Thursday, May 31, 2007

US Airways Moves To Dismiss Imams' Lawsuit

Responding in court to a suit filed against it last month by six imams removed from a flight out of Minneapolis, U.S. Airways says it "is required to adhere to the main points of the Transportation Security Administration's Common Strategy regarding security threats in the aviation context." Reporting on the airline's court filling, today's Washington Times says that US Airways argued that it is protected so long as its discretion was exercised "in good faith and for a rational reason".

Inconsistent Parade Rules Bother California Sikhs

In Bakersfield, California, inconsistencies between city and Kern County parade ordinances are posing problems for local Sikhs. Yesterday's World Sikh News says the problem is over where Sikhs may hold nagar kirtan religious parades. City rules limit parades to five specific locations, but county officials think that this is too restrictive on Sikhs' religious freedom.

Brownback Clarifies His Stance on Evolution

Republican presidential contender Sam Brownback writes an interesting op-ed in today's New York Times titled What I think About Evolution. The piece is an attempt to clarify the byte from the Republican candidate debates in which he was one of the candidates who indicated he did not believe in evolution. He says the choice is not between believing in evolution and accepting a literal interpretation of Genesis. He says faith and science should not be driven apart. Summarizing his position, he says: "If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it."

Suit Challenging Wm. & Mary Wren Chapel Cross Change Is Dismissed

An alumnus of College of William & Mary has lost his lawsuit (brought pro se) challenging the new policy put in place by the school's President and Board of Visitors regarding the display of a cross in the Wren Chapel on campus. The cross is now displayed in a glass case along with a plaque explaining the state school's Anglican roots. This follows an initial controversial decision to display it only when requested by a group using the chapel and on Sundays. In Leach v. Nichol, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38763 (ED VA, May 29, 2007), the court held that plaintiff lacked standing. His only allegation of actual injury was that he "suffered pain and weeping" after the initial decision to remove the cross.

The court held further that even if plaintiff had standing, he did not demonstrate any violation of his First Amendment rights: "The Wren Chapel remains open for worship, the cross may be displayed on the altar at the request of the Chapel's users, and nothing forbids the plaintiff from bringing a cross or a Bible of his own into the Chapel for use in exercising his religion."

Study Shows Disparities In Asylum Case Results

Today's New York Times reports on a study by three law professors analyzing 140,000 decisions over four years by immigration judges in cases in which petitioners are seeking asylum because of fear of persecution (including religious persecution) in their home countries. The study of 54 immigration courts finds that there are broad disparities in results depending on the location of the court and the gender and professional background of the judge.

Churches Concerned About New Requirements For Tax Benefits In Northern Ireland

Legislation being drafted in Northern Ireland will require all charities to show that they further the "public benefit" in order to retain the right to get tax benefits they now enjoy-- receipt of 30% tax back from donations by taxpayers. Belfast Today reported on Tuesday that some churches are concerned about how the Charity Commission will interpret the new requirement. Christian groups promoting cross-cultural evangelism or those pressing for Biblical views on sexual mores and relationships are concerned that they may have difficulty meeting the new test.

Challenge To Food Distribution Ordinance Settled

A lawsuit (see prior posting) challenging a Jacksonville, Florida city ordinance that requires a permit in order to hand out food to the homeless has been settled. The Florida Times-Union reported last week that Michael Herkov will drop the lawsuit, and, in exchange, the city will enact a new ordinance that will exempt religious activities from the city's permit requirements for handing out food. The new ordinance would exempt "any person motivated by bona fide religious beliefs" protected by state and federal laws from the regulation. The city will also pay Herkov's legal fees. [Thanks to Jacqueline Dowd for the lead.]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Malaysian Convert Lina Joy Loses Appeal In High Court

In a 2-1 decision, Malaysia's Federal Court ruled today that Lina Joy, a Muslim convert to Christianity, must get permission from a Sharia court in order to have her religion changed on her identification card. The Associated Press and Reuters both report on the long-awaited decision from Malaysia's highest civil court. Writing for the majority, Judge Ahmad Fairuz upheld the refusal by the National Registration Department to change Joy's identification card. He said: "She cannot simply at her own whims enter or leave her religion. She must follow rules."

Dissenting, Judge Richard Malanjum, the only non-Muslim on the panel, said that it was unreasonable to require Joy to go to a Shariah court because she could face a fine or sentence to a rehabilitation center for apostasy by that court. He wrote: "In my view, this is tantamount to unequal treatment under the law."

Shariah courts in Malaysia have jurisdiction over civil, family, marriage and personal rights of the country's Muslims. A DPA report on the case points out that Islamic courts in each of Malaysia's 14 states have different rules. Only one state has provisions for Muslims to convert. Joy herself is in hiding with her Catholic fiance. So long as her conversion is not recognized, she can marry her fiance only if he converts to Islam. (See prior related posting.)

Georgia Court Says Harry Potter Books Can Stay In School Library

In suburban Atlanta yesterday, according to the Associated Press, a Superior Court judge upheld the refusal by the Gwinnett County school board to remove Harry Potter books from school libraries. Laura Mallory, a parent of two school children, had requested removal of the books, saying they promote witchcraft. Part of Mallory's argument in yesterday's hearing-- at which she represented herself-- was that since witchcraft is a religion, keeping the books in the library violates the Establishment Clause. That argument, however, is hardly consistent with another statement by Mallory: "I have a dream that God will be welcomed back in our schools again." The local school district and the state board of education had both previously rejected Mallory's request, saying that the books spark student creativity and imagination. The court held that the evidence presented supported the school's decision to leave the books in the library. (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Jack Shattuck for the lead.]

Supreme Court Interprets Filing Deadline Narrowly For Title VII Pay Cases

Yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court Title VII pay discrimination decision, while involving sex discrimination, applies equally to religious discrimination claims. In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co, Inc., (Sup. Ct., May 29, 2007), the court, in an opinion written by Justice Alito, held that the 180 day period for filing a discrimination claim with the EEOC runs from the last discriminatory act. The 180-day period in a pay discrimination case does not begin anew with each paycheck just because the check reflects the adverse impact of prior discrimination. Four justices dissented in an opinion written by Justice Ginsburg, arguing that pay disparities are different from other kinds of adverse action because they may take a long time to discover. The New York Times reports on the decision.

Catholic Day Care Center Wins RLUIPA and Equal Protection Challenges

In Shepherd Montessori Center Milan v. Ann Arbor Charter Township, (MI Ct. App., May 22, 2007), a Michigan appellate court-- hearing an appeal for a second time-- held that a Catholic Montessori day care program should be permitted to operate in an area zoned for office parks. Plaintiff claimed that the denial of permission to operate the school violated RLUIPA and the equal protection clause. The Court of Appeals agreed, reversing a contrary finding by the trial court. The trial court had held that other suitable property was available for the school. The Court of Appeals said that the trial court erred in holding that real estate costs could not place a substantial burden on plaintiff's religious exercise. The Court of Appeals also said it was clear that plaintiff could not afford available alternate properties. Furthermore, a variance had previously been granted for a secular day care center at the same location. The Court of Appeals said that refusing it here would amount to a denial of equal protection. [Thanks to Brian D. Wassom for the lead.]

In Boston Mosque Dispute, Both Parties Drop Lawsuits

A long-running legal dispute over the construction of a mosque by the Islamic Society of Boston is mostly over as parties agreed to drop competing lawsuits. The Boston Herald reported yesterday that Boston resident James Policastro will drop appeals of his Establishment Clause challenge to the discounted sale of land by the city of Boston to the Islamic Society. In turn, the Islamic Society will drop a defamation and civil rights suit it has filed against mosque opponents and member of the media who reported on the dispute. This will permit construction of the mosque to move forward. However, the David Project, says it will continue to pursue a lawsuit against the Boston Redevelopment authority seeking documents about the sale of the land. (See prior related postings.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Line Drawing Is Difficult On Graduation Prayer In Michigan Case

A report in yesterday's Christian Post shows that line drawing on Establishment Clause issues continues to be difficult. A Comstock Park, Michigan high school student, Nick Szymanski, was killed last October when he was accidentally electrocuted painting a house. Symanski, who was a member of the school choir, had a favorite song-- The Lord's Prayer. The choir wants to sing it in his memory at graduation on Thursday. It would also present a second, non-religious piece as part of its performance.

