Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Arrest Made In Quran Desecration Case At Pace University

Last Friday in New York City, a 23-year old man was arrested on hate crime charges of criminal mischief and aggravated harassment for twice placing a copy of the Quran in a toilet at Pace University's campus in lower Manhattan. Newsday reported last week that Stanislav Shmulevich of Brooklyn was accused of the acts that took place in October and November amid other incidents with racial or religious overtones that took place at the university. Yesterday, CAIR issued a statement commending the NYPD for its handling of the case.

Charges Against Saudi Religious Police Dismissed

The International Herald Tribune reports today that a court in Saudi Arabia has dropped charges against three members of the country's religious police and a regular police officer. They were charged in the death of Ahmed al-Bulaiwi a retired border patrol guard who supplemented his pension by acting as a driver. He was arrested after police observed a woman who was not related to him getting into his car near an amusement park. Women are permitted to be in public only with male relatives. Reports say the Saudi judge dismissed the case without questioning witnesses or reviewing the medical report on al-Bulaiwi's death. Religious police are employed by the country's Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.(See prior related posting.)

Arkansas Judge Agrees To Excuse Defendant From 12-Step Program

In Fayetteville, Arkansas, parties yesterday settled a federal court suit brought against a state trial court judge challenging a sentence he handed down. Mindy Gayle Offutt sued Rogers District Court Judge Doug Schrantz because he ordered her to participate in a 12-step program. Offutt claimed the order violates her First Amendment rights because the 12-step program is based on religion and requires participants to pray at the end of each session. Today's Fayetteville Morning News reports that under the settlement, Judge Schrantz will issue an amended order excusing Offutt, who plead guilty to possessing a controlled substance, from the 12-step requirement.

RI Prisons Adopt New Policy On Inmates Preaching In Settlement of Suit

After losing in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals last April, the Rhode Island Department of corrections has settled a suit by prisoner Wesley Spratt who wanted to preach to fellow prisoners. Even though Spratt had preached in prison for seven years, in 2003 a new warden put in a blanket ban on inmates preaching, arguing that giving inmates positions of leadership or authority poses a security risk. As part of the settlement, the Department adopted a new policy that permits inmates to preach at religious services in prison under supervision of a chaplain. However, sermons that encourage racism, hate or divisiveness are prohibited. Also, the policy prevents any single inmate from monopolizing the pulpit. Articles on the settlement, which was approved yesterday in U.S. federal district court, were published today by The Day and by the Providence Journal. Spratt was represented by the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU.

Amicus Says Upholding Gay Marriage In Iowa May Impact Churches

In Polk County, Iowa a suit is pending challenging the constitutionality of Iowa's Defense of Marriage Act. Six gay and lesbian couples have claimed that denying them marriage licenses violated the state constitution's equal protection and due process clauses. Yesterday's Iowa City Press-Citizen reported that an amicus brief filed in the case by the Becket Fund argues that recognizing same-sex marriage could lead to discrimination suits against religious institutions that refuse to extend employment benefits to such couples or which fire gay married employees to show church disapproval of such relationships. Such groups might also lose tax benefits or access to other government programs. The brief also raises the spectre of hate speech, incitement or conspiracy claims against preachers who have strongly denounced same-sex marriage if a congregant subsequently commits a hate crime against such a couple.

Scottish Adoption Agency Threatens To Close Over Gay Adoption Mandate

In Scotland, Rev. Joseph Devine, the Bishop of Motherwell, has said that Glasgow's Catholic adoption agency, St. Margaret's Children and Family Care Society, will close rather than comply with UK's Sexual Orientation Regulations that came into effect earlier this year. (See prior posting.) Those regulations would require that the agency permit adoptions by same-sex couples. Yesterday's LifeSite News reports on Bishop Devine's comments.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Underground Catholic Priests Detained In China

Yesterday's Washington Post reports that in China last Tuesday, three priests from China's underground Roman Catholic Church were detained by authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia. They had fled from their hometown in order to avoid arrest for refusing to join China's government-approved Catholic Church. Quoting the Cardinal Kung Foundation, the report says that other underground church officials are also being held. Another priest was detained earlier this month. In all, five bishops and 15 priests or lay people have been jailed, and others are under surveillance or house arrest.

Meditation Programs Spread In Public Schools Raising Church-State Questions

Yesterday's Inside Bay Area reports on the growing movement around the country to introduce meditation and mindfulness programs in public schools. However opponents claim that the programs are religious in nature, with roots in Buddhism and Hinduism. They say that mantras and meditation should not be allowed if prayer is banned. However meditation and mindfulness programs have become more "medicalized", teaching skills such as paying attention and controlling emotions without showing obvious religious trappings.

Massachusetts Religious Exemptions From Vaccination Up

Boston's WCBV-TV yesterday reported an increase in the number of Massachusetts parents claiming a religious exemption from the requirement that their children be vaccinated before entering school. In 2001, 343 kindergartners received an exemption, while last year that number was up to 474. Unlike 18 other states, Massachusetts does not provide an exemption for philosophical objections to vaccination-- as opposed to religious ones. 76 MGL Sec. 15 exempts a "child whose parent or guardian states in writing that vaccination or immunization conflicts with his sincere religious beliefs...." However it appears that a number of the parents claiming an exemption actually had philosophical rather than religious concerns.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Fowler v. Crawford, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53070 (WD MO, July 23, 2007), a Missouri federal district court upheld the denial by officials at a maximum security prison of a Native American inmate's request to have access to a sweat lodge. The court rejected the inmate's First amendment and RLUIPA claims based on the prison's interest in safety and security.

In Stewart v. Corrections Corporation of America, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52875 (SD IN, July 19, 2007), an Indiana federal court held that no substantial burden had been placed on plaintiff's exercise of religion either by requiring him to fill out a request in order to obtain vegetarian meals for religious reasons or by taking more than one day to grant the request.

In Horton v. Erwin County Jail, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53759 (ED TN, July 23, 2007), a Tennessee federal district court held that a prisoner's conclusory allegation that while in jail he was denied religious exercise is insufficient to state a First Amendment claim.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Congress Gives Immunity To Air Passengers Reporting Suspicious Activities

On Friday, Congress passed and sent to the President for his signature HR 1, the bill implementing recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. (Washington Post). Included in the Conference Committee's version of the bill that was enacted is a provision reacting to a lawsuit filed last year by a group of imams who were kept off a flight from Minneapolis after a number of passengers reported they were acting suspiciously. (See prior posting.) Significant concern was expressed when that lawsuit named unidentified air passengers as defendants. The provision, retroactive to Oct. 1, 2006, (as reported by the Washington Times) reads:
Any person who, in good faith and based on objectively reasonable suspicion, makes or causes to be made, a voluntary report of covered activity to an authorized official shall be immune from civil liability under federal, state and local law for such report.
Debra Saunders in today's San Francisco Chronicle praises Congress for enacting the provision, as does Ericka Andersen at Human Events yesterday. They give special credit to the provision's co-sponsor, New York Rep. Peter King, and to Sens. Joe Leiberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) for getting Conference Committee approval of the so-called "John Doe" protections.

UDPDATE: The John Doe protections in HR 1 were the subject of July 30's Talk of the Nation from NPR. You can listen to the program online.

Text of USCIRF Hearings On Minority Religions In Iraq Now Online

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom held a hearing on the threats faced by Iraq's non-Muslim religious communities of antiquity-- the ChaldoAssyrian Christians, Yazidis, Sabean Mandaeans, and other minority religious groups. The statements and prepared testimony of eight witnesses appearing at the hearings are now available on USCIRF's website.

Recent Law Review Articles on Law and Religion

Recently published law review articles from SmartCILP and SSRN:

Philip C. Aka, The Supreme Court and the Challenge of Protecting Minority Religions in the United States, (Reviewing Garrett Epps, To an Unknown God: Religious Freedom on Trial.), 9 The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Minority Issues 343-408 (2007).

William J. Dobosh, Jr., Coercion in the Ranks: the Establishment Clause Implications of Chaplain-Led Prayers at Mandatory Army Events, 2006 Wisconsin Law Review 1493-1562 (2006).

Charles Flores, Marital Jam Sessions on Trial: Ecclesiastical Abstention and Employment Division, Department of Human Resources v. Smith in the Supreme Court of Texas, 9 The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Minority Issues 409-426 (2007).

