Wednesday, October 31, 2007

7th Circuit Holds Taxpayers Lack Standing To Challenge Indiana Legislative Prayer

Yesterday in Hinrichs v. Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Indiana General Assembly, (7th Cir., Oct. 30, 2007), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, held that Indiana taxpayers lack standing to challenge the opening of Indiana legislative sessions with sectarian prayers. The majority applied two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions-- DaimlerChrsyler Corp. v. Cuno, a 2006 case that held state taxpayer suits in federal court must meet the same criteria as federal taxpayer suits, and Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc., a 2007 case that interpreted federal taxpayer standing narrowly. The majority opinion in the 7th Circuit relied on the fact that there was no specific legislative appropriation establishing the program that invited guest ministers to deliver invocations. The majority said that the minimal costs associated with the program have nothing to do with the content of the prayers offered. Judge Wood dissenting argued that the House Rule calling for opening each session with prayer is a legislative act that creates a pocketbook injury to plaintiff taxpayers, and therefore gives them standing.

Covering yesterday's decision, the Indianapolis Star quotes ACLU attorney Ken Falk. He says if the legislature resumes sectarian prayer, his group would be willing to file suit on behalf of a person who would likely have standing-- someone who regularly attends legislative sessions and must listen to the prayers.

Meanwhile the American Jewish Committee issued a release saying that yesterday's decision "is extremely alarming because it denies taxpayers the right to challenge a legislative act that in practice gives preferential access to Christian clergy in determining who shall present a daily legislative prayer." Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter released a statement in support of the decision, saying: "Legislative prayer is a worthy act that I think the State should protect within relevant legal precedents."

Numerous prior postings on the case can be accessed at this link. Links to a recording of the Sept. 2006 oral arguments before the 7th Circuit , and to the earlier opinion staying the lower court's injunction pending appeal, are also available online.

Buddhist Chapel Added At Air Force Academy

At the U.S. Air Force Academy, prayer space for use by Buddhist students opened on Monday. Yesterday's Air Force Times reports that the new Vast Refuge Dharma Hall in the basement of the Academy's modernistic Chapel will serve the 26 Buddhist cadets currently enrolled in the Academy.

Virginia Case Raises Question of Private Enforcement of Charitable Trust Terms

A case pending in the Virginia Supreme Court may have an important impact on religious institutions in that state. Today's Lynchburg (VA) News-Advance reports that the case (which involves the use of donations to the former Randolph-Macon Women's College) raises the question of whether only the state's Attorney General can enforce the terms of a charitable trust, or whether private parties can also do so. A brief filed Monday by state Attorney General Robert McDonnell argues that private parties with a sufficient interest should be permitted to pursue enforcement of the terms of a charitable trust.

Murders For Witchcraft Use of Body Parts On Rise In South Africa

South Africa's Cape Times today reports on the rise of murders involving the theft of human body parts by practitioners of muthi. the problem is particularly acute in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. President of the KwaZulu-Natal Traditional Healers Association, Sazi Mhlongo, condemned the murders, saying that many people are confusing the witchdoctors practicing muthi with legitimate traditional healers.

7th Circuit Rules For Baptist Church In RLUIPA Zoning Case

Writing for the 7th Circuit in his usual engaging style, yesterday Judge Richard Posner in Digrugilliers v. Consolodated City of Indianapolis, (7th Cir., Oct. 30, 2007), reversed a district court's denial of a preliminary injunction in a religious land use case. At issue was whether in requiring a Baptist Church to obtain a variance in order to lease space for its religious services in a district zoned for commercial use, Indianapolis was violating the provision of RLUIPA that prohibits unequal treatment of religious institutions.

The Court of Appeals rejected two rather elaborate theories used by the district judge to deny relief to the church. The lower court said that since a religious use includes not only religious services, but also residential uses such as a rectory for the minister, churches would get preferential treatment if they were not required to obtain a variance. Second it said that a church could interfere with existing businesses because state law prohibits the sale of liquor or pornography within specified distances from any church. Judge Posner wrote: "Government cannot, by granting churches special privileges (the right of a church official to reside in a building in a nonresidential district, or the right of the church to be free from offensive land uses in its vicinity), furnish the premise for excluding churches from otherwise suitable districts."