The choir sang The Lord's Prayer earlier this year at a concert to raise funds for Szymanski's funeral and during a winter school concert. School officials, however, say that commencement is different-- there is more of a captive audience. That is what the Supreme Court said in a 1992 decision. Counsel has advised Comstock Park school officials that the song should not be included. (Grand Rapids Press). Disagreeing with that advice, the Alliance Defense Fund sent school officials a letter last week arguing that the performance is permissible, saying that under the circumstances it would not be seen as an endorsement of religion.

Northern Ireland Faces "Reverse Religious Discrimination" Charges

Affirmative action in recruitment for Northern Ireland's Police Service has led a Protestant leader-- Lord Laird of Artnagarvan-- to charge religious discrimination. A report yesterday by Catholic World News explains that starting in 2001, as part of the peace process, half of all new openings in the Police Service have been set aside for Catholics. The set-aside was aimed at increasing the confidence of Catholics in law enforcement. They had previously held less than 10% of the police positions.

Christian Coalition Suing Break-Off Group In Alabama

Today's Montgomery Advertiser reports on a bitter split in Alabama between two Christian political groups. Last year, John Giles, then head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, split off from the national Christian Coalition and changed the name of the Alabama organization to Christian Action Alabama. The move followed decisions by the national group to expand its agenda to include support for labor and environmental issues. The national Christian Coalition then decided to rebuild its own chapter in the state and appointed Randy Brinson as president. Brinson has brought suit in state court alleging that the assets now controlled by Giles really belong to the Christian Coalition. He claims that Giles wrongly kept the group's mailing list and website URL. The two competing groups are currently lobbying on opposite sides on pending gambling legislation in the Alabama legislature, with Giles charging that Brinson's Christian Coalition has been subverted by gambling interests.

Muslim Cleric In Kashmir Opposes Army Aid In Renovating Mosques

In the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, the army has been helping to construct and renovate community service buildings such as schools, hospitals, and sports and entertainment venues. However one aspect of their work has created controversy. They have been building and repairing Islamic religious places. Now the grand mufti of Jammu & Kashmir has issued a fatwa saying that Islamic law bans non-Muslims from constructing, reconstructing or renovating any mosque or shrine. Greater Kashmir has much of the text of the ruling. He also ruled that no donation can be accepted from a non-Muslim for religious affairs. He urged the people to pay the army back the money it has already spent on the construction. ZeeNews today reports that the fatwa has been endorsed by the Muslim Personal Law Board and Nadwatul Ulama Jammu and Kashmir. Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said that the Army's efforts wree an attempt to dilute the Kashmiri culture and religion.

Recent and Upcoming Books of Interest

University of California Press:
Rutgers University Press:
University of Michigan Press:
Georgetown University Press:

Ugandan Religious Leaders Oppose Domestic Relations Reform

Uganda has ratified the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In an attempt to carry out its terms, Parliament has been attempting to reform its marriage and divorce laws. However so far both the Muslim and Christian communities have opposed the Domestic Relations bill-- and Parliament has been unable to pass it, according to a report yesterday by the East African Standard. Muslim leaders say that the bill is inconsistent with Islamic law in several ways. It does away with required parental consent for marriage; and it allows polygamy only with the existing wife's consent. The Federation of Women Lawyers in Uganda says that less controversial parts of the bill should be enacted quickly so that pressing issues like alimony, property distribution, child support and cohabitation could be dealt with.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Malaysia's High Court Will Rule Wednesday On Reach of Islamic Courts

On Wednesday, Malaysia's Federal Court, the country's highest tribunal, will be announcing a decision that will be crucial in determining the role of Islamic law in the country. The Associated Press reports on the long-awaited decision. The case involves Lina Joy, who renounced Islam and converted to Christianity. After she converted, she applied for a name change on her identity card. The National Registration Department made the change, but refused to change her religious designation. When she appealed, the lower courts told her that only a Sharia court could pass on whether she could convert. Lina Joy however argues that under the country's Constitution she has the right to choose her religion, and that once she decided to become a Christian, she should no longer be under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts. (See prior posting.)

Joy's attorney, Benjamin Dawson, says: "Our country is at a crossroad. Are we evolving into an Islamic state or are we going to maintain the secular character of the constitution?" If Joy loses, apparently she could be prosecuted in Islamic courts for apostasy.

Diocese's Firing Of Youth Protection Advocate Upheld

In O'Connor v. Roman Catholic Church of the Diocese of Phoenix, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38141 (D AZ, May 24, 2007), an Arizona federal district court dismissed a Title VII claim, finding that the termination of a Youth Protection Advocate by the Diocese of Phoenix was within the statutory exception that permits religious employers to discriminate in favor of members of their faith. Jennifer O'Connor claimed that her termination was triggered by her disagreement with the way in which the Diocese was handling a particular sexual abuse case. However the court found that a stated requirement of her position was that she be "an active practicing Catholic who is in full communion with the Church". It accepted the Diocese's contention that O'Connor was terminated because she had recently married outside the Catholic Church, holding that it is a matter of religious interpretation as to whether that was a violation of the requirement to remain in full communion with the Church. Having dismissed the federal claim, the court declined to exercise jurisdiction over a related state law claim.

Recent Law and Religion Articles

From SSRN:
Christopher Borgen, Triptych: Sectarian Disputes, International Law, and Transnational Tribunals in Drinan's Can God and Caesar Coexist?, St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-0074.

From SmartCILP (in part):
Karima Bennoune, Secularism and Human Rights: A Contextual Analysis of Headscarves, Religious Expression, and Women's Equality Under International Law, 45 Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 367-426 (2007). (Article abstract).

Mark C. Weber, Services for Private School Students Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act: Issues of Statutory Entitlement, Religious Liberty, and Procedural Regularity, 36 Journal of Law & Education 163-210 (2007).

Eric Alan Isaacson, Assaulting America's Mainstream Values: Hans Zeiger's Get Off My Honor: The Assault on the Boy Scouts of America, 5 Pierce Law Review 433 (2007).

Memorial Day Connects Government With Religion

The legal framework for setting today as Memorial Day-- and connecting it to prayer-- is found in President Bush's Proclamation titled Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day, 2007, issued earlier this month. The Proclamation points out that:

Congress, by a joint resolution approved on May 11, 1950, as amended (64 Stat. 158), has requested the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. The Congress, by Public Law 106-579, has also designated the minute beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on that day as a time for all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance.
However the President's Radio Address on Saturday that focused entirely on Memorial Day was entirely a secular tribute to America's war dead.

As Melissa Rogers has pointed out, a new church-state issue has emerged as Task Force Patriot USA, an evangelical Christian group, for the first time became a sponsor of the annual Memorial Day weekend Salute to the Troops at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia. Originally this year's Salute was billed as an official U.S. Air Force 60th Anniversary event. However, after objections were raised by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Air Force issued a statement saying it is not a sponsor of the event. It said that after becoming aware of the religious nature of scheduled activities, it began taking steps to avoid the appearance of endorsement or preferential treatment of any religious faith. (Washington Post).