L. Scott Smith, Religion, Politics, and the Establishment Clause: Does God Belong in American Public Life?, 10 Chapman Law Review 299-358 (2006).

Stephen W. Trask, Evolution, Science, and Ideology: Why the Establishment Clause Requires Neutrality in Science Classes, 10 Chapman Law Review 359-390 (2006).

James L. Werth, Jr., Some Personal Aspects of End-of-Life Decisionmaking, 61 University of Miami Law Review 847-861 (2007).

Leila Hessini, Abortion and Islam, Policies and Practices in the Middle East and North Africa, 15 Reproductive Health Matters, No. 29, pp. 75-84 (May 2007) (SSRN Abstract).

Mark Strasser, Thou Shalt Not?, 6 Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class 439-90 (2006) (SSRN Abstract).

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ohio Court Dismisses Suit Against Pastor For Misuse of Church Funds

Today's Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reports that a Franklin County (OH) Common Pleas Court judge earlier this month dismissed a lawsuit that had been brought by 18 members of Columbus' World of Pentecost Church against the church's pastor and church officers. The pastor, Rev. David Thompson, had taken out a third mortgage on the church’s property for $130,000 and used another $800,000 of the church's funds in an "energies scheme". Plaintiffs, claiming a breach of fiduciary duty, sought return of the funds and removal of Thompson as pastor. Originally Franklin County Judge Charles A. Schneider took jurisdiction over the case which claimed that defendants had no right under the church's bylaws to take the funds without consent of the church’s members. He appointed Thompson's father as temporary pastor and ordered him not to speak from the pulpit about the case. However, as the case progressed, the judge found that the church bylaws were full of biblical references. He ultimately concluded that deciding the case would involve the court too extensively in religious matters, in violation of the First Amendment. The Columbus Police economic crimes unit continues to investigate the case.

8th Circuit Upholds Religious Discrimination In Employment Verdict

Yesterday, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the award of nominal damages ($1) and of attorneys fees and costs to Doyle Ollis, Jr., a member of the Assemblies of God Church, who sued his employer, HearthStone Homes, Inc. for religious discrimination and retaliation. In Ollis v. HearthStone Homes, Inc., (8th Cir., July 27, 2007), the court found that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that the company’s firing of Ollis for asking a co-employee inappropriate sexual questions was pretextual, and that the real reason for his firing was religious discrimination.

HearthStone's owner, John Smith, believed in "Mind Body Energy". The court found that "HearthStone used Mind Body Energy (MBE) sessions to 'cleanse [the] negative energy' from its employees in order to enhance their work performance. [It] … paid for its employees to attend an MBE course in California which required participants to read The Tibetan Book of Life, discussing Buddhist and Hindu teachings." Smith also used a technique called "muscle testing" when questioning employees or making business decisions. These were inconsistent with Ollis' religious beliefs.

The court's description of both Smith’s business practices and Ollis’ interaction with a female employee – who was later herself discharged for “doing cart-wheels naked on a golf course”-- suggest that the entire atmosphere of this Nebraska home sales company was somewhat unconventional. [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Baptist Joint Committee Moving Toward New Offices On Capitol Hill

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty—a group that strongly promotes separation of church and state a a way to preserve religious freedom—has passed the half-way mark in its $5 million capital campaign to acquire and renovate a building on Capitol Hill that will become the organization's offices. The Associated Baptist Press reported that a $500,000 challenge grant from the family of the late John Baugh (founder of the Sysco Corporation), as well as an anonymous $200,000 gift, were keys in its success so far.

San Diego Elementary School Changes Accommodations for Muslim Students

According to yesterday's San Diego Union-Tribune, a California elementary school has backed off to some extent from accommodations it had made for a group of 100 Somali Muslim students who had enrolled last year after their charter school closed. San Diego's Carver Elementary School created single-gender classes and gave students a daily 15-minute break for voluntary prayers. (See prior posting.) News of the accommodations, however, generated national, and even international, controversy. (See Wall of Separation blog.) For this fall, the school has eliminated its single-gender classes (even though they are permissible under federal law) and has reconfigured its lunch periods so that the regular lunch period for older students will fall at the time of required Muslim prayers. That way, older students—the ones required under Muslim law to pray regularly—can use their regular lunch period for prayer, as can students of any other religion as well.

Defense Fund Created To Cover Outlays In Defense of Courthouse Jesus Picture

Thursday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that in Slidell, Louisiana, a local pastor has already raised $10,000 in a legal defense fund to help the Slidell City Court fight a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of its displaying a picture of Jesus in the courtroom lobby. The ACLU is challenging the picture—an Eastern Orthodox religious icon. Alliance Defense Fund is representing the Slidell City Court free of charge, but funds are needed to cover any award of attorneys’ fees to the ACLU in case the plaintiff wins the lawsuit. (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Moldovan Parliament Amends Religion Law To Get President's Approval

Responding to objections raised by Moldova's President Vladimir Voronin when he refused to sign a new law on religious faiths passed by Parliament in May, Moldova’s Parliament has enacted amendments to the Religion Law. The new version of the law provides: "the state recognizes special significance and primary role of the Orthodox Christian religion and the Orthodox Church in life, history and culture of the people of Moldova." Reporting on the amendments, Interfax yesterday said that they also are designed to restrict "sectarian cults". (See prior related postings 1, 2.)

Charges Against Gideons Dismisssed By Florida Court

World Net Daily reports today that in Key Largo, Florida, a judge has dismissed charges brought against two members of Gideons International who were handing out Bibles last January on a sidewalk near a Key Largo school. (See prior posting.) After having initial trespass charges dismissed, the two were re-charged under a statute that prohibits being within 500 feet of school property during school hours without having legitimate business or other authorization. Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman, who was defending the Gideons said that the statute, read literally, would have covered people merely driving by the school. If those people are exempt and the Gideons are not, then the statute creates a content-based restriction on speech, he argued.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pharmacists' Suit Challenges Washington State's Mandate To Fill "Plan B" Orders

In Washington state on Wednesday, two pharmacists and the owner of a supermarket that contains a pharmacy, sued to challenge the state's new rule that requires pharmacies to fill orders for emergency contraceptives. (See prior posting.) The so-called Plan B morning-after pill is now available over-the-counter to adults. Individual pharmacists with religious or moral objections can refuse to supply a customer with the contraceptives only if they can find a co-worker at the same pharmacy to fill the order. The lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle claims that the new rules violate pharmacists' constitutional rights by requiring them to choose between "their livelihoods and their deeply held religious and moral beliefs." The Associated Press reports on the case. [Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the lead.]

UPDATE: Here is a copy of the complaint and the motion for a preliminary injunction. The case is Storman's v. Selecky. More on the case is at Constitutionally Correct and in this release from the Alliance Defense Fund which is representing the plaintiffs.

Florida School Board Again Debates Hebrew Charter School

Today's Florida Jewish News carries a long account of a Broward County School Board meeting held last Tuesday to deal with two changes in plans for the Ben Gamla school, a Charter School that will teach Hebrew. The controversial school has already been approved by the Board, despite concerns about church-state issues. (See prior posting.) Tuesday's meeting approved a change in the Hebrew curriculum that will be taught. The school agreed to switch to one that had already been approved for Hebrew language courses in public schools, in order to alleviate concerns that its Hebrew course would have too much religious content in it. The Board also approved a change in location of the school-- out of a synagogue and into a larger building because of the high demand for enrollment in the fall. (Official report, Item I-13).

Responding to church-state concerns, Susan Onori, Broward County coordinator for charter schools, said that a monitoring team would check to make sure that the school did not teach the Jewish religion as part of its Hebrew language, history, and culture offerings. Among those expressing concern about the new school were Eric Stillman, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Broward County, whose Community Relations Committee strongly supports church-state separation. Also raising issues were representatives of two existing Jewish day school, whose enrollments will presumably be threatened by the tuition-free charter school. One of them argued that it is impossible to teach Hebrew and Jewish culture without teaching religion. Supporting the charter school were representatives of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Congress Members Want HHS Investigation of Bias Against Chaplains

Today's Washington Post reports that 14 members of Congress have written Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt urging him to have HHS's Inspector General investigate claims by HHS chaplains of anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish bias. The charges come from chaplains in the spiritual ministry department of NIH's clinical center in Bethesda, Maryland. HHS is already conducting an investigation through a panel of outside experts, but the House of Representative members want assurances that NIH will investigate Rev. O. Ray Fitzgerald, former head of the spiritual ministry department who was demoted after the EEOC upheld a claim of anti-Catholic bias filed against him. (See prior posting.) Rep. Steven R. Rothman (R-N.J.), has placed language in the Department of Labor-HHS appropriations bill authorizing an investigation by HHS's inspector general.