Saudi King Urges British Muslims Toward Moderation

Yesterday's International Herald Tribune reports on the remarks made by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah at a halal banquet given in his honor by Queen Elizabeth during the king's visit to Britain. Praising British toleration of "all races, creeds and color," King Abdullah said: "I should like to take this opportunity to call upon our Muslim brethren living in Britain to be honest and upright Muslims and worthy British citizens, striving to build and construct so that they may convey the true image of the principles of Islam, those eternal principles of love, mercy and moderation." These remarks come as a conservative British think tank, the Policy Exchange, released a report (full text) claiming that agencies linked to the Saudi government are distributing extremist literature to mosques and Islamic centers in Britain. Today's New York Sun has more on these charges.

New Poll Shows Voters Oppose Candidates Using Religion To Influence Election

The Interfaith Alliance released a new poll yesterday showing that 68% of all Americans, and 60% of those who attend religious services regularly, oppose presidential candidates using their faith or religion to influence voters. 81% of all those polled and 75% of those who attend religious services regularly believe it is important that the next president nominate Supreme Court Justices who will protect the separation of church and state. When respondents were asked how much influence clergy should have on voters' decisions, 57% of all respondents thought none or not much, while over 70% of those who do not attend religious services regularly thought clergy should have little or no influence on voting. The full report (Word.doc) gives additional statistical details. The October poll of 1010 people has a margin of error of 3.1%.

Article Explores Accommodation of Religious Anti-Gay Workplace Expression

An article in today's New York Law Journal explores the difficulties raised for employers under the New York Human Right Law in accommodating employees who regard workplace expression of beliefs against homosexuality as a religious duty. Author Judith Moldover says: "The conflict between sexual orientation discrimination and the duty to accommodate religious bias against homosexuals typically arises in three types of situations: refusal to service homosexual clients, refusal to participate in diversity programs and training, and supervisory conduct."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Prisoner's Tort Claims Act Case

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments (full transcript) in the case of Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prison, 06-9130. At issue is whether a suit for damages can be brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) by a Muslim inmate who claims that prison officials mishandled his prayer rug and two copies of the Koran. They are among items that are missing after inmate Abdus-Shahid Ali was transferred from a prison in Atlanta to one in Kentucky. The government argues that Ali should be limited to filing an administrative complaint for the items lost in transit. (Associated Press.) The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals below dismissed Ali's claim because 28 USC Sec. 2680(c) provides that the waiver of sovereign immunity in the FTCA does not extend to claims for the detention of property. Circuits are split over whether this provision applies to suits against all government officials, or only to suits against officers acting in a tax, excise, or customs capacity. (Questions presented.) The merit briefs in the case are also available online. [Thanks to How Appealing for the lead.]

As Halloween Approaches, Paper Recounts 17th Century Witch Trials

As Halloween approaches, today's Idaho Statesman recounts the history of four different witch trials in 17th century New England. Rebecca Bowen-Odom, a descendant of one of those tried, argues that the strange behavior of women in those days may have been caused by egot fungus poisoning. Ergot was used by 17th century midwives to hasten childbirth.

Canadian Prime Minister Meets With Dalai Lama For First Time

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday became the first Canadian prime minister to hold an official meeting with the Dalai Lama. reports that the Chinese embassy in Ottawa has protested the meeting, saying: "It is a blatant interference in China's internal affairs and has severely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." Earlier in the day, the Dalai Lama praised Canada's multiculturalism, urging China's leaders to learn from Canada's "promotion of unity based on mutual respect." The meeting follows a first-time public appearance between a U.S. president and the Dalai Lama earlier this month. (See prior posting.)

Recent Prisoner Religious Exercise Cases In U.S. and Britain

In Ashmore v. Frank, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79235 (WD WI, Oct. 23, 2007), a prisoner claimed that while he was in temporary lockup for 26 days he was denied use of his Bible and attendance at religious services. A Wisconsin federal district court ruled that he can proceed with his claim if he amends his complaint to identify the individual defendants personally involved in the deprivation.