The Air Force will still do jet fly-overs of the park this weekend, but will only do two of them instead of the originally scheduled nine, and will not schedule them to coincide with religious events at the Salute. (Atlanta Journal Constitution.) The Army's Silver Wing Parachute Team is no longer participating in the event at all.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

New York Teen Charged With Religious Hate Crime For Attack On Sikh Student

In Queens, New York on Friday, a 17-year old was charged with violation of New York's Hate Crimes Act for forcibly cutting off the hair of a 15-year old Sikh student whose religious beliefs required him to wear his hair long. A report by 1010WINS says that the two students were trading insults at Newton High School when the 15-year old offered to apologize. The older boy said that only cutting the younger boy's hair would be an apology. He then dragged the Sikh student into a rest room, threatened him, pulled off his turban and cut off his hair, while two other students acted as lookouts. Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said the actions were an attack on the 15-year old's fundamental religious beliefs and on his freedom to worship.

Alito Calls For Continued Religious Tolerance In U.S.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito used his appearance as commencement speaker at Seton Hall University Law School on Friday to make a plea for continued religious tolerance in the United States, in the face of growing intolerance around the world. He emphasized the importance of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution that bars any religious test for federal office, saying we must not return to a time when it was felt that people of some faiths were unfit for public office. The Associated Press reported on the speech. Alito taught as an adjunct faculty member at Seton Hall from 1999 to 2004. (Seton Hall press release.)

RLUIPA Suit Challenges Florida City's Zoning Law As Discriminatory

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that a suit under RLUIPA filed Friday in a Florida federal district court challenges Cooper City, Florida's ban on locating houses of worship in commercial areas. Brought by Chabad of Nova , the suit alleges that the city's zoning laws illegally discriminate against religious organizations. Chabad says the city is attempting to protect its tax base by keeping tax-exempt houses of worship out of commercial areas. For 30 years, the city kept houses of worship in the western, agriculturally zoned area of the city. Last October, it amended its law to allow houses of worship in office parks and recreational facilities, but it still bans them from commercial areas where new congregations often like to find store fronts in which to locate.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Decisions In District and Circuit Courts

In Boles v. Neet, (10th Cir., May 24, 2007), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to dismiss a suit filed against the warden of a Colorado correctional facility by an Orthodox Jewish prisoner who was kept from leaving the facility for eye surgery because he insisted on wearing his yarmulke and tallit katan. The court said that plaintiff adequately demonstrated that prison authorities substantially burdened his sincerely held religious beliefs, and defendant made no showing of penological interests justifying the restriction. The warden has claimed qualified immunity as a defense.

In Harris v. N.C.P. Dept, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37902 (ED NY, May 24, 2007), a New York federal district court held that a prisoner's pro se complaint, liberally construed, may raise a legitimate free exercise claim. Plaintiff claimed he was denied food on one or more occasions because he failed to interrupt his prayers when directed to do so by correctional officers.

In Miller v. Sullivan, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37318 (ED CA, May 8, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge dismissed, with leave to amend, a prisoner's free exercise claim because it did not allege the nature of the infringement of his religious activity nor what defendants had done to burden his free exercise.

In Livingston v. Griffin, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36941 (ND NY, May 21, 2007), a Rastafarian prisoner won a partial victory in his claims that his free exercise rights had been violated by prison authorities. The court rejected his claim that his religious beliefs were substantially burdened when authorities attempted to force him to be handcuffed to, and sit for several hours beside, another inmate who he believed to be a homosexual or transsexual. However the court allowed plaintiff to proceed with his claim that he was wrongfully denied alternative religious meals by prison officials.

In El-Tabech v. Clarke, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36719 (D NE, May 18, 2007), a Muslim prisoner filed a claims under the First Amendment and RLUIPA alleging that "his religion requires that he adhere to a Halal diet: eating only permitted kosher food". A Nebraska federal district court refused to grant defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that genuine issues of material fact exist concerning the allegations of cost and security in affording plaintiff a kosher diet. It similarly allowed plaintiff to proceed with his claims that his religious beliefs require additional showers and adherence to a prayer schedule.

In Dicks v. Binding Together, Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36615 (SD NY, May 18, 2007), a New York federal district court allowed an inmate in a work release program to move ahead with his Free Exercise and state law challenges to the refusal by authorities to grant him a pass to attend Pentecostal church services.

In Stewart v. Canteen Food Services, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36396 (D AZ, May 16, 2007), an Arizona federal district judge refused to grant a motion by defendant to reconsider an earlier decision permitting a prisoner to move ahead with a free exercise claim that he was not consistently served a lacto-vegetarian diet. It also refused to grant plaintiff's motion to re-instate certain of his claims that had been previously dismissed.

Free Execise Challenge to Sex-Offender Treatment Rejected By Court

In Washington State v. Shaughnessy, (WA Ct. App., May 22, 2007), a Washington state appellate court rejected a claim by a convicted sexual offender, whose supsended sentence was revoked, that his free exercise rights protected by the state constitution had been violated. James Shaughnessy had been sentenced to complete three years in sex-offender treatment, along with other restrictions, as a condition of the suspended sentence. After completing only a few sessions, Shaughnessy fled to Mexico. When he was finally sent back to the U.S., he claimed that the only reason he had fled was that his treatment provider would not let him bring a Bible to his treatment sessions and allowed him to attend church only if he avoided children there. The court held that the reason for revoking Shaughnessy's sentence was that he fled to Mexico. He could have gone to court to challenge the conditions imposed or could have requested a change in treatment providers. The court held that the state did not burden Shaughnessy's religious practices because the conduct he complained of came from his private treatment provider, and the court had not required that particular person be used.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Accommodating Muslim Prayer Is Growing Issue

Accommodation of Muslims who wish to take time at school or work to pray has become a growing issue. The U.S. Department of Justice reports in its May Newsletter, Religious Freedom in Focus, that earlier this month it settled a complaint by Muslim students in the Lewisville Texas Independent School District who wanted to use an empty classroom during lunch to pray. Under the settlement agreement, the school agreed that the Muslim students could use space in a common area outside the cafeteria for their mid-day prayers.

Meanwhile, in Omaha, Nebraska, 70 out of 120 Somali meatpacking workers have now returned to work after they quit their jobs because they were not given sufficient time off to pray at sundown. The company has agreed to accommodate workers as much as they can within the terms of the union contract. The Associated Press says that, as summer arrives, later sundowns may create problems, however. The company is concerned that they will need to completely close down production if too many workers are off the assembly line at the same time for prayer.

Kansas Legislature Passes Bill Urging Faith-Based Prisoner Re-Entry Programs

The Kansas House of Representatives and Senate this week have both passed HB2101, the Transformational Justice Act. The Act broadly encourages re-entry programs for prisoners to help then find jobs, housing and medical treatment upon release. However, the Act contains a number of provisions encouraging provision of these services by faith-based organizations. It directs the Transformational Interagency Task Force to seek partnerships with and communicate regularly with faith-based and community organizations. It also sets up a revolving fund for the Office of Faith-Based initiatives to use for grants to volunteer organizations including, but not limited to, faith-based organizations to provide health, educational or vocational training and programs that assist the reintegration efforts for offenders.

Reporting on the bill following House passage on Tuesday, the Associated Press quoted two representatives who are critical of the bill using state funds for faith-based programs. [Thanks to Blog from the Capital for the lead.]

Saudis Enforce Ban On Non-Muslims In Mecca

World Net Daily today reported on the continuing enforcement by Saudi Arabia of a ban on non-Muslims entering the city of Mecca and having access to the Grand Mosque. A Sri Lankan Christian, Nirosh Kamanda, came to Saudi Arabia to work as a truck driver, and secretly moved to Mecca to sell goods near the Grand Mosque. He was arrested after the Saudi Expatriates Monitoring Committee used a high-tech finger-print identification system to find him.

Alabama Supreme Court Remands Case On Inspecting Church Records

In Ex Parte Board of Trustees/ Directors and/or Deacons of Old Elam Baptist Church, 2007 Ala. LEXIS 92 (May 25, 2007), the Alabama Supreme Court issued a writ of mandamus directing a trial court to vacate its order permitting inspection of a church's business and financial records. A suit seeking the records was brought under provisions of the state’s non-profit corporation law that permits inspection of books and records by church members.