Massachusetts Judge Upholds Synagogue Board Election

Last week, a Suffolk (MA) Superior Court judge decided a challenge to the election of board members and officers of Temple B'nai Moshe in Brighton, Massachusetts. Irwin Frankel, the Temple's president before the election, (along with another former board member) claimed that the April 29 synagogue election was invalid. However the court rejected his challenge to the propriety of the notice of the meeting that was given. Underlying the lawsuit was an attempt by a group of Orthodox Jews, supported by Frankel, to take control of the Temple that is currently affiliated with the Conservative movement. Frankel had not held a board election during his 7-year tenure as president. Yesterday's Jewish Advocate reports that Temple members, who finally forced an election to be held, saw the challenge to the election as an attempted "hostile takeover" of the synagogue by an Orthodox group who had been permitted to hold their separate services in the Temple's chapel. That group, Beis Binah, has now been asked to vacate the premises as the Temple looks forward to remaining a Conservative synagogue.

Romney Contemplates Speech On His Religious Faith

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the Associated Press on Thursday that enough questions have been raised about his Mormon religious faith that he will probably deliver a major speech in which he will focus on the role that his faith plays. In 1960, then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy made a similar speech as the first major Catholic candidate for president. Romney especially faces questions from evangelical Protestants whose votes he is seeking in the Republican primaries.

French Shut Down Islamic Summer Camp

In France, police authorities have shut down an Islamic summer camp that was accused of subjecting children to a grueling routine of religious observance. The camp, which was organized by the Turkish-Islam Culture Center in the city of Nancy, failed to obtain required approval from the French Sports Directorate to operate. Yesterday's Turkish Daily News said that the the 96 children at the camp were subjected to excessively rigorous discipline, such as being required to wake up at night to pray. The camp lacked other educational or leisure activities for the children.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

ACLU and ADF In Unusual Agreement Before 6th Circuit In Diversity Training Case

Oral arguments were held yesterday before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Morrison v. Board of Education of Boyd County. (ADF Fact Sheet). Initially the ACLU sued Ashland, Kentucky's Boyd High School to vindicate the right of students to form a gay-straight alliance club at the school. As explained in a 2005 ACLU release, the case was settled under an agreement that required the school to treat all student clubs equally and which also required the school to conduct anti-harassment training for all students and staff. Subsequently the Alliance Defense Fund sued the school, claiming that the anti-harassment training violated the rights of students opposed on religious grounds to homosexual conduct. However, in February 2006, a Kentucky federal district court upheld the school's policies. (See prior posting.)

The ACLU intervened in the ADF's lawsuit. In its brief to the 6th Circuit on appeal, the ACLU explained its position as follows: "Intervenors joined this litigation to ensure that the Board complied with its obligations under the Consent Decree by, among other things, conducting mandatory anti-harassment trainings. After careful review of the Board’s 2004-2005 anti-harassment policies, however, Intervenors came to agree with Plaintiffs that the policies were broader than the Constitution permits. Accordingly, Intervenors both joined the Board in moving for summary judgment with respect to the claims seeking a constitutional right to opt out of the anti-harassment trainings, and joined Plaintiffs in moving for summary judgment with respect to the claims involving the anti-harassment policies."

After yesterday's oral arguments, ACLU attorney Sharon McGowan said: "We've always believed that it’s entirely possible for schools to enact policies that keep gay and lesbian students safe while still respecting the First Amendment rights of students who hold anti-gay beliefs." (ACLU Release). Links to all the legal documents in the case are available online.

School Board Now Charges Rent To Scouts After Church Wanted Equal Treatment

A report in today's Elgin (IL) Daily Herald illustrates that there is more than one way for school officials to respond to charges by religious groups that they are being treated unequally. After Larkin High School officials refused to recognize a student-led group, the Cross Roads Church for Teens, as a noncurricular student organization, the Alliance Defense Fund complained. The school quickly agreed to include the group in the year book and the homecoming parade. But then another church group-- an adult group called Crossroads-- complained that outside groups like the Scouts were given rent-free use of the schools, while churches were not. In response, instead of giving church groups more access, Elgin Area School District U-46 decided to reclassify the Scouts as a nonprofit community group. This means that now scout groups will be required to pay rent to use school facilities, instead of using them free of charge as in the past.

5th Circuit, En Banc, Finds No Standing In School Board Prayer Case

By a vote of 8-7, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, sitting en banc, held that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge Tangipahoa Parish School Board's practice of opening its meetings with a prayer. In Doe v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board, (5th Cir., July 25, 2007), the majority, in an opinion by Chief Judge Edith Jones, said that there was no evidence in the record that plaintiffs ever attended a school board meeting where a prayer like those challenged was recited.

In a "special concurrence", Judge Moss was unusually critical of the Supreme Court. He wrote:
The Supreme Court cannot continue to speak out of both sides of its mouth if it intends to provide real guidance to federal courts.... [I]t cannot continue to hold expressly that the injury in fact requirement is no different for Establishment Clause cases, while it implicitly assumes standing in cases where the alleged injury, in a non-Establishment Clause case, would not get the plaintiff into the courthouse. This double standard must be corrected because ... it opens the courts' doors to a group of plaintiffs who have no complaint other than they dislike any government reference to God.
Dissenters, in two separate opinions, argued that the trial court's pre-trial order makes clear that plaintiffs' attendance at board meetings was not a contested issue and that defendants impliedly admitted those facts. 2theadvocate reports on the decision. The splintered 3-judge panel decision in the case was discussed in a previous posting. [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Malaysia's High Court Limits Sharia Court Jurisdiction; Urges Legislative Help

Reuters today reports that Malaysia's Federal Court has ruled that Sharia tribunals cannot decide cases involving non-Muslims as one of the parties. The country's high court held that family law and religious disputes between a Muslim and a non-Muslim must be determined by the civil courts since non-Muslims cannot be present to defend themselves in Sharia courts. Meanwhile, the AP reports that Federal Court Judge Abdul Hamid Mohamad, in an opinion released Wednesday, urged the legislature to deal with the jurisdictional issue. In his written opinion (joined by two other judges) he wrote: "These are not matters that the courts can solve, as the courts owe their jurisdiction to statutes."

Monks In Wales Insist Authorities Get Warrant To Take Sacred Bull For Slaughter

Now that a British Court of Appeals has upheld an order to slaughter a sacred bull that is infected with tuberculosis, Welsh authorities have attempted to take the bull from the Skanda Vale temple in Llanpumsaint where Hindu monks have taken it for protection. Health authorities, however, were kept from entering the Skanda Vale grounds by a locked gate, a parked car and supporters of the sacred bull who were chanting and praying. The monks have insisted that authorities obtain a warrant before entering the temple grounds. Veterinary officials and police are now moving to do so, and a spokesman for the monks said that then they will not offer physical resistance. IOL and This Is London (with extensive photos) report on these developments today.

UPDATE: By Thursday evening (London time), Shambo the bull had been taken away for slaughter by lethal injection. Initially police returned with a warrant, but only posted it instead of confronting 100 demonstrators. Thursday evening, though, 20 police cut a chain securing the temple gates, dragged away some of the demonstrators, led the sacred bull to a trailer and took him away. (AP and Inthenews).