Singh v. Goord
, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78742 (SDNY, Oct. 9, 2007), involved a challenge by a Sikh prisoner to various policies of the new York Department of Corrections, attempting to obtain greater accommodation of a number of Sikh religious practices. Some of the claims were dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. However, the court permitted plaintiff to move ahead on his claim that he should be permitted to wear the kara (steel bracelet) and khanda (pendant), possess a second kanga (religious comb), possess longer turbans, remain in contact with religious articles during searches, and that prison religious exercise policies should be re-written to include Sikhs. It granted plaintiff summary judgment on separate packing and storage of his scriptures. It granted defendants summary judgment allowing them to require plaintiff to pray quietly instead of out loud, upholding the vegetarian diet plaintiff is now served, and permitting the identity card maintained by prison authorities.

In Britain, Muslim prisoners at a high security facility in Leeds are suing for $20 million in damages because of a mistake in the Ramadan menu. CFP yesterday reported that the menu offered ham sandwiches as one of the options. Ministry of Justice officials say it was merely a printing mistake, but some inmates claim they actually received ham sandwiches when they ordered cheese sandwiches, and that some were so hungry that they ate the religiously forbidden ham.

Israeli Rabbinate Threatens To Fine Zionist Rabbinical Group

In Israel yesterday, the Chief Rabbinate's legal counsel said he would press to have the Rabbinate impose fines on Tzohar, the organization of Zionist rabbis that is moving to implement an alternative certification process for produce grown in Israel during the current sabbatical year. Today's Jerusalem Post quotes Chief Rabbinate Legal Advisor Shimon Ulman: "We can't allow every Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde to open his own kosher supervision outfit." However the director general of the Chief Rabbinate was more cautious, saying that technically the Tzohar rabbis are not violating the Kashrut Fraud Law. If implemented by the Chief Rabbinate, an order of the Israeli Supreme Court issued last week will moot the controversy. The court ordered the Chief Rabbinate to override local rabbis and certify as kosher produce grown on land technically "sold" to a non-Jew during the sabbatical year (heter mechira). (See prior posting.) [Thanks to Joel Katz for the lead.]

Italian Church Groups Evicting Tenants To Get Higher Rents

Rising rents in Italy, particularly in Rome, have led landlords to refuse to renew many residential leases at their current rates. A temporary law has blocked some landlords from evicting low-income families with children and households with members who are elderly, seriously disabled or terminally ill. However the law does not apply to ecclesiastical bodies. Today's Guardian reports that several thousand residents in Rome are about to be evicted from properties owned by religious orders, papal colleges and foundations originally set up for charitable purposes. A tenants' organization has written a letter of protest to Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian bishops' conference, who last month delivered a widely-reported speech protesting the lack of low-cost housing for pensioners and single-income families who are being evicted.

TRO Against Anti-Muslim Group Extended

Yesterday a federal district court in Dallas, Texas extended an earlier temporary restraining order against Joe Kaufman and his organization, Americans Against Hate. The original TRO was aimed at planned protests at Six Flags Amusement Park during Muslim Family Day at the park earlier this month. The TRO barred Kaufman from threatening members of various Muslim organizations. Kaufman had used his website to encourage protests against sponsors of the Family Day who he referred to as "radicals", "extremists" and "jihadists", because of their connection to the Holy Land Foundation, a group listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the recent Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing case. Today's Dallas Morning News reports that in obtaining an extension of the TRO, plaintiffs' attorney Don Fulton argued that Muslim groups are still being targeted on Mr. Kaufman’s Web site. Kaufman has posted photos and addresses of local mosques affiliated with the North American Islamic Trust. Fulton says this encourages violence against them. The court rejected Kaufman's argument that it lacked personal jurisdiction over him.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Military Funeral Flag Script Dropped After Objection To Jewish References

At military funerals, it has been a tradition if requested by the family for the honor guard to fold the flag that covered the veteran's coffin 13 times and to recite a script developed by veterans' groups that suggests an inspirational meaning for each fold. Now, according to Friday's Military Times, the National Cemetery Administration has banned the ceremony at all funerals after receiving a complaint about the language describing the 11th fold: "The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." The Chico (CA) Enterprise Record says that the complaint originated with a funeral at Southern California's Riverside National Cemetery.