Defendants claim that plaintiffs are no longer members of the church, and so are not entitled to inspection. In face of the lawsuit by plaintiffs, the Church had amended its Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's) to provide that anyone who is a party to a lawsuit against the church or its leaders shall be removed from the membership rolls. The SOP's also provided that the pastor could place members on probation. However the court refused to totally dismiss the case and remanded it to the trial court for it to determine whether the SOP's are in fact the bylaws of the church, and, if they are, whether the relevant amendments to them on expulsion of members were properly adopted.

Justice See, dissenting in part, said that the First Amendment precludes civil courts from inquiring into ecclesiastical concerns of the Church. That includes inquiry on whether those acting on behalf of the Church had the authority to terminate plaintiffs' membership.

UPDATE: On Oct. 5 2007, the Alabama Supreme Court denied a petition for rehearing, with Justice Parker writing an opinion concurring specially in the denial. 2007 Ala. LEXIS 208.

ROTC Teaching Guide Challenged On Church-State Content

Friday's Forward reports that Mikey Weinstein, who has been battling with the military over religious discrimination and Christian proselytizing in the armed forces, now has a new target. He says that an educational guide distributed to high schools for use in the Junior ROTC program recommends that students read an excerpt from an article that questions the usual understanding of separation of church and state. The excerpt argues that Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 Letter to the Danbury Baptists was intended to only keep government out of religious affairs, and not keep religion out of government.

The article also reports that Weinstein is formulating a far-reaching litigation strategy for his Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and discusses Weinstein’s confrontational style that has led some organizations that might otherwise be his natural allies to tread cautiously.

Kansas AG Files Suit For Ruling On Anti-Funeral Demonstration Law

In March, the Kansas legislature passed a bill banning demonstrations within 150 feet of a funeral and allowing family members to sue demonstrators for defamation. However the bill provides that it will not take effect until the state Supreme Court or a federal court rules that it is constitutional. (See prior posting.) On Thursday, according to the Kansas City Star, Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison filed the required suit in the Kansas Supreme Court. Like many other states, Kansas aimed its law at pickets from the Westboro Baptist Church known for picketing veterans’ funerals with signs accusing America of harboring homosexuals.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Iowa State Coach Wants Football Team Chaplain; Faculty Object

Iowa State University's football coach, Gene Chizik, wants to hire an official chaplain for the team, to be paid for from private donations, according to reports from the AP and the Iowa State Daily. Chizik says student athletes are under a great deal of pressure and need access to spiritual guidance. Dave Turnball, area director for the Iowa Fellowship of Christian Athletes, reportedly has begun raising funds to support the idea. However, over 100 ISU faculty members have signed a petition opposing the plan. They say it is improper for a public university to hire a chaplain, and that the proposal under consideration favors Christianity over other religions.

Masachusetts High Court Dismisses Challenge To Catholic Church Closing

In Maffei v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston, (MA Sup. Jud. Ct., May 25, 2007), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court dismissed a challenge to the decision of the Archdiocese of Boston to close and sell off St. James Church in Wellesley. St. James was built on property donated to the Archdiocese by the Maffei family. Plaintiffs claim the Archdiocese had agreed that St. James would be maintained in perpetuity in honor of Waldo Maffei's father, and if not the property would revert to the Maffeis. Another plaintiff sued to recover donations made to St. James before it closed. They all claimed that the Archdiocese should have informed them that under Canon Law the church could be closed at a future time. The Court held that insofar as the plaintiffs' claims are based on alleged fiduciary or confidential relationship between a clergyman and his congregants, they raise matters of internal church governance that the First Amendment precludes civil courts from deciding. Other claims in the suit, the Court said, are not supported by the evidence. WCVB-TV today reported on the decision.

Canadian Court Rules No Religious Limits To Run For Catholic School Board Trustee

In Canada's Northwest Territories, the Supreme Court has ruled the Yellowkinife Catholic school board that operates state-supported religious schools may not prevent non-Catholics from running in school board trustee elections. In Yellowknife Catholic Schools v. Euchner, (NWT Sup. Ct., May 23, 2007), the court, reviewing at length the statutory provisions on denominational schools, held that "it was the clear intention of the legislature that a candidate for election to the public denominational District Education Authority need not be of any particular religious faith." CBC News yesterday reported on the decision.

Bills On Religion In Schools Advance In Texas Legislature

On Wednesday, the Texas Senate passed, and sent to the governor for his signature, HB 1287 which authorizes high schools to offer elective courses on the impact on history and literature of the Old and New Testaments. Texas Observer Blog says: "Despite Christian right efforts, the Senate did not remove the safeguards added to the bill by the House Public Education committee, such as teacher training, a textbook other than the Bible, and attorney general-approved curriculum standards." (See prior related posting.)

Meanwhile, the Texas Senate on Thursday also passed, and sent back to the House for final approval, HB3678, aimed at protecting voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints in public schools. (See prior related posting.) The Associated Press reports:
Under the legislation, religious beliefs expressed in homework, artwork and other assignments would be judged by traditional academic standards. Students couldn't be penalized or rewarded because of the religious content of their work.

The measure had sparked vigorous debate in the House, where the bill was amended to say that the religious expression could not discriminate against someone else’s race, age, sexual preference or religious belief.
UPDATE: The Dallas Morning News reported on Sunday that when HB 3678 was passed by the Texas Senate, it took out the non-discrimination provision that had been added by the House, and that the House on Saturday, by a vote of 108-28, approved the Senate version.

Court Limits Disclosure of FLDS Leader's Papers

The Associated Press reports that in Salt Lake City, Utah yesterday, a federal judge rejected arguments by Warren Jeffs, former head of the polygamous FLDS Church, that his papers, seized by prosecutors, should be kept secret because they contain private communications and recorded religious revelations. Jeffs had argued that disclosing them violated his free exercise rights as well as his rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However the judge ordered prosecutors to return the papers to Jeffs by July 2, and not to share them with anyone, including attorneys for the trust that now holds FLDS property and which is suing Jeffs.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Schools Reject Religious Groups In Seeking Church-State Balance

Two different stories this week demonstrate the continued tension that public schools find in seeking an appropriate balance on church-state matters. A Farmington, Michigan high school student has filed suit challenging school officials' refusal to permit ALIVE, a Christian Bible group, to be recognized as an official student organization. Assistant Superintendent Catherine Cost, said that school rules preclude recognition because the Bible group does not have a secular purpose and is too religious to be officially recognized. Officials were willing to let the group meet in an empty classroom, without formal recognition; however this would mean that the group would not get other benefits available to recognized organizations. Representing the student, the Thomas More Law Center argues that the federal Equal Access Act requires that ALIVE be recognized on the same basis as other non-curricular groups. Today's Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reports on the case.

Meanwhile yesterday's Houston Chronicle reports that a Christian motivational group, Power Team, finds that some public schools are cancelling its scheduled performances because of the group's evangelical ties. Power Team representatives say they do not mention religion in their public school performances. Their shows emphasize the importance of valuing life and dressing appropriately, as the group preaches against drugs and suicide.

North Carolina Court Rules Quran OK For Swearing-In Witnesses, Jurors

In North Carolina today, a Wake County Superior Court judge held that witnesses and jurors may be sworn in on the text "most sacred and obligatory upon their conscience." The case was filed by the ACLU after two judges in Guilford County said that state law prohibited taking the oath on the Quran. (See prior postings 1, 2, 3.) In today's opinion, the judge cited common law and state Supreme Court precedent. The Associated Press says that the judge did not find the state statute unconstitutional that provides for the use of the "Holy Scriptures" as one way to take an oath. Nor did he hold that the term "Holy Scriptures" includes the Quran.

UPDATE: Here is the full opinion in ACLU of North Carolina v. State of North Carolina, (Super. Ct Wake Co NC, May 24, 2007). The court relied extensively on an 1856 North Carolina Supreme Court case as well as language in the state's Rules of Evidence.