OSCE Concerned About Kazakhstan's Dispute With Hare Krishna

In a long article published yesterday, the Washington Post reports that a property dispute between Kazakhstan authorities and members of a Hare Krishna community threatens Kazakhstan's bid to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009. The government has destroyed 12 homes in the village of Seleksia, claiming that the homes were purchased by Hare Krishna followers from people who did not hold proper title to the land. Kazakh courts have held that the property belongs to the local administration. However the OSCE Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion or Belief, in a statement issued last year, said that the state's action suggests that members of the Hare Krishna community "have been targeted on the basis of their religious affiliation." The disputed land is in an area that is becoming increasingly attractive to Almaty residents seeking country homes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Justice Department Supports Muslim Group In Its RLUIPA Lawsuit

In Wayne, New Jersey, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a brief supporting an Albanian Muslim group that is suing under RLUIPA to stop the township from taking for use as open space property on which the group was seeking to build a mosque. The township claims that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act does not apply to takings by eminent domain. The Justice Department argued, however, that the township's deliberate prolonging of the application process for a permit amounted to the kind of discrimination prohibited by RLUIPA. Reporting on developments in the federal lawsuit, the Passaic County Record yesterday said the 11 acres of land at issue has steep slopes and rock outcroppings that, according to township officials, makes it a prime candidate for preservation instead of development. (See prior related posting.)

Church Leader Raises RFRA Defense To Marijuana Charges

In Los Angeles, the trial of Rev. Craig X Rubin, leader of the 420 Temple, for possessing and distributing marijuana was scheduled to begin with jury selection yesterday. On Monday, at a hearing preceding the trial, Rubin-- representing himself-- argued that his possession of marijuana was protected by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He says the federal law applies because federal agents joined state police in the raid on his congregation last November. Rubin-- who was ordained by the Universal Life Church-- says he believes that marijuana is the "tree of life" mentioned in the Bible, so he incorporates marijuana in his church ceremonies. The Associated Press says that Rubin faces up to seven years in prison if convicted for burning marijuana during services and distributing it to members who are asked to make a donation for marijuana they receive. (See prior related posting.)

UPDATE: The AP reports that on Tuesday Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel ruled Rubin could not rely on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense because he is facing only state charges.

State Special Prosecutor Will Probe Kosher Slaughterhouse

The animal rights group, PETA, has filed complaints with local and federal officials against a Nebraska kosher slaughterhouse. After receiving PETA's complaint, the Sheridan County (NE) Attorney, citing a conflict of interest within her office, petitioned the state district court to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate. Yesterday's Beatrice Daily Sun reports that in response the court appointed Dawes County Attorney Vance Haug. The focus of the investigation is Local Pride LLC, which is owned by the Sholom Rubashkin family. PETA claims that Local Pride permits cows to remain conscious up to two minutes after their throats are cut. Last year, again at the behest of PETA, Rubashkin's Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (See prior posting.)

The Federal Humane Slaughter Act (7 USC Sec. 1902) defines as one acceptable method of slaughter: "slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughtering."

UPDATE: The Beatrice Daily Sun on Wednesday reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it inspected the Local Pride plant earlier this month and found no problems. The Orthodox Union-- the primary certifier of kosher slaughterhouses-- also says that it found no problems during recent inspections, and that minor problems in earlier inspections have been remedied.

Mennonites Settle Septic Tank Dispute Without Religiously Banned Litigation

In Maxatawny Township, Pennsylvania, five Mennonite families have entered a preliminary settlement with township officials who claimed the families owed some $300,000 in fines for failing to pump their septic tanks by a June 30, 2006 deadline set by the township. The Mennonites claim they never received notice of the deadline, and felt they were being treated unfairly since their religion precludes them from entering litigation-- which would have been necessary to contest the fines. According to yesterday's Morning Call, under the settlement worked out in private talks, the Mennonites will be fined only $350, but will agree to comply with septic tank deadlines in the future. Township supervisors must still vote on approval of the settlement.

Claims By Religious Opponent of School's Patriotic Exercises Rejected

In Myers v. Loudin County School Board, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53049 (ED VA, July 23, 2007), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a series of claims brought pro se by Edward Myers, a member of the Anabaptist Mennonite faith, who claimed that the school's daily recital of the pledge of allegiance amounted to promotion of a civil religion in violation of the doctrine of separation of church and state. The court rejected Myers' request that the school's "patriotic curriculum" be redrafted. It also rejected Myers' claim that his First Amendment free speech rights were violated when he was denied access to school folders and homerooms to distribute flyers and when his proposed ads for a school yearbook, athletic program and newspaper were rejected. The flyers and ads attacked "civil religion" in the public schools. The court held that an incident in which Myers was prevented from leafleting in front of the school was a First Amendment violation, but that the single incident did not justify the issuance of an injunction.

Egyptian Grand Mufti Says Many Conversions Are Punishable Only By God

AFP yesterday reported that Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa says that converting out of Islam "is a sin punishable by God on the Day of Judgement. If the case in question is one of merely rejecting faith, then there is no worldly punishment." He said that only conversions that undermine the "foundations of society" should be dealt with by the judicial system. Hossam Bahgat, a lawyer for 12 Copts who converted to Islam and now want to convert back to Christianity, says he will cite Gomaa's statement in his presentation of his clients' case to the Supreme Court of Egypt in September. Up to now, the government has generally refused to recognize conversions out of Islam in official documents. Gomaa is the state's chief legal adviser and is technically the deputy minister of justice.

UPDATE: A July 26 post on Volokh Conspiracy reports on a subsequent statement from Gomaa that appears to somewhat back off of his earlier comments.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Russian Presidential Candidates Asked About Religion In Russia

While we are used to American presidential candidates being asked about their religious views (see prior posting), now Russian candidates seem to be expected to respond to similar inquiries. A posting today by the Real Russia Project reports that members of Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth movement, recently asked two candidates in Russia's 2008 presidential elections their views on the recent revival of religious life in Russia. Both Dmitri Medvedev and Sergey Ivanov said that the rebirth of the Russian Orthodox Church had very positive effects on Russian society. Responding to another question, neither of them thought that building the largest Orthodox Cathedral in the world was a particularly important goal. Ivanov said, "One should not think of cathedrals in the same way as the competition to build the tallest skyscraper. The main thing is that there should be a lot of churches and that they should not be empty."

Democratic Hopefuls Respond To YouTube Queries On Role of Religious Faith

Democratic presidential candidates debating last night on CNN spoke about their religious beliefs in answer to at least two of the questions posed by questioners through YouTube video clips. In the first part of the debate (transcript), Sen. John Edwards was asked about the impact of his religious beliefs on his views about gay marriage:
QUESTION: I'm Reverend Reggie Longcrier. I'm the pastor of Exodus Mission and Outreach Church in Hickory, North Carolina. Senator Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation, and denying women the right to vote. So why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay American their full and equal rights?...

EDWARDS: I think Reverend Longcrier asks a very important question, which is whether fundamentally -- whether it's right for any of our faith beliefs to be imposed on the American people when we're president of the United States. I do not believe that's right.

I feel enormous personal conflict about this issue. I want to end discrimination. I want to do some of the things that I just heard Bill Richardson talking about -- standing up for equal rights, substantive rights, civil unions, the thing that Chris Dodd just talked about. But I think that's something everybody on this stage will commit themselves to as president of the United States. But I personally have been on a journey on this issue. I feel enormous conflict about it. As I think a lot of people know... my wife Elizabeth spoke out a few weeks ago, and she actually supports gay marriage. I do not. But this is a very, very difficult issue for me. And I recognize and have enormous respect for people who have a different view of it.

.... I've been asked a personal question which is, I think, what Reverend Longcrier is raising, and that personal question is, do I believe and do I personally support gay marriage? The honest answer to that is I don't. But I think it is absolutely wrong, as president of the United States, for me to have used that faith basis as a basis for denying anybody their rights, and I will not do that when I'm president of the United States.
Near the end of the debate, YouTube questioners elicited additional responses on candidates' religious beliefs from Sen. Joseph Biden, John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama (transcript):
QUESTION: Hi, I'm Zenne Abraham in Oakland, California. The cathedral behind me is the perfect backdrop for this question. This quarter reads "United States of America." And when I turn it over, you find that it reads "liberty, in God we trust." What do those words mean to you?....

BIDEN: Religion informs my values. My reason dictates outcomes. My religion taught me about abuse of power. That's why I moved to write the Violence Against Women Act. That's why I take the position I take on Darfur. It came about as a consequence of the reasoning that we're able to do it. You know, look, I don't think they're inconsistent. I don't find anything inconsistent about my deep, religious beliefs and my ability to use reason. I think the coin's got it just right. I think I have it in perspective....