The script accompanying the 12th fold also mentions religion: "The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost." Last July, the Air Force secularized the script used at its funerals. (See prior posting.) [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Breakaway Presbyterians In Ohio Keep Church Property

In November 2006, members of the Hudson (OH) Presbyterian Church voted 166-61 to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church USA. It has since been operating independently, but two weeks ago voted to affiliate with the New Wineskins Association of Churches. After the vote-- which was prompted by disagreements over theological and policy issues-- those remaining loyal to the PCUSA were designated by the Eastminster Presbytery as the true Hudson Presbyterian Church. However, according to the Akron Beacon Journal, a Summit County Common Pleas Court magistrate ruled on Friday that the church's property belongs to the majority breakaway group. Magistrate John Shoemaker rejected the argument that the church property was held in trust for the denomination as defined in the PCUSA constitution. The decision is consistent with one by a New Hampshire court earlier this month. (See prior posting.)

UPDATE: Here is the full text of the magistrate's opinion in Hudson Presbyterian Church v. Eastminster Presbytery, (OH Com. Pl., Summit Co., Oct. 23, 2007). [Thanks to Ed Koster for sending along the opinion.]

UPDATE: The Christian Post on Monday reports on the fourth annual Convocation of the New Wineskins Association of Churches beig held this week. It will create a non-geographical Transitional Presbytery for the increasing number of congregations leaving the PCUSA to seek New Wineskins membership.

Prisoner Claim Raises Holiday Decoration Issue In New Context

An obscure prisoner case has raised the issue of holiday decorations in a new context. In Spence v. Federal Correctional Institute, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75398 (WD LA, Oct. 9, 2007), affirming Magistrate's recommendation and report, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77617 (WD LA, Sept. 12, 2007), a prisoner claimed that his free exercise rights had been violated when an officer at a federal correctional facility in Pennsylvania ordered him to assist with installation of a Santa Clause and reindeer being put up in the prison as holiday decorations. Eugene Spence said that assisting was in conflict with his beliefs as a Muslim and requested another job assignment. However prison authorities refused, saying that the decorations were non-denominational. In this decision, the court merely transferred the case from Louisiana to a Pennsylvania federal court, thus temporarily avoiding the merits of the claim.

Some Wisconsin Amish Object To Obtaining Building Permits

Sunday's LaCrosse, Wisconsin Tribune reports on a small group of conservative Amish in Albion, Wisconsin who object on religious grounds to taking out building permits before constructing homes or driveways. Eric Gove, an Amish friend of some of the objectors, says that Amish beliefs create problems with granting officials a right of inspection. Some also object to signing the permit because it violates the Biblical verse in 2 Corinthians that reads: "Be not unequally yoked together with non-believers." Beginning in July, the town cited five Amish men for noncompliance with permit requirements, which could lead to fines of $10 to $1000 per day.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Roots of Spain's Church-State Tensions Go Back to Spanish Civil War

In Spain, tensions between the Catholic Church and the country's current Socialist government revive tensions and memories from the bloody Spanish Civil war of 70 years ago. Today's Los Angeles Times reports that in addition to the offering of classes in Catholicism under an arrangement that dates back to post-Civil War rule of Francisco Franco, Spain's government has now introduced a new mandatory "education for citizenship" course. The Church claims that the new offering contradicts Church teachings by advocating the acceptance of homosexuals. The church's liaison to the Education Ministry, Sister Maria Rosa de la Cierva, says: "This is a frontal assault on the Catholic religion. This is an authentic scholastic war . . . and part of a clear persecution, little by little, of the Catholic faith." The Church wants students to be able to opt out of the new course, and several months ago LifeSite News reported that at least some religiously-operated schools are offering that option.

Meanwhile, in another move that heightens tensions, USA Today reports that the Vatican has beatified 498 victims of the anti-Catholic persecution that began in 1931 and became an excuse for Nationalists to launch a rebellion that ultimately placed Franco in power. This declaration of martyrdom comes just three days before Spain's Parliament is to enact a Socialist-sponsored law that will condemn Franco and call for the removal of tributes to him around the country. (See prior posting.) The ceremony today in St. Peter's Square in Rome is the largest mass beatification ceremony the Church has ever held.