Christian Protester May Not Demonstrate On Handicap Access Ramp

After holding earlier this month that plaintiff’s case was a thin one, a Pennsylvania federal district court has now refused to grant a preliminary injunction to a Christian pro-life advocate who claimed that his free speech, freedom of assembly and free exercise rights were violated when a police officer threatened to arrest him if he insisted on protesting on the handicap access ramp that led into a Planned Parenthood clinic. In McTernan v. City of York, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36907 (MD PA, May 21, 2007), the court held that the handicap access ramp is not a public forum. Instead, like the Post Office sidewalk at issue in the Supreme Court case of United States v. Kokinda, it is a non-public forum, and the police order was reasonable since demonstrators would have impeded the required accessibility the ramp was to offer.

Vatican-Israel Talks On Church Property, Status Resume

The Los Angeles Times reports that on Monday, Israel and the Vatican resumed long-stalled negotiations over church property, taxes and the status of the Church in Israel. The meeting of the Israel-Holy See Bilateral Commission took place in Rome. (See prior related postings 1, 2.) Both sides said that the meetings were cordial and important progress was made; however significant disagreements remain to be worked out in future talks. The parties agreed to meet again in Jerusalem before the end of the year.

Southern Illinois University Settles Suit With Christian Legal Society

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Southern Illinois University has agreed to settle a lawsuit against it by again recognizing the Christian Legal Society as an official student group. In 2005, the University revoked CLS’s status as a recognized student group because it violated the University’s non-discrimination policy. CLS requires that its members agree to follow a statement of Christian faith. This results in exclusion from voting membership of non-Christians and of active gays and lesbians. Last year, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a preliminary injunction restoring CLS’s recognition pending the outcome of an appeal before the court. (See prior posting). As part of the settlement announced this week (full text), the University will create a $10,000 scholarship that will be administered by CLS.

Religious Groups Testify On Immigration Reform Proposals

On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, in hearings on comprehensive immigration reform, heard testimony from a panel of eight representatives of various religious and faith-based organizations. They expressed varied views on legislative proposals currently before Congress. The full text of the statements of each of the witnesses is available at the Judiciary Committee’s website.

Reporting on the hearings, the Gospel Herald says that evangelical leaders were particularly concerned that proposed revisions restrict family reunification by lowering the number of visas for various family members of US citizens and legal residents.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Louisiana School Board Invocation Case Heard By En Banc 5th Circuit

Today, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, heard arguments in Doe v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board. All 15 judges are reviewing a split decision of a 3-judge panel on the proper test to be used in deciding whether school board meetings can be opened with sectarian prayers. (See prior posting.) The AP reported the courtroom was so full today that part of a group of home school students who hoped to watch had to remain in the hall outside. Much of the argument focused on whether plaintiffs had actually attended the Tangipahoa Parish Louisiana school board meetings, and whether it mattered if they did not. Alliance Defense Fund attorney Mike Johnson, representing the school board, was stumped by one question asked by Judge E. Grady Jolly: "How many non-Christian churches are there in Tangipahoa?"

New Zealand Bishops In Court Challenging "South Park" Episode

Today's Dominion Post reports that the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference has filed an appeal in the High Court at Wellington seeking reversal of a June 2006 decision (full text) by the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority. The Authority rejected a challenge to CanWest TVWorks' televising last year of an offensive episode of the adult cartoon show, South Park. The show, mainly about an alcoholic's struggle to stay sober, contained one scene-- the so-called "Bloody Mary" episode-- showing the Pope being squirted with menstrual blood from a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Arizona Religious Land Use Case Settled

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit in which SonRise Community Church was challenging the denial to it by Scottsdale Arizona's City Council of a permit to build a religious school next to its existing church. The compromise limits enrollment in the school to 200 and splits the proposed large building into two smaller ones. Reporting on the settlement, today's East Valley Tribune says that Council approved the new arrangements by a vote of 5-2. (See prior related posting.)

Punjab Sikhs Strike In Protest Against Insult to Historic Guru

In the Indian state of Punjab-- the only Indian state whose population is majority Sikh-- schools and businesses are shut down as thousands of Sikhs protest actions of the leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda organization who posed for newspaper ads dressed as a revered 17th century Sikh guru, Gobind Singh. Voice of America today reports that Punjab's political leadership has joined Sikh religious leaders in calling for an apology from Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Asia News says that yesterday the DSS asked India's President A P J Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to mediate the dispute, while thousands of soldiers and police have been deployed to protect DSS campuses from violence by outraged Sikhs.

Expert on Museums Reviews the New "Creation Museum"

Last week's Chronicle of Higher Education carries a fascinating look at the new $27 million Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The museum's theme is the literal truth of the Biblical Genesis narrative. (See prior posting.) The Chronicle article titled Dinosaurs on the Ark? is written by Stephen T. Asma, a professor of philosophy at Columbia College Chicago. Asma visited the museum and interviewed its director Ken A. Ham. Prof. Asma writes that Ham did not miss a beat in answering his surreal question about what dinosaurs on Noah's ark ate. Prof. Asma, who has written an Oxford University Press book on the culture and evolution of natural history museums, says that his sense of humor about the new museum fades when he thinks of the young children who will visit it without the tools for critically assessing its displays. The full article is well worth the time to read.

Report To India's PM Says "Scheduled Caste" Should Be Delinked From Religion

In India, the National Commission for Linguistic and Religious Minorities yesterday submitted a report to Prime Minister Minister Manmohan Singh suggesting that India's Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 be amended to delink "scheduled caste" status from religious affiliation. Today's Times of India says the report concludes that caste is totally a social concept in India. Currently, only Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs may claim the benefits of scheduled caste status. The Commission has also recommended that a change in religion should not adversely affect the scheduled caste status of a person.

Trial Begins On Property Rights of Break-Away Virginia Episcopal Churches

In Fairfax County, Virginia today, the trial opens in the suit by the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of Virginia against eleven break-away churches now governed by the Anglican District of Virginia. (See prior posting.) The main issue is ownership of church property. A secondary issue is the right of members who remain loyal to the Episcopal Church to hold their own separate services on church property. Yesterday's Washington Times reports that the case involves two dozen lawyers. Originally an agreement had been worked out under which the Episcopal Church would appoint a property commission to decide how much each church would need to pay to break off and retain its property. However, in January, apparently ignoring these negotiations, the Diocese filed suit against the 11 churches.

Falwell Funeral Today As Public Figures Decide Whether To Attend

Rev. Jerry Falwell's funeral will be held today at 1:00 pm at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. It can be viewed online live at this link. There have been some interesting developments on who will and who will not be attending the Memorial Service. Among Republican presidential candidates, neither John McCain nor Rudy Giuliani will be at the funeral. (AP).

Because of the strong support that Falwell showed for the state of Israel, the Israeli Embassy in Washington will send a representative, though it has had some logistical problems in finding the appropriate person. Tonight begins the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, and it would be impossible to get back to Israel after the funeral in time for the start of the festival. However, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship and Christians and Jews, will travel from Jerusalem to represent Israel. (Rosner's Blog, eMediaWire).

Less welcome at the funeral will be protesters representing the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing funerals of American veterans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The small church, led by Rev. Fred Phelps, has a number of attacks against Falwell posted on its website. It considers him too tolerant of diversity-- though says that in much less circumspect language. (Fox News.).

Limited Discovery Ordered On Religious Affiliation of School

Saying that "a court walks on dangerous ground when it allows inquiry into the content of religious belief", in Doe v. Abington Friends School, (ED PA, May 15, 2007), a Pennsylvania federal district court allowed limited discovery by plaintiffs seeking to force Abington Friends School to accommodate their son's disabilities. In the case, on remand from the 3rd Circuit, the school claims that it is exempt from the Americans With Disabilities Act as a religious organization, or entity controlled by a religious organization.