QUESTION: ... My name is Stephen Marsh of Thousand Oaks, California, proud citizen of the United States of America that does not believe in God. However, the former President Bush said this statement was an oxymoron. Now, I am worried about the amount of time given to evangelical concerns while secular voters are more or less getting a snubbed.... So my question is this: Am I wrong in fearing a Democratic administration that may be lip service to the extremely religious as much as the current one?....

EDWARDS: As president of the United States, we will embrace and lift up all Americans, whatever their faith beliefs or whether they have no faith beliefs, as Stephen just spoke about. That's what America is.

Now, my faith is enormously important to me personally. It's gotten me through some hard times, as I'm sure that's true of a lot of the candidates who are on this stage. But it is crucial that the American people know that as president it will not be my job -- and I believe it would be wrong -- for me to impose my personal faith beliefs on the American people or to decide any kind of decision, policy decision, that will affect America on the basis of my personal faith beliefs....

OBAMA: I am proud of my Christian faith. And it informs what I do. And I don't think that people of any faith background should be prohibited from debating in the public square. But I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state....

By the way, I support it not just for the state but also for the church, because that maintains our religious independence and that's why we have such a thriving religious life. But what I also think is that we are under obligation in public life to translate our religious values into moral terms that all people can share, including those who are not believers. And that is how our democracy's functioning, will continue to function. That's what the founding fathers intended.

India's Supreme Court Says Marriage Registration Applies To All Religions

Today's Hindustan Times reports that the Supreme Court of India on Monday ordered Indian states to require the registration of all marriages, regardless of the religion of the parties. In February 2006, the Supreme Court held that every marriage must be registered in the state in which it takes place. However some states have implemented this mandate by issuing orders under the Hindu Marriage Act. This means that the registration requirement is not binding on non-Hindus. The Court also ordered five states that had not taken any steps to implement its 2006 order to now enact laws requiring registration.

British Appellate Court Upholds Order To Slaughter Sacred Bull

Reversing a lower court, in Britain the Court of Appeals in London upheld an order by local Welsh authorities that a sacred bull infected with bovine tuberculosis be slaughtered. The Independent reports today on the court's opinion that held no exception is required for Shambo the bull, who is sacred to the Hindu monks of the Skanda Vale Community. Lord Justice Pill wrote that the risk posed by the diseased animal outweighed the "very grave and serious interference with ... religious rights" that was involved. An appeal to the House of Lords is expected.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Two Reappointed to US Commission on International Religious Freedom

Two members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom have been reappointed for two year terms. (USCIRF July 16 press release.) Felice D. Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights of the American Jewish Committee has been reappointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Nina Shea, senior scholar at the Hudson Institute and director of the Institute's Center for Religious Freedom has been reappointed by House Minority Leader John Boehner. [Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the lead.]

Hamas Sets Up New Court System In Gaza

In the Middle East, Hamas authorities in Gaza are setting up a new system to replace the courts that have stopped functioning, but news reports give somewhat differing details. Media Line said yesterday Hamas authorities have decided to set up Islamic courts to replace the former court system. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had ordered the previously appointed judges and prosecutors to stop cooperating with Hamas after it took over Gaza. Abu Obydai, leader of Hamas' Executive Force ( Tanfezya), said that the new courts will apply Sharia law, especially in marriage and divorce matters. The new courts will be supervised by a three-person panel consisting of an Islamic law expert, a military court judge and the chief of the central prison. Ali Khashan, Justice Minister in the Fatah-led Palestinian government on the West Bank, said the decision to set up the new courts was illegal.

Arab News meanwhile has a slightly different version of developments. It says that the three-person panel is being set up on a temporary basis until courts start functioning again. It will hear the hundreds of criminal complaints that would have gone to existing courts, according to Islam Shahwan, spokesman of Hamas’ Executive Force. Another Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said the new legal panel would not impose Sharia law, but would apply it with the consent of both parties, particularly in dealing with inheritance, marriage and divorce.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Robinson v. Department of Corrections, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50817 (ND FL, July 13, 2007), a Florida federal Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal of an inmate's free exercise claim because he failed to allege that the withholding of his religious books and materials denied him a reasonable opportunity to pursue his religion, despite his previously being advised that such allegations were necessary.

In Quillar v. California Department of Corrections, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50894 (ED CA, July 13, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal of Free Exercise and RLUIPA claims by an inmate who was disciplined for wearing a beard for religious reasons, in violation of the prison's grooming regulations. While the allegations were found sufficient to state a claim, the magistrate found that defendants enjoyed qualified immunity from plaintiff's damage claims and that plaintiff's claim for an injunction is moot due to his transfer to a different facility. The magistrate also recommended rejection of plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim.

In Ghashryah v. Frank, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51104 (WD WI), a Wisconsin federal district court permitted an inmate to move forward with his claim that his rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA were violated when prison officials prohibited him from using his religious name in filing grievances.

In DeRosa v. Jones, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51561 (ED OK, July 16, 2007), an Oklahoma federal district court upheld the denial of a kosher diet to a prisoner who was a member of a Messianic Jewish group, finding that the prison's vegetarian diet, as well as non-pork meals, are available to him.

In Johnson v. Smith, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52186 (MD PA, July 19, 2007), a Pennsylvania federal district court rejected a prisoner's claim that his placement in administrative custody was in retaliation for his exercise of his religious rights since plaintiff made no showing of a causal connection between the two. Authorities discovered that the prisoner had documents indicating an attempt to undercut the prison's contract Imam. He also had documents indicating he may be trying to poison someone by mixing antifreeze with their salad dressing.

In El-Tabech v. Clarke, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52018 (D NE, July 17, 2007), a Nebraska federal district court upheld claims by a Muslim prisoner that he be given access to a kosher diet, and that the prayer schedule be posted so that guards are aware of it. The court rejected the inmate's claim that he be allowed to shower every day, instead of three days per week, while he is in administrative confinement.

New Book In Arabic On Religion and Freedom of Expression

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies has published a new book in Arabic titled Religion and Freedom of Expression: Freedom-Related Problems in Different Societies. The book, which grew out of a six-month program on Freedom of Expression Across Cultures was edited by Ragab Saad Taha. A July 11 release describing the book says that it includes chapters on the Danish caricature crisis; freedom of expression in Egypt; and freedom of expression in the Egyptian and European judicial systems. The book also includes the first Arabic translation of a guideline on the implementation of Article 10 (freedom of expression provision) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

HLS Prof Examines How Religious Tradition Meshes With Modern World

Today's New York Times Magazine carries an interesting article by Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman titled Orthodox Paradox. In it, Feldman describes the lasting impact on him of the modern Orthodox yeshiva that he attended as a boy and the problematic relationship with that institution that he now maintains. More broadly, however, the article is an examination of how members of a traditional faith community attempt to simultaneously live in the modern political and legal world.

UPDATE: On Monday, the blog Jewcy posted an interesting interview with Noah Feldman about his NYT article.

Receipt of Material From Religious Group Is No Excuse For Prisoner

Hardin v. Michigan Department of Corrections, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47699 (WD MI, July 2, 2007), accepting the recommendations of a federal Magistrate Judge published at 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50971, is a rather unusual prisoner case. According to the Magistrate's opinion, Michigan prisoners were harassing state and federal officials who had been involved with their arrests and convictions by filing baseless liens and Uniform Commercial Code financing statements that impaired the officials' credit ratings. Inmates also copyrighted the names of those officials and then sought royalties from them. In order to prevent this, the Michigan Department of Corrections classified as contraband "any books, pamphlets, forms or other material regarding actions that can be taken under the UCC". In this case, a prisoner claimed that this order infringed his free exercise rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA because he was denied access to UCC material that had been sent to him by an "Ambassador of the Washitaw Nation of Moors". The Michigan federal Magistrate Judge found the state's interest in preventing fraud adequate to support its actions.

Today's Turkish Election Tests Country's Secular Roots

The Associated Press reports that underlying today’s general elections for Parliament in Turkey is a simmering dispute over Muslim women wearing head scarves. The Islamic head scarf has come to symbolize the broader struggle involved in the election. (See prior posting.) The elections were called after the ruling Justice and Development Party was forced to withdraw its nominee for the presidency that Parliament was to approve-- Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Gul's wife wears a headscarf, and opponents rallied the public by claiming that it would be a disgrace to have a prime minister’s wife wear that attire in a country that was founded as a secular republic.