Catholic Bishops Debating Draft Of Election Year Guide

Saturday's New York Times discusses the challenge facing Catholic bishops when the meet in Baltimore next month to consider the draft of their 2008 statement on political responsibilities of Catholics. This election year's draft is titled "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship". The bishops do not want this to be a partisan voters' guide. However debate looms on how prominent the abortion issue should be in the guide as well as on why the war in Iraq is not a more prominent part of the statement. The guide, issued each Presidential election year since 1976, regularly deals with a broad range of social issues.

Canadian Bill Would Require Muslim Women To Uncover Face Before Voting

In the Canadian Parliament on Friday, the government introduced a bill that would require all voters, including veiled Muslim women, to identify themselves with their faces uncovered in order to vote. Bill C-6 provides an exemption only when uncovering one's face would be harmful to the prospective voter's health. Reporting on the bill, Friday's Toronto Globe & Mail indicated that election officials would have flexibility in administering the law in order to respect religious beliefs. For example, Elections Canada could allow Muslim women to uncover their faces behind a screen with only a female elections official present. The introduction of the bill follows political criticism of Quebec's election officials who said they would permit women wearing a niqab to identify themselves with their faces covered. (See prior related posting.)

Kansas Supreme Court Temporarily Halts Grand Jury Probing Abortion Provider

The state of Kansas has a provision that requires a grand jury to be summoned in a county upon a petition of 100 plus 2% of the total number of votes cast for governor in the county in the last election. (K.S.A. § 22-3001). Following the lead of Sedgwick County citizens, a coalition of anti-abortion groups has just filed a petition to impanel a grand jury in Johnson County, Kansas to investigate whether a Planned Parenthood clinic has violated the state's abortion law. (Background). Meanwhile, according to the Kansas City Star, on Friday the Kansas Supreme Court issued an order temporarily blocking the Sedgwick County grand jury convened in this manner from proceeding. Wichita abortion provider George Tiller, the object of the investigation, alleged that the proceedings amount to harassment. The Supreme Court ordered two Sedgwick County judges to respond to Tiller's petition to the Supreme Court.

No Free Exercise Issue In Church's Flea Market Restrictions

In Shaffer v. Jones, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79117 (ND IN, Oct. 5, 2007), an Indiana federal district court dismissed free exercise and equal protection claims brought against the the manager of a flea market, holding that the manager was a private individual and was not acting under color of law. The market apparently was operated by the Embassies of Christ Church. Plaintiff James Shaffer alleged that the manager, Jerwan Jones, told him that he worshiped a false God and was going to hell. Jones warned Shaffer that if he did not remove all non-Christian items from his booth space, he would no longer be allowed to operate at the market. The court said: "The Constitution does not prevent a church from restricting the message presented at an event it is running."

UN Religious Freedom Official Worries About Abuse of Religious Power

Two recent speeches by Asma Jahangir, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, are in the news as the UN official expresses concern about blasphemy laws and about illegal conduct undertaken in the name of religion.

In an Oct. 25 speech to the NGO, Committee for Freedom of Religion or Belief, she warned against countries going too far in banning defamation against religion. According to the Adventist News Network, Jahangir argued that "objective criticism" of religion is a human right, and expressed concern that blasphemy laws can be used to silence dissent. She also rejected analogies between racial hatred and religious hatred, saying: "religion is unlike race -- you cannot proselytize to change [your] race. There are serious differences."

Speaking on Oct. 26 before the General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural (Third) Committee, Jahangir warned against the use of religion as an excuse for criminal action that encroaches on the rights of others. A UN News Centre release quotes her: "No impunity should be awarded when criminal acts which infringe on the human rights of others are given a religious label. At the same time, all governmental actions should be proportionate, abide by the rule of law and respect the applicable international human rights standards."