Cafeteria In Uganda's Parliament Will Eschew Pork

The Speaker of Uganda's Parliament has ordered the cafeteria in the Parliament building to stop serving pork, after protests by Muslim MPs. New Vision reported yesterday, however, that other members of Parliament have objected to the ban, saying their rights are being infringed.

Monday, May 21, 2007

National School Board Group Will Have Pro-Intelligent Design President

Today's New York Times reports that the next president of the National Association of State Boards of Education will be Kenneth R. Willard from Kansas. In 2005, as a member of the state school board in Kansas, Willard voted in favor of changing the state's science standards to include several challenges to the theory of evolution. (See prior posting.) Because Willard's only opponent for the NASBE presidency withdrew for personal reasons after the nomination period was closed, Willard's election seems assured. Some scientists opposed to teaching intelligent design are pressing for states to write in the name of Ohio businessman Sam Schloemer, now on Ohio's State Board of Education, for NASBE president-- but the organization's bylaws do not provide for write-ins. Meanwhile, Willard says the teaching of evolution is an issue that should be left to each state. He says NASBE focuses on "issues like advising state boards on how to deal with governance concerns or influxes of immigrant students or ways to raise academic achievement among members of disadvantaged groups." [Thanks to Dispatches from the Culture Wars for the lead.]

American Legion Works To Protect Religious Symbols On Memorials

CNS News reports that the American Legion is teaming up with the Alliance Defense Fund and the Liberty Legal Institute in an effort to preserve veterans' memorials that feature crosses and other religious symbols. The Legion has asked its members to inform it of memorials that contain religious symbols, so it can keep track of any legal challenges to them. The Legion will inform ADF and LLI challenges it discovers.

Court OK's Exclusion of Tuition Grants For Pervasively Sectarian Colleges

A Colorado federal district court on Friday upheld Colorado's exclusion of "pervasively sectarian institutions" from its tuition assistance programs for low-income students attending colleges and universities in the state. In Colorado Christian University v. Baker, (D CO, May, 18, 2007), the court rejected both free exercise and establishment clause attacks on the law. Relying largely on the Supreme Court's Locke v. Davey decision, the court applied a "rational basis" test to the free exercise claim. It found that the statutory exclusion furthers implementation of the prohibition in Art. IX, Sec. 7 of Colorado's state constitution barring state aid to any college or university controlled by any sectarian denomination. A press release by the University in response to the decision said that it believed that the decision would be overruled by the 10th Circuit.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN [Revised]:
David E. Guinn, Naming the Whirlwind (Chap. 4 of Constantine's Standard: Religion, Violence, Politics, Law, & a Faith to Die For), (May 11, 2007).

David E. Guinn, The Many Faces of Violent Faith (Chap. 5 of Constantine's Standard: Religion, Violence, Politics, Law & a Faith to Die For), (May 11, 2007).

C. Scott Pryor, God's Bridle: John Calvin's Application of Natural Law, Journal of Law and Religion, (Vol. 22, 2006-2007).

Douglas G. Smith, The Constitutionality of Religious Symbolism After Mccreary and Van Orden, (Texas Review of Law & Politics, 2007).

Harry G. Hutchison, Shaming Kindergarteners? Channeling Dred Scott? Freedom of Expression Rights in Public Schools, (Catholic University Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 361-400, Winter 2007).

From Bepress:
Sara S. Ruff., Nonreligion, Neutrality, and the Seventh Circuit's Mistake, (2007).

From SmartCILP:
Christopher F. Richardson, Islamic Finance Opportunities in the Oil and Gas Sector: An Introduction to an Emerging Field, 42 Texas International Law Journal 119-153 (2006).

Adrien Katherine Wing & Ozan O. Varol, Is Secularism Possible in a Majority-Muslim Country?: the Turkish Example, 42 Texas International Law Journal (2006).

John F. Scarpa Conference on Law, Politics and Culture. Articles by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Patrick McKinley Brennan, Richard W. Garnett and Amelia J. Uelmen. 52 Villanova Environmental Law Journal (2007).

In 2 Cases, Congregation Members Seek Court Ouster of Clergyman

Members of a mosque in Trenton, New Jersey filed suit last month, asking the court to oust the imam currently leading the mosque. The Trenton Times reported yesterday that founding members of the mosque allege that Imam Sabur Abdul Hakim has changed religious practices at the mosque. He and a small group of followers want the mosque to follow the rigid Salafi doctrine. Plaintiffs also say that Hakim appointed his son-in-law as "ameer" last August, without an election by the congregants. The suit seeks not only the removal of the Imam and the ameer, but also an accounting for mosque funds and a new election of trustees by congregation members.

Meanwhile, yesterday's Boston Globe reports on another legal fight to oust a clergyman. In Brocton, Massachusetts, a state Superior Court judge has issued a temporary injunction returning control of the First Baptist Church of Whitman to a group of congregants who are attempting to oust Rev. Michael Fernandez. The congregants are led by the former clerk of the church, Jean Porter. That group has voted in its own slate of church officers, restored the church's former bylaws and has voted to terminate Fernandez as pastor. They say that Fernandez never gained certification from the American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts, as required by the church's bylaws. The current situation arose when Fernandez decided to bring his growing former congregation from Holbrook to the church in Whitman whose membership was declining. However, the two congregations essentially continued to function separately, though Fernandez took control of the building, a bank account and the church's website. Now Fernandez says he will move his followers to Hanover instead of fighting the legal battle to stay at the Whitman church.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Two Interesting Tributes To Jerry Falwell

Today's Los Angeles Times publishes an unusual tribute to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. It is from Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt who won a Supreme Court victory over Falwell in 1988. In Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, (Sup. Ct., 1988), the Court rejected Falwell's attempt to collect damages from Flynt for libel and infliction of emotional distress caused by a parody advertisement depicting Falwell in a drunken incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse. Subsequently they became friends and went around the country debating morals and the First Amendment on college campuses. Flynt's tribute reads in part:

[T]he reverend and I had a lot in common. He was from Virginia, and I was from Kentucky. His father had been a bootlegger, and I had been one too in my 20s before I went into the Navy. We steered our conversations away from politics, but religion was within bounds. He wanted to save me and was determined to get me out of "the business."

My mother always told me that no matter how repugnant you find a person, when you meet them face to face you will always find something about them to like. The more I got to know Falwell, the more I began to see that his public portrayals were caricatures of himself. There was a dichotomy between the real Falwell and the one he showed the public.

He was definitely selling brimstone religion and would do anything to add another member to his mailing list. But in the end, I knew what he was selling, and he knew what I was selling, and we found a way to communicate.

A less surprising tribute came from former House speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing Saturday as commencement speaker at Falwell's Liberty University. (Washington Post). Gingrich told reporters: "Anybody on the left who hopes that when people like Reverend Falwell disappear, that the opportunity to convert all of America has gone with him fundamentally misunderstands why institutions like this were created."

UPDATE: Here is a transcript of Gingrich's commencement remarks.

Ohio Court Upholds Both Parents' Right To Influence Child's Religious Practies

In Holder v. Holder, (OH App., May 11, 2007), an Ohio appellate court rejected a custodial father's claim that the trial court should have ordered his former wife to refrain from taking their daughter to religious activities. The father, a Catholic, objected to the rigid restrictions imposed by his former wife's United Pentecostal Church. The majority opinion said that while the mother has the right to have their daughter participate in religious activities, it is the court's expectation that the mother will not continue to foster conflict and to attack he former husband's religious orientation by means of their daughter. A concurring judge said that he is convinced that the mother consistently places her religious obligations ahead of her child's best interests. However, he was unwilling to find that the trial court had committed a sufficient abuse of discretion to reverse its findings.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Decisions

In Robins v. Lamarque, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34803 (ND CA, April 27, 2007), a California federal district court permitted a Muslim prisoner to proceed with a claim that during a period of over seven months, he was allowed to attend only one religious service.