CanWest News Service describes the underlying controversy in this way: "the most emotive issue by far is whether this country of 70 million, which forms a bridge between the Middle East and Europe, should remain secular and western-oriented, as it has been since Kemal Ataturk founded the republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire more than 80 years ago, or draw closer to its Islamist roots. And if Turkey decides to turn towards Islam, will the staunchly secular Turkish military launch another coup?"

UPDATE: Preliminary results available on Sunday night (US time) indicate that the Justice and Development Party (AKP), with some 47% of the popular vote, has won around 340 of the 550 seats in Turkey's Parliament. (Financial Times). The party denies that it poses any threat to secularism in the country.

MI Court Remands Property Dispute For Finding On Heirarchical Nature of Church

In Leach v. Johnson, (MI Ct. App., July 19, 2007), a Michigan state court of appeals remanded to the trial court a dispute over who owns the property of the Gospel Lighthouse congregation in Warren, Michigan. The congregation had broken away from the Assemblies of God denomination. The appellate court held that the trial court must determine whether or not the church's organization is hierarchical as a prerequisite to deciding whether the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine deprives civil courts of jurisdiction in the case.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Washington Court Upholds Injunction Against Church's "Tent City"

In City of Woodinville v. Northshore United Church of Christ, (Wash. Ct. App., July 16, 2007), a Washington state appellate court upheld a lower court’s grant of a permanent injunction to prevent Northshore United Church of Christ and a housing organization, Share/Wheel, from hosting Tent City 4 on the Church’s property in Woodinville. Tent City is an encampment for the homeless that moves every 90 days. The city refused to process the sponsors’ application for a land use permit for the encampment because of a moratorium on accepting permits during a study of sustainable development plans for the area. It also denied a permit for the encampment to be located on city property.

The court rejected the Church’s claim that its free exercise rights, as protected by the first Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, had been violated. It held that strict scrutiny was not required for the First Amendment claim, and that, under RLUIPA, the city’s actions had not placed a "substantial burden" on the Church’s free exercise rights. The Church had alternative ways of ministering to the homeless, such as sheltering them inside existing Church buildings or finding other private land to host Tent City.

Suit Challenges Permit Provisions For Distributing Literature In Parks

Liberty Counsel announced on Friday that it had filed a federal lawsuit against Orange County, Florida on behalf of Shirley Snyder who was prevented from handing out religious literature in a county park. The suit challenges the constitutionality of the Parks and Recreation Department’s Rules that require individuals wishing to distribute literature in a park to first submit a copy of the literature and obtain a permit from county authorities. The suit alleges that the First Amendment’s free expression provisions invalidate the county’s permit requirements.

Suits Between Factions In NJ Sikh Temple Settled

A bitter dispute among two factions in a Sikh temple in Springfield, New Jersey has been settled, according to a report in yesterday’s Burlington County Times. In 2005, after the two factions, arguing over control of the temple’s finances and governance, filed suits against each other, a brawl broke out and a judge ordered the Gurdwara Khalsa Darbar temple closed. Under the new agreement, which still needs to be signed by the parties, each faction will occupy the temple on alternate weekends. A committee of five Sikhs who belong to neither faction will take control of temple finances and will mediate future disagreements.

German Official Urges Teaching of Theological Issues In Science Classes

Karin Wolff, Culture Minister of the German state of Hesse, has set off controversy by suggesting that schools’ biology curriculum should include theological issues about the creation of the world. Reuters reported on Friday that Wolff had told the newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, that “there is an amazing overlap between the Bible’s explanation of the seven days of creation and scientific theory.” Wolff rejected the suggestion that she is promoting the teaching of creationism. Protestant, Catholic and Muslim spokesmen have all criticized Wolff’s remarks.

Friday, July 20, 2007

New Executive Order Bars Denigration of Religion In Interrogation of Terror Suspects

The Associated Press reports that President George W. Bush today signed an Executive Order (full text) setting out standards for interrogation of terror suspects by the CIA. Among the new limitations imposed on interrogators is a ban on practices that are "intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices, or religious objects of the individual" being questioned. The Executive Order also deals with other kinds of abusive treatment.

The Executive Order declares that new Congressional legislation permits the President to "interpret the meaning and application" of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Sec. 6(a)(3) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 gives the President this authority, along with the authority "to promulgate higher standards and administrative regulations for violations of treaty obligations which are not grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions." In its press release on the signing, the White House said that "the President has insisted on clear legal standards so that CIA officers involved in this essential work are not placed in jeopardy for doing their job..."

Ohio's Faith-Based Initiative Budget For Biennium Released

In Ohio, Eric McFadden, director of the Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives reported to the GOFBC Advisory Committee this week that his Office has a budget of $28.5 million for the next two years. $26 million of that is from TANF funds. The rest comes from a federal Healthy Marriage Initiative grant, from the Ohio Benefit Bank, and from general revenue funds. The Office will use its TANF funds as follows: $3.9 million on Children of Incarcerated Parents programs; $3 million on youth mentoring programs; $2 million on fatherhood initiatives; $2 million on Feed Ohio programs; $1 million on the Ohio Benefit Bank; $1 million on Ohio Compassion Capital; and $92,000 on the Ohio National Guard Marriage Enrichment and youth camps programs. (Background.) The budget information was included in today's Friday Leadership Report issued by Ohio Jewish Communities.

Malaysia Censors Reporting On Debate Over Role of Islam In Country

IFEX reports today that the Malaysian government's Internal Security Ministry Publications Control and Al-Quran Texts Unit has banned media from reporting on the controversy that has arisen over a statement made earlier this week by Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. (See July 18 Daily Express.) The deputy prime minister said that Malaysia is an Islamic state, that the country has never been a secular one and that it has always been guided by Islamic fundamentals. Strong responses followed from opposition political parties and others. Ministry official Che Din Yusof said that media will not be permitted to report "especially negative reactions"to the statement for fear of creating "tension" over a "sensitive issue". The Malaysian press is effectively required to comply with the censorship order because of the control exercised by the government under the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

Controversy In South Africa Over Proposed Anti-Witchcraft Bill

The South African province of Mpumalanga is considering a new Witchcraft Suppression Bill. IOL reports today that the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) is attempting to rally opposition to the bill, arguing that witches have religious rights that need to be protected. The proposed law (full text) would outlaw the practice of witchcraft. It would also regulate and require registration of traditional healers. Earlier this month, SAPRA wrote the Justice Ministry and the South African Human Rights Commission urging the enactment of legislation to prohibit discrimination against witches and arguing that witches need protection against violence directed at them.

ACLU Sues WV Scholarship Board On Behalf of Mormon Student

Today's Charleston (WV) Daily Mail reports that the ACLU of West Virginia has filed suit on behalf of David Haws, a Mormon student at the University of West Virginia. The federal court suit charges the state's PROMISE scholarship board with religious discrimination because it refused to allow Haws to take a leave to serve a two-year church mission without losing his scholarship upon his return to school.

California City's Insurers Settle RLUIPA Claim; Will Pay Church $1.2M

The company that provides insurance coverage to the City of Lake Elsinore, California agreed on Wednesday to pay $1.2 million in damages (plus attorneys' fees) to settle a case that had been brought against the city by the Elsinore Christian Center. The suit stemmed from the city's denial of a conditional use permit requested by the Center so it could use a parcel of commercial property and a building on it for religious worship. The city hoped that a non-tax exempt commercial enterprise would occupy the building instead. The church brought suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The city asserted that RLUIPA was unconstitutional, but it lost that argument in the 9th Circuit last August. (See prior posting.) Now, according to the North County (CA) Times, rather than waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually grant its petition for certiorari on the constitutional challenge, the city will drop its attempted appeal. City Councilman Thomas Buckley said that the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority was "absolutely wrong" in deciding to settle.

