powers.

The second bill of concern to some Hindus is the "Temples or Religious Institutions (Management and Regulation) Act". Under it, the government could take over management of certain temples and trusts. (Pune, March 12.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Australian Court Orders Dismissed Rabbi Not To Conduct Services

In Australia, Adelaide's District Court of South Australia finds itself in the middle of a dispute between the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation the synagogue's rabbi. This week, AJN and Adelaide Now report on developments. The congregation is attempting to dismiss Rabbi Yossi Engel while the rabbi claims that he has tenure in his position. Last week, the District Court found that Engel's contract had expired on December 31. Last Friday police were called to the synagogue after a noisy confrontation between Engel and two women were who packing up his office. Meanwhile the Sydney Beth Din (Jewish religious court) has called for the controversy to be submitted to it for resolution.

Now the District Court has issued a restraining order barring the rabbi from conducting services at the synagogue, even though Engle says that the Sydney Beth Din has issued an order determining that he is still rabbi of the congregation. Rabbi Engel's lawyer, Bernard O'Brien, says that the rabbi has a religious duty to conduct services, so that the court may be faced with the prospect of ordering him to jail.