NYT Article Focuses On Splits In Evangelical Movement

Today's New York Times Magazine carries a feature article by David D. Kirkpatrick titled The Evangelical Crackup. It discusses at length generational and theological splits in the evangelical Christian movement. Here is an excerpt:

For the conservative Christian leadership, what is most worrisome about the evangelical disappointment with President Bush is that it coincides with a widening philosophical rift. Ever since they broke with the mainline Protestant churches nearly 100 years ago, the hallmark of evangelicals theology has been a vision of modern society as a sinking ship, sliding toward depravity and sin. For evangelicals, the altar call was the only life raft — a chance to accept Jesus Christ, rebirth and salvation. Falwell, Dobson and their generation saw their political activism as essentially defensive, fighting to keep traditional moral codes in place so their children could have a chance at the raft.

But many younger evangelicals — and some old-timers — take a less fatalistic view. For them, the born-again experience of accepting Jesus is just the beginning. What follows is a long-term process of “spiritual formation” that involves applying his teachings in the here and now. They do not see society as a moribund vessel. They talk more about a biblical imperative to fix up the ship by contributing to the betterment of their communities and the world. They support traditional charities but also public policies that address health care, race, poverty and the environment.

Employment Discrimination Suit Filed Against New York Synagogue

The New York Sun reported Friday on a discrimination suit filed in New York state court by two former administrators against a prominent Manhattan synagogue, Temple Emmanu-El. Plaintiffs Marion Hedger and Phyllis Treichel allege they were fired because of their age and because they were not Jewish as the synagogue attempted to change the image of its religious school.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

6th Circuit Says Christian High Schoolers Can Cahllenge Anti-Harassment Code

Yesterday in Morrison v. Board of Education of Boyd County, (6th Cir., Oct. 26, 2007), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected mootness and standing challenges to a claim brought by Christian high school students and their parents who argued that Boyd County (KY) High School students’ First Amendment speech rights were “chilled” by the school’s anti-harassment/ discrimination policy. More specifically, plaintiffs alleged that the speech codes in effect during the 2004-05 school year (and later changed) prevented Christian students from expressing their views that homosexuality is sinful, and that the speech codes and related anti-harassment training undermined students’ ability to practice their Christian faith.

In a 2-1 decision, the majority held that “an allegation of a past chill of First Amendment-protected activity is sufficient to confer standing to a plaintiff seeking retrospective relief, even when that relief comes in the form of nominal damages…. [T]o establish such a claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions or policy would deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his or her First Amendment liberties in the way that the plaintiff alleges he or she would have, were it not for the defendant’s conduct or policy.”

Judge Cook, dissenting, said: "'This is a case about nothing.' The majority burdens a federal district judge with a full-blown trial to determine whether to award the plaintiff a single dollar if a policy no longer in effect was unconstitutional despite never being enforced against the plaintiff.”

The appeal brought together unusual allies. Both the ACLU and the Alliance Defense Fund praised the 6th Circuit’s result. The AP reported on the decision. (See prior related posting.)

Suit Challenges Illinois' Moment-of-Silence Law

In Chicago, high school freshman Dawn Sherman and her father, a radio talk show host, have filed suit against Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Township High School District 214 challenging the constitutionality of Illinois new law mandating a moment of silence each school day. (See prior posting.) The Associated Press report quotes Sherman: “What we object to is Christians passing a law that requires the public school teacher to stop teaching during instructional time, paid for by the taxpayers, so that Christians can pray.” This is not Sherman’s first church-state lawsuit. He previously sued to remove religious symbols from city seals and to ban Boy Scouts from meeting at public schools.

UPDATE: On Monday, according to the AP, Illinois U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman refused to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent District 214 and Buffalo Grove High School from holding a moment of silence, after school officials agreed they would not mention religion in carrying out the law. However the court permitted the suit challenging the law to move ahead and scheduled another hearing for next month. The judge suggested that Sherman drop the Governor as defendant and replace him with the state board of education.

Friday, October 26, 2007

County To Provide Tax Exempt Financing For Parochial School Construction

The Toledo- Lucas County (Ohio) Port Authority Board of Directors has approved a bond inducement resolution indicating that it plans to issue up to $12 million in bonds to provide tax-exempt financing to the Catholic Diocese of Toledo for construction and renovation of six elementary school buildings. Today's Toledo Blade reports that payment of the bonds will be backed by a bank letter of credit, and not by the Port Authority. Michael Frank, chairman of the Board's finance committee, said that the facilities being built or renovated will be used solely for education, and not for religious purposes.