Controversial Civil Marriage Compromise Reached In Israel

Israel's Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and the country's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar have agreed on legislation to allow limited civil marriage in Israel. Currently Israelis seeking civil marriage must travel abroad. The controversial compromise was described yesterday in Middle East Online and in Haaretz. Civil marriage would become available only to couples where both parties are classified as Jewish by the state, but neither is Jewish under halacha (Jewish religious law). In practical terms, this would affect marriages among the some 270,000 of the many immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Meretz Party Chairman Yossi Beilin criticized the proposal as one that would further isolate new immigrants rather than integrating them into Israeli society. Also controversial is another concession made to the Chief Rabbinate as part of the deal. The power of the Orthodox Rabbinate over conversions to Judaism will be strengthened through legislative provisions allowing the Chief Rabbinate to set up special conversion courts. (See prior related posting.)

Court Upholds School Board's Use of Eminent Domain To Take Church Land

In Nash County, North Carolina, a Superior Court judge has ruled that the Nash-Rocky Mountain Board of Education may use eminent domain to take the property of Life United Pentecostal Church. Yesterday's Rocky Mountain Telegram reports that the court rejected the church's challenge to the authority of the Board and its claim that the taking violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The school board, which has already purchased 59 acres of land surrounding the church's property, says that this is the only site in its attendance zone that is suitable for the new Rocky Mountain High School.

In Bhutan, Some Monks Oppose Their Total Exclusion From Politics

The Asian nation of Bhutan is going through a political transformation that is turning it into a constitutional monarchy. A new constitution has recently been adopted, and the first elections for members of the National Council will take place later this year. The new constitution (Art. 3) makes Buddhism the state religion, but provides that "Religious institutions and personalities shall remain above politics." Implementing this provision, the country's election law makes Buddhist monks ineligible to vote or run for office. Asia News reported yesterday that now some monks oppose this total exclusion, saying that it is contrary to the country's reformist spirit.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Scalia Will Have Orthodox Jewish Law Clerk In 2008

This week's Forward reports that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has selected Yaakov Roth, an Orthodox Jewish Harvard Law School graduate, to be one of his clerks beginning in July 2008. Roth, born in Toronto, says "I can’t think of many approaches to Judaism that are incompatible with the Constitution. I'm generally sympathetic to [Scalia’s] approach...." Roth says that he does not work on the Jewish Sabbath, and that Scalia would likely be sympathetic to that. Reporting last month on Roth's selection, the blog Above the Law said "Rumor has it that Roth has one of the highest GPAs in the history of Harvard Law School. So presumably he's graduating summa cum laude -- which happens once in a blue moon at HLS."

Palo Alto Eruv Proposal Again Generates Controversy

The Jewish community in Palo Alto, California has been trying for eight years to construct an eruv-- a symbolic enclosure of space that permits observant Jews to carry items and push baby carriages between their homes and to synagogues within the enclosed space on the Sabbath. In most cities, the eruv is made up largely of natural boundaries, with gaps filled by fishing line that runs between utility poles. The Forward yesterday reported that many residents of Palo Alto are upset over administrative approval of the eruv recently given by authorities.

In 2000, eruv proponents lost their attempt to obtain a land use permit, after negative reaction at public hearings held by city council. This time around, the proponents' plan avoided using any utility poles. Instead they obtained easements from Stanford University, the California Department of Transportation and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. That route allowed proponents to merely apply for an encroachment permit in a process that does not require a public hearing. Despite 3rd Circuit precedent upholding an eruv against an Establishment Clause attack, many in Palo Alto claim that the eruv violates required separation of church and state.

One outspoken opponent of the eruv, citing "the sneaky way that these folks do things" told the Forward: "We live in a modern, secular, democratic world, and these wackos are trying to catapult us back into a 2,000-years-ago kind of deal.... The big thing at the time was declaring this area Jewish space — absurd! It’s not Christian space, it’s not communist space, it’s not Republican space, it’s not Nazi space. If they want to have religious space, go to synagogue."

No Free Exercise Problem In NY Commission's Action On Catholic Hospital

St. Joseph Hospital of Cheektowaga v. Novello, (NY App. Div., July 18, 2007) involved a challenge to the constitutionality of New York legislation creating a Commission on Healthcare Facilities that made recommendations to the Governor on the streamlining the state's healthcare system. In a 2-1 decision, a New York state appellate court upheld the law. While most of the opinion dealt with due process and separation of powers issues, in part of the opinion the majority held that the Commission's recommendation to close a Catholic hospital did not amount to a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the New York Constitution.

Christian Student Group At Exeter Will Appeal Sanctions To High Court

As previously reported, in Britain, evangelical Christian student groups, known as Christian Unions, find themselves in disputes on a number of college campuses with Students' Unions, the bodies that determine whether a student group will have access to campus facilities and financial support. Yesterday Cross Rhythms reported on developments in the dispute at Exeter University. Last January, the school's Christian Union filed a petition in the High Court challenging the Student Guild's freezing of their funds, excluding them from using university facilities and forcing them to change their name to the "Evangelical" Christian Union. However the University insisted that first the parties go through an internal appeal process, appointing Mark Shaw QC as an independent adjudicator. Now, however, the Christian Union has rejected the adjudicator's decision that upheld the Student Guild's actions and found that the Christian Union was wrong limiting leadership roles to Christians. The Christian Union plans to pursue an appeal in the High Court.

More Details On Federal Censoring of Prison Chapel Libraries Disclosed

As reported last month, the federal Bureau of Prisons has removed many books from prison chapel libraries in order to guard against radicalization of Muslim inmates. Now New York's Jewish Week reports more details, stemming from disclosures at a hearing on May 31 in a suit filed by a Jewish, Christian and Muslim inmate in Otisville, New York. Apparently religious experts of various faiths reviewed the holdings in prison chapel libraries and certified 150 books and 150 audio-video items for each religion. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Michael Truman said that as of June 1, "any books not listed on the standardized list were placed in storage until they can be reviewed for content, currency and condition by SMEs [subject matter experts].... As books are reviewed and certified as free of discrimination, violence and radicalization, the lists for each religion will be updated to incorporate additional books into the standard libraries.... Media that are determined to contain discriminatory, violent or radical material will be discarded."

Jewish prisoner, Moshe Milstein, testified that some 600 Jewish books were removed from the Otisville prison library under the new policy, including many standard classical texts. Both the American Jewish Committee (press release) and four Orthodox Jewish groups have sent letters to the Bureau of Prisons saying that the purging of libraries was an over reaction. The new policy follows a 2006 Senate Hearing at which witnesses warned that Muslim prisoners were being radicalized inside U.S. prisons. (2006 AP Report).

Proposals On Religious Workers Visas Are Criticized

In April, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed to amend regulations governing the granting of special visas for religious workers (72 Fed. Reg. 20442 (April 25, 2007)). It said that studies have shown a high incidence of fraud in applications for religious workers visas under the current regulations. (See prior posting.) Last Friday's Washington Post described some of the proposed amendments and reported on the concerns expressed by a number of religious groups about the proposals. Employers would be required to file petitions in the U.S., and the government would conduct more site inspections. Of greatest concern to many religious groups are the changes in definitions of terms used in the regulations. Hindu and Jain organizations say that examples of religious occupations given in the regulations focus on Christian and Jewish religious traditions. They list cantors, choir directors and ritual slaughter supervisors, but do not list shilpis (Hindu temple stonemasons). Other groups are concerned about the new definition of a "religious denomination" and the regulations' exclusion of administrative positions from coverage. A posting on Political Mavens.com yesterday discussed the proposals further.

British Groups Calls For Change In Handling of Religious Asylum Claims

In Britain, a leading Christian group, the Evangelical Alliance, has called for changes in the way in which the Home Office and courts handle claims for asylum by converts to Christianity who claim they will be persecuted if returned to their home countries. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees may entitle them to stay in Britain. The London Times yesterday reported that the truthfulness of a claim that a person has converted is often tested by the Home Office through asking questions about the applicant's knowledge of the Bible. However, in many countries the Bible is banned so that converts have not had the opportunity to study it in depth. Also inadequate translators sometimes fail to accurately convey the applicant's statements about the persecution he or she will face if deported. In some Muslim countries, conversion from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death.