In Van Patten v. Schmidt, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35247 (ED WI, May 14, 2007), a Wisconsin federal district court permitted a prisoner to proceed with his claim that his religious property had been confiscated and that he was prevented from practicing his religion while in jail.

In Piskanin v. Hammer, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35177 (ED PA, April 26, 2007), a Pennsylvania federal district court rejected a prisoner's free exercise claim growing out of authorities' taking from plaintiff his "Miraculous Medal" when he was placed on suicide watch. He was unable to wear his Miraculous Medal necklace for about 30 days.

In Burke v. North Dakota Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35733 (D ND, May 16, 2007), a North Dakota federal district court permitted a Hindu prisoner to proceed with free exercise and equal protection claims. The prisoner complained that he has been denied a "religious study day" similar to one given to Christian inmates, as well as access to ritual items such as camphor, kumkum, incense, and butter lamps. He also protests that the penitentiary chaplain refuses to recruit non-Christian volunteers to work with inmates.

In Metras v. Pollard, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36015 (ED WI, May 16, 2007), a Wisconsin federal district court rejected a prisoner's free exercise claim, finding that the damaging of his rosary during a search of his cell did not restrict the exercise of his religious beliefs. Apparently the prison guard was testing the material in the rosary, and did not destroy it because of its religious nature.

In Hanley v. Merced County Sheriff's Department, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36263 (ED CA, May 3, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge ruled that a prisoner's complaint alleging that he was not allowed to wear his cross did not adequately set out the relationship of the restriction to his free exercise of religion. The judge gave the prisoner 30 days to amend his complaint to allege that defendants substantially burdened the practice of a central tenet or belief of his religion by preventing him from engaging in conduct mandated by his faith.

China Restricts Saka Dawa Buddhist Rites For School Children reported yesterday that Chinese authorities who control the Tibet Autonomous Region have taken steps to restict school children from participating in religious activities during the Buddhist holy month of Saka Dawa. The holy month began on May 17. The Lhasa City Committee told parents of school children that their children would be expelled from school if they visited monasteries were found circumambulating and wearing amulet thread during Saka Dawa. This year, a new law, Measures for the Regulation on Religious Affairs, entered into force in the Tibet region.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Georgia's Tax Exemption For Bibles and Religious Papers Held Unconstitutional

In Budlong v. Graham, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36101 (ND GA, May 16, 2007), a Georgia federal district court struck down Georgia's sales and use tax exemptions for Bibles and other books recognized as holy scriptures, and for religious papers published by non-profit religious institutions. The court held that even if the state has a compelling interest in this content-based classification, the exemptions are not "narrowly tailored". It said: "If the purpose of the exemptions is to alleviate monetary burdens imposed on religious practice, the exemptions are significantly under-inclusive, failing to include the much broader range of religiously motivated retail activities currently subject to the tax." This, in the court's view, invalidates the exemptions under the Free Press clause of the First Amendment. Finding that basis for invalidity, the court declined to reach the Establishment Clause, due process and state constitutional challenges brought by plaintiff.

Ohio House Presses Its Guidelines For Invocations

Sessions in the Ohio House of Representatives regularly open with a prayer from an invited member of the clergy. The House has Guidelines for them: prayers should be non-denominational, non-sectarian and non-proselytizing, and they should avoid contentious subjects. They go on to provide: "In order to ensure that the above guidelines are met, we are asking that you submit a copy of your prepared remarks at least 72 hours prior to the session day for which you are scheduled. Failure to do so will prohibit you from delivering your prayer. If it is determined that the prayer is of a denominational, sectarian or proselytizing nature, we will ask for it to be changed to conform to the guidelines."

The Columbus Dispatch reported yesterday that House Clerk Laura Clemens has sent a memo to all House members saying that increasingly ministers are ignoring the guidelines. In particular their prayers are becoming more sectarian. Apparently the memo was sparked by an invocation several days ago in which Rev. Keith Hamblen, pastor of Lima, Ohio's Calvary Bible Church, referred to Jesus several times, spoke favorably of church-sponsored schools and mentioned bills up for debate that day, including a controversial proposal on regulating strip-clubs.

Raymond Vasvari, former legal director for the Ohio ACLU, said the House has a problem. If, in trying to assure that prayer is non-sectarian, it reviews invocations of invited ministers in advance, this is akin to an illegal prior restraint. [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Cross In Idaho County Seal Questioned

An op-ed yesterday in Sun Valley Online questions action taken in 2005 by the Canyon County, Idaho Commissioners. They adopted a redesigned county seal. Among the buildings, wildlife and farmland depicted on the seal is a church with a cross on top. Jenny Fultz, who designed the new seal, said: "I chose what I felt was one of the symbols that is most widely recognized as spirituality. When you see a cross you think of not just Christianity, but religion in general."

Conservative Group Issues Report On Muslim Charities In U.S.

Last month the conservative group, Judicial Watch, released a report titled Muslim Charities: Moderate Non-Profits or Elaborate Deceptions? The report claims that a number of these charities in the United States are front organizations for Islamic terrorist groups. [Thanks to today's Law Librarian Blog for the lead.]

Friday, May 18, 2007

ACLU Sues Louisiana School District Over Bible Distribution

The Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union announced yesterday that it had filed yet another lawsuit against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board, this time to stop the Board from allowing the distribution of Gideon Bibles to students on school property during the school day. The suit was filed on behalf of a fifth grade student, identified only as Jane Roe, and her father. In the past 13 years, the ACLU has filed 5 other religious liberty lawsuits against the Tangipahoa Board. (See prior related posting.)

The complaint filed in federal court (full text) alleges that the student's teacher led the entire class out to the Gideons so they could each get a Bible, and that students were pressured by fear of being criticized or ridiculed into accepting a copy. The Associated Press, reporting on the lawsuit, quotes ACLU state director Joe Cook as saying that the teacher's actions disrespected parents rights to choose the religious tradition in which they wish to raise their children.

Canadian Appellate Court Upholds Hutterites Right To License Without Photo

In Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony v. Alberta, (Alberta Ct. App., May 17, 2007), an Alberta Court of Appeals , upholding a lower court decision, held that the refusal to issue Hutterites drivers' licenses without photos on them unjustifiably infringes their freedom of religion protected by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice Slatter dissenting argued that the accommodation offered by the Province was sufficient. It had proposed issuing Hutterites an Operator’s Licence in a folder marked as property of the Province of Alberta so that Hutterites would never need to come into physical contact with the license. Also their photos would be placed in the Province's digital facial recognition database. Canadian Press yesterday reported on the decision.

Street Preachers Successfully Challenge City's Permit Ordinance

In World Wide Street Preachers' Fellowship v. City of Grand Rapids, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35698 (WD MI, May 16, 2007), a Michigan court gave a partial victory to a Christian preacher who had been arrested for preaching loudly without a permit near a Pagan Pride Festival in a Grand Rapids, Michigan park. While the court upheld the city's breach-of-the peace ordinance, it granted a preliminary injunction against enforcing the its permit ordinance, finding that it is overbroad and not narrowly tailored. While the permit ordinance violated plaintiff's speech rights, it did not violate his free exercise rights.

Istanbul Authorities Limit Swimsuit Photo Displays

A new controversy between secularists and Islamists in Turkey is being reported by Pakistan's Daily Times. Recently the municipality of Istanbul ordered stores selling Turkish-manufactured Nelson swimsuits to get permission before displaying photos of models in swimsuits and bikinis on store front windows on main streets. The government then denied permission to four companies. Secularists say this is another attempt of Islamists to interfere in daily life of Turks. Istanbul's municipal planning department says the applications were denied because they were not in proper form.

Creationism Museum To Open; Generates Opposing Petition Campaign

A $27 million museum promoting creationism is set to open in Petersburg, Kentucky on May 28. The Campaign To Defend the Constitution is beginning a petition campaign on its website to oppose the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum. Def Con's petition argues that the museum attacks children’s basic understanding of fundamental scientific principles. Wednesday's Cincinnati Enquirer reports that museum defenders say that their critics should see the museum before they speak out against it.