British Prime Minister Announces Plans To Create Constitution and Bill of Rights

In an important speech today at the University of Westminster, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the initiation of a national consultation to draw up a Bill of Rights and create a written constitution for the United Kingdom. Currently Britain's constitution is a collection of basic laws and unwritten traditions. A UK government press release sets out the full text of the Prime Minister's remarks. Part of his lengthy speech focused on the history of religious tolerance in Britain. Here are excerpts:

First, I trace the historical roots of liberty in Britain to a struggle for tolerance, by which I mean also a gradual acceptance of pluralism - a notion of political liberty that would allow those of different denominations and beliefs to coexist peacefully together.... This did not happen all at once, or without setbacks and struggle. The flames of religious intolerance burned across this land too. But never as strongly as in continental Europe....

[W]e should neither glorify nor distort what has gone before - and the struggles, both the ups and downs, of empire are not long behind us - to uphold a particular view of where we are now or what we can become. So we need to recognise, for example, that it took until 1829 for Catholic emancipation, even later for legislation ending discrimination against the Jewish community..... But the single most powerful thread that runs though our history is a succession of chapters in the defence of liberty and toleration. We gave refuge to Huguenots fleeing persecution in the 1600s. By the eighteenth century, London was arguably already the world's most diverse city - a situation which we can remain proud of in Britain to this day.

Head of White House Faith-Based Initiative Interviewed

Today's Waco, Texas Tribune-Herald publishes an interview with Jay Hein, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Among other things, Hein says he expects that his Office, created by Executive Order, will survive beyond the Bush administration. He said: "more and more public officials on both sides of the political aisle see the pragmatic value of this as a governing strategy." Asked about safeguards in maintaining separation of church and state in the program, Hein said: "We're setting the bar very high on understanding appropriateness, the appropriate use of public funds and the appropriate expression of faith in delivery of services."

Suit Challenges New York's Charter Schools Act and Blaine Amendment

The Gotham Legal Foundation announced yesterday that it has filed suit in federal district court in Manhattan challenging a provision in New York's Charter Schools Act that prohibits the state's issuance of a charter to any school "that would be wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination, or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine would be taught." That prohibition is required by provisions in the New York Constitution (Art. XI, Sec. 3). New York and other states adopted this kind of constitutional prohibition-- known as the Blaine Amendment-- in the late 19th century to prohibit public funding of Catholic schools.

The suit just filed was brought on behalf of the New Horizon Church Ministry that wishes to submit a charter application. The complaint in New Horizon Church Ministry v. Spitzer, (full text) claims that the Charter Schools Act and the state's Blaine Amendment violate federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection, free exercise of religion and free speech.Gotham Legal Foundation has posted online a series of questions and answers about the case.

Some Oklahoma Legislators Spurn Gift of Copy of the Quran

In 2004, Oklahoma's Governor Brad Henry issued Executive Order 04-21 creating the Governor's Ethnic American Advisory Council. The Council is to promote equal rights and religious freedom for Americans from Middle Eastern and Near Eastern communities. Carrying out that mission, Chairperson Marjan Seirafi-Pour recently e-mailed each state senator and representative offering a copy of the Quran decorated with the state’s centennial seal. The e-mail closed with the statement that the legislator should let the Council know if the lawmaker not want to receive the gift. The AP reported yesterday that now at least 24 legislators have refused a copy after state Rep. Rex Duncan said that he did not want a book that endorses the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology.

Other legislators are taking somewhat more nuanced stands. House Speaker Lance Cargill says he will accept the gift, but "as a measure of goodwill" would present the Council with a copy of the Centennial edition of the Bible published by Oklahoma Baptists. Rep. George Faught said he was refusing the Quran not out of racial or ethnic hate, but because "As a Christian, I view the Holy Bible as God’s inerrant, inspired word and try every day to apply the teachings of Christ to all areas of my life." Council chair Seirafi-Pour lamented that one reason the decision was made to distribute the Quran was to give lawmakers accurate information about Islam.