Officer In Iraq Sues For Conscientious Objector Status

The Associated Press reported yesterday that West Point graduate, Capt. Peter Brown, currently serving in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division, has filed suit in federal district court in Washington, DC seeking conscientious objector status. Brown said that he became a pacifist after, in the Army, he began attending a civilian religious center in the Netherlands. He is currently working in a non-combat capacity in Baghdad.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NJ Trial Is Scheduled In Russian Orthodox Church Property Dispute

Today's Wall Street Journal reports on a case scheduled to go to trial next month in Atlantic City, New Jersey in which a Russian Orthodox diocese in the United States is suing to take control of the property of the Sviato-Pokrovskiy Russian Orthodox Church and evict 83-year old Adelaida Nekludoff. She took control of the Buena, NJ church in 2004 when her husband, the church's priest, died. In 1917, Russian Orthodox churches outside of the Soviet Union split from the Moscow leadership. However, this year the Church Abroad reconciled with Russian church authorities. Nevertheless, a number of critics think that the Russian church still has too many ties to the Soviet era and to current repressive policies in Russia, and have refused to go along with the 2007 Canonical Communion. Mrs. Nekludoff is one of them. In February 2006, the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Manhattan sued, asking the court to declare that Sviato-Pokrovskiy church property is being held by the parish in trust for the parent body, the Church Abroad. [Dates corrected, thanks to Suzanne Sataline ]. [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for the original lead.]

Nativity Scene Display Issue To Be On Berkley, Michigan Ballot

The Berkley, Michigan city clerk's office has certified that Christmas Holiday Display advocates have obtained enough signatures to place a referendum on November's ballot. Today's Berkley (MI) Daily Tribune reports that, if approved, the proposal will require the city to display a nativity scene along with secular holiday symbols on city hall property. Last year, after the ACLU challenged the city's traditional display of a nativity scene alone, city council voted to give the creche to the Berkley Clergy Association for display at local churches instead of adding, on a permanent basis, secular items along with the creche at city hall. (See prior posting.)

Charges Dismissed As FBI Refuses Records Relevant To Selective Prosecution Claim

Today's Chico (CA) Enterprise Record reports that a Butte County, California trail judge yesterday dismissed charges of attempted receipt of stolen property that had been brought against Bilal Yasin, a Muslim store owner caught in a sting operation supposedly directed at illegal cigarette sales. The judge held that the refusal of the FBI-- who furnished initial information to local police-- to turn over requested information about the investigation prevented defense counsel from trying to proving his charges of selective prosecution. During the investigation, a federal agent questioned Yasin at length about his religious beliefs and whether he had any connections to terrorist groups.

Columnist Says NY Church Violated Tax Code Limits

Yesterday's Niagara (NY) Gazette carries an opinion piece by Ken Hamilton complaining about a local church's apparent violation of limitations on political activities imposed by the Internal Revenue Code. St. John’s AME Zion Church's bulletin advertised that the Church was holding a $25 per person campaign breakfast for Renae Kimble, who is running for re-election to the Niagara County Legislature. Hamilton asks, "Why would Kimble, not even a member of the church, put this rather educated congregation at risk [of losing its 501(c)(3) status]?"

Cambodia Limits Christian Proselytizing

On Tuesday the Cambodian government distributed an order, dated June 26, prohibiting Christians from promoting their religion in public, or using money or other means to encourage conversion. The Associated Press reports that the proclamation is similar to ones issued in 1999 and 2003. Sun Kim Hun, deputy minister of cult and religion, said that Christians are free to engage in any religious activities within their own churches, but they cannot go door-to-door seeking converts.

British Tribunal Interprets Sexual Orientation Exemptions Narrowly

In the first test (see prior posting) of the scope of the exemptions for religious institutions under Britain's 2003 Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, an Employment Tribunal in Cardiff effectively held that the exemptions do not apply to lay leaders or support staff of the Church of England. (Background article). BBC News reports today that the Tribunal found the Bishop of Hereford violated the anti-discrimination regulations when he blocked the appointment of John Reaney as a youth official, despite a unanimous recommendation by an interview panel that he be given the job, and high recommendations from two other Anglican dioceses where he has been employed. The bishop argued that he would have vetoed anyone who was in a committed sexual relationship outside of marriage-- regardless of their sexual orientation. However, Reaney is not now in a relationship. The Tribunal held that the Bishop should only have considered Reaney's present situation, and not questioned him on his future relationships.

High Point, NC Moves To Non-Sectarian Invocations

Ever since the ACLU of North Carolina earlier this year sent letters to a number of North Carolina cities and counties challenging their practice of opening council meetings with sectarian prayer, governmental bodies around the state have been deciding how to respond. (See prior posting.) On Monday, the High Point, NC City Council voted 9-1 to limit invocations to non-sectarian prayer. It rejected a counter-proposal to rotate the opening prayer among members of council, without restriction on the prayer's content. Tuesday's Greensboro (NC) News-Record reports that many of the 200 citizens attending the council meeting opposed council's decision. The news article also carries a summary of the responses of six other North Carolina jurisdictions to the challenge to sectarian prayer. [Thanks to Blog from the Capital for the lead.]

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter Launch Time Creates Legal and Religious Issues In Israel

In Israel, the agreement by bookstores to synchronize their launch of J.K. Rowling's newest Harry Potter book with booksellers in the rest of the world has created legal problems. The launch in Israel is to be at 2:01 a.m. Saturday, local time-- during the Jewish Sabbath. However, Israeli law prohibits employers from forcing Jewish employees to work on the Saturday. (Hours of Work and Rest Law, 1951). And, as In Context explains, under Israeli law bookstores in some locations can be open on the Sabbath, while those in other places cannot. According to today's Haaretz, Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai has threatened to prosecute and fine any bookstore that opens in violation of the law. Israel's largest bookstore chain, Steimatzky, says it will to go ahead with its planned Friday night celebration in Tel Aviv to launch the new title, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

British Girl Loses Court Battle to Wear "Chastity Ring" In School

A High Court in London has rejected a suit by a 16-year old high schooler who claims that her school's ban on jewelry violates religious freedom protections of the European Convention on Human Rights. Reuters yesterday reported on the decision that rejected Lydia Playfoot's argument that she should be allowed to wear her silver ring that is a symbol of her commitment to sexual abstinence until marriage. Lydia's parents are leaders in Britain of a group that encourages teenage chastity-- the Silver Ring Thing . Her West Sussex school allows exceptions for jewelry that is integral to religions beliefs, but they argue that Playfoot's purity ring in not integral to her Christian faith. (See prior related posting.)

Alberta Commission Begins Hearing On Charges Of Anti-Gay Provocations

Yesterday in Canada, the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission began hearing evidence in a case brought by University of Calgary Professor Darren Lund against Rev. Stephen Boissoin. Today's Globe and Mail reports that the charges are based on a letter from the Christian minister published in an Alberta newspaper-- the Red Deer Advocate-- that urged readers to "take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness" of the "homosexual machine." The letter, published under the caption "Homosexual Agenda Wicked" argued that "enslavement to homosexuality can be remedied." Two weeks later, a 17-year old was beaten by another man who followed him home and said to him, "You're a faggot, right?".

In an pre-hearing ruling in the case last year (full text), the Human Rights and Citizenship Commission denied Prof. Lund's motion that it order the Concerned Christian Coalition to remove from its website material it had posted regarding Lund's complaint that Lund said contained false and inflammatory material about him and the complaint.

Australian Court Upholds Decision That Rabbi's Contract Has Expired

In Engel v. The Adelaide Hebrew Congregation, Inc., (S. Austr. Sup. Ct., June 26, 2007), the Supreme Court of South Australia upheld a decision of a lower court that a rabbi's contract with his congregation had expired, and he was obligated to give up possession of property that the synagogue had provided for him. JTA provides more background on the six-month legal battle in the case, as does this prior posting. Rabbi Yossi Engel-- who argues that he has tenure in his position-- contended that the court should have stayed proceedings while his dispute was heard by a Bet Din (Jewish rabbinic court). Originally the synagogue's board refused to submit the matter to the Sydney Bet Din that has jurisdiction over Adelaide, and that Bet Din issued a contempt order against the board. Ultimately the parties agreed to have the case heard by a Bet din in London. The court, however, said: "even if Rabbi Engel has a remedy under Jewish law, which would result in an order under that law that he be restored as rabbi and given possession of the property, this Court would not enforce such an order by injunction or by order for a specific performance."