More On Israel's Rabbinic Court Appointments Dispute

Religion Clause has followed the recent controversy in Israel over the appointment of 15 rabbinic court judges (see prior postings 1, 2, 3). These courts have jurisdiction over various status and family law matters. The Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday that the Dayanim Election Committee has formally decided to annul the original appointments and to start the selection process over. Meanwhile, in another article, the JP reported that Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann defended his role in the matter before the Knesset Law Committee. However he also suggested that there should be changes in the law that would allow women to become religious court judges. This could only be done by changing the requirement that only rabbis can serve. Friedmann also said he would like to see litigants in the courts have an option of choosing a civil law alternative to Jewish religious law to govern their disputes if they wish.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Catholic House Members Criticize Pope's Statement

On Tuesday, The Hill reported that 18 Catholic Democratic members of the House of Representatives criticized remarks made last week by Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope, on his way to Brazil, suggested that he supports excommunication of legislators who support abortion rights. (See prior posting.) The Congressional members' May 10 statement (full text) said: "religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with our fundamental beliefs about the role and responsibility of democratic representatives in a pluralistic America – it also clashes with freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. Such notions offend the very nature of the American experiment and do a great disservice to the centuries of good work the church has done."

Texas School District Sued Over Bible Curriculum

A lawsuit filed yesterday in a Texas federal district court on behalf of 8 parents of high school students challenges the constitutionality of a course in The Bible in History and Literature offered by two Odessa, Texas schools. The courses use the King James version of the Bible as a text. They follow the curriculum developed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, after the school superintendent rejected an alternative curriculum developed by the Bible Literacy Project that is generally seen as more inclusive. (See prior posting and and an article from yesterday's Wall Street Journal.)

The complaint in Moreno v. Ector County Independent School District, (WD TX, filed May 16, 2007) (full text) alleges that the curriculum that was adopted promotes a particular religious interpretation of the Bible-- ignoring or dismissing other viewpoints-- and does not reflect current and reputable Biblical scholarship. It teaches the Bible as literal, historical truth and presents a religious interpretation of American history that does not reflect objective scholarly standards.

The suit was filed on behalf of the parents by the American Civil Liberties Union (press release) and People for the American Way (press release). ACLU lawyer Daniel Mach charged that the course "is about proselytizing one set of religious beliefs to the exclusion of others. Students who don't share those beliefs should not be treated as outsiders by their own schools." Also, he said that the course "requires students to give 'true' or 'false' answers to questions that are a matter of religious faith."

Can Children Use Peyote In Native American Religious Ceremonies?

While the use of peyote in Native American religious rituals may be protected by statute at the federal level and in many states, a family court in Leelanau County, Michigan faces a more difficult question. May Native American parents give their minor children peyote in religious ceremonies? Wednesday's Leelanau Enterprise discusses the case. The Leelanau county prosecutor is asking the court to take jurisdiction over five children who were given the hallucinogen after the Tribal Court of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians failed to asset jurisdiction in the case. In a similar 2003 case, a Michigan family court judge ruled that a 4-year old could not ingest peyote, but that he could when he is fully aware of the implications, is physically and emotionally ready, and has the permission of both his parents.

Judge Lifts Temporary Ban; Lets Autopsy On Executed Prisoner Proceed

Lifting an earlier temporary injunction he had issued (see prior posting), a Tennessee federal district court judge has ruled that an autopsy can be performed on the body of executed prisoner Philip Workman. Workman, a Seventh Day Adventist, had requested on religious grounds that no autopsy be performed and that no chemicals or fluids be removed from his body. Judge Todd J. Campbell, however, ruled Tuesday that, while Workman's religious objections were sincere, the state has a "compelling interest in assessing the effects of the lethal injection protocol that has been the subject of widespread constitutional challenge in recent years." The Associated Press reporting on the ruling, says that the judge also ordered that no autopsy be performed until after May 24 in order to give Workman's family time to appeal the ruling.

UPDATE: Nashville's News Channel 5 reported on Thursday that Workman's family has reached an agreement with the state medical examiner to permit him to perform an autopsy on Workman, but in a way that is minimally invasive.

North Carolina Village Bans Sectarian Invocations

On Monday night, the Clemmons, North Carolina Village Council, by a vote of 3-2, followed the advice of its Village Attorney and voted to ban sectarian invocations at Council meetings. The new policy requires that invocations "be nonsectarian in nature, without reference to any particular religion, denomination or sect, nor to any symbol or deity thereof." Yesterday's Winston-Salem Journal reports that letters will be sent to local religious leaders to explain the policy and give examples of inappropriate references. This vote took place at the same time that the county commission of Forsyth County-- where Clemmons is located-- took a different route and approved a policy permitting sectarian prayer. (See prior posting.)

Moldova Rushes New Religion Law Through Parliament

Forum18 reported yesterday that a new Religion Law has been rushed through Moldova's Parliament, and that officials say no one will be able to read it until it has been promulgated by the President and published in the Official Monitor. Stefan Secareanu, who chairs the Parliament's Committee for Human Rights and National Minorities, says that the bill is still being edited to reflect all the amendments that were adopted. He says that the bill retains a ban on abusive proselytism, but that using "disinformation" has been removed from the definition of banned practices. The final bill also requires 100 adults members before a religious group will be recognized. Minority religious groups object to this limit, while the Russian Orthodox Church in Moldova thinks the new bill is not restrictive enough.

NY Jail Chaplain Charged For Distributing Anti-Muslim Tracts

A Rockland County, New York jail chaplain, suspended with pay last month pending an investigation of complaints that she distributed anti-Muslim literature (see prior posting) has now been charged administratively with eight counts of misconduct. Rev. Teresa Darden Clapp's suspension was also changed to one without pay. Yesterday's Lower Hudson Valley Journal News says that after listening to concerns of the local Muslim community, jail officials said they would hire an imam as a Muslim chaplain, and would begin to serve Muslim prisoners Halal food.

Communion Wine Now Permitted In New Zealand Prisons

New Zealand's Corrections Department has changed its interpretation of New Zealand law and will now permit small amounts of Communion wine to be consumed in prisons by Chaplains and prisoners. Catholic News reported yesterday that the reversal of policy came after objections from the Catholic Church and politicians. Authorities will seek an amendment to the Corrections Act 2004 that now prohibits alcohol from being taken into prisons so that it clearly reflects the new exemption for sacramental wine.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Group Aims At Proselytizing State Legislators

Jews on First this morning carries a lengthy report on Capitol Ministries, a group that is focused on bringing a Christian message to state legislators and their staffs around the country. It has already formed Bible study groups in over a dozen state capitals. The group's leader, Ralph Drollinger, has a record of criticizing Catholics, gays and mothers of young children who serve in state Legislatures.

9th Circuit: LA County's Removal of Cross From Seal OK

Yesterday in Vasquez v. Los Angeles County, (9th Cir., May 15, 2007), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an Establishment Cause challenge to a 2004 change made to the seal of Los Angeles County. Ernesto Vasquez, a resident, taxpayer and county employee, argued that the change, which removed a cross from the seal and replaced it with a picture of a historic mission, amounted to a state-sponsored message of hostility toward Christians.

The court held that plaintiff had standing to bring the challenge, holding that "spiritual harm resulting from unwelcome direct contact with an allegedly offensive religious (or anti-religious) symbol is a legally cognizable injury and suffices to confer Article III standing." However it rejected Vasquez's claim on the merits. The County removed the cross to avoid a potential Establishment Clause problem. The court held that this is a secular purpose. As to effect, the court said "a 'reasonable observer' familiar with the history and controversy surrounding the use of crosses on municipal seals would not perceive the primary effect of Defendants' action as one of hostility towards religion." Reuters and AP both reported on the decision.