Austrian Provincial Parliament Wants To Ban Mosque Construction

The Parliament of the Austrian province of Carinthia has voted to ask the government to draft legislation that would ban the construction of mosques or minarets in the province. M&C reported yesterday that the proposal, favored by Carinthia's governor, Joerg Haider, is seen by opponents as merely an attempt to attract right-wing voters since there are no plans for mosque construction in the province. Conservatives who voted for the measure said they do not intend to prevent Muslims from practicing their religion, but that a mosque is not merely a place of worship; it is an "institution of a cultural community".

Louisiana Tries To Correct Appropriations To Churches

Now that a federal district court has found Louisiana's unrestricted appropriation of state funds to two churches to be a clear violation of the Establishment Clause (see prior posting), Louisiana's legislature has approved language making it clear that the appropriated funds are to be used only for educational and social service programs. Among the projects that can receive the funds are church-run after-school, senior citizen, hurricane recovery and violence prevention programs. KATC News reports that the Legislature's joint budget committee approved the new language on Thursday, hoping that this would lead the ACLU to dismiss its lawsuit. The court's preliminary injunction currently bars transfer of any state funds to the churches until the court rules finally on the merits. Meanwhile the lawsuit has been amended to add four other churches that were to receive state funds and two non-profits that the ACLU believed might be church organizations.

New Accord Will Protect Rights of Catholics In Bosnia-Herzegovina

Catholic News Service reports that yesterday in the Vatican, a concordat between Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Holy See was formally ratified. The accord that thus went into effect is designed to guarantee religious rights for the Catholic Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina where 15% of the population is Catholic. The new agreement offers some hope for the Catholic Croat community that has been the subject of discrimination in the ethnically divided Balkan nation.

Parents Challenge Nebraska's Metabolic Screening Requirement

Mary and Josue Anaya of Omaha , Nebraska have filed suit in federal district court challenging on religious grounds the constitutionality of Nebraska's requirement that all newborns be screened for various metabolic conditions. Yesterday's Omaha World-Herald reports that the couple is also appealing the state court decision that led to their 6-week old son being temporarily placed in foster care so the testing could be carried out. (See prior posting.) This is not the first time that the Anaya's have pressed this issue. (background). In 2005, the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected a similar constitutional challenge to the metabolic screening law brought when the state insisted on testing their daughter who was born in 2003. (Douglas County, Nebraska v. Anaya, NE Sup. Ct., 2005). Nebraska is one of the few states that has no religious exemption to its screening requirement. (See prior related posting.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Columbus Ohio School Board Candidates Debate Religion In Schools

Today's Columbus (OH) Dispatch reports on a debate yesterday featuring nine of the ten candidates for Columbus school board. One questioner asked candidates whether they support teaching creationism, open prayer in public schools and students' learning from religious texts. Candidate Mike Wiles replied, "Yes." He later explained that teaching religion to students and exposing them to creationism would make them more well-rounded. He said he does not support separation of church and state. Incumbent candidate Carol L. Perkins said it was a disservice to take organized prayer out of schools, but she did not think it could be returned under present law. She advocated giving students an opportunity to say a silent prayer. Most of the other candidates said they would limit teaching about religion to courses on world cultures. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Anti-Abortion Protesters Lose Free Exercise and Speech Claims

In two separate opinions, a Pennsylvania federal district court has rejected free exercise and free speech claims asserted by two anti-abortion protesters who were prevented by police officers from picketing in an alley that ran next to a York, Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood facility. The court held that the police officers' directives to the protesters were neutral and generally applicable, applying to picketers regardless of their views. The restrictions were narrowly tailored and permitted the protesters to carry signs and distribute literature on sidewalks near the building. There was no evidence that the restrictions were motivated by disagreement with the views of the protesters. The cases are McTernan v. Barth, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78567 (MD PA, Oct. 23, 2007), and Snell v. Camacho, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78516 (MD PA, Oct. 23, 2007). (See prior related posting.)

AT&T Loses Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday announced a $756,000 verdict in a religious discrimination lawsuit in federal district court in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The jury ordered AT&T to pay two Jehovah's Witnesses back pay and compensatory damages for violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. AT&T suspended and then fired two customer service technicians for taking one day off work to attend a week-end long religious convention. The employees, whose religious beliefs required them to attend the convention, had submitted written requests to their manager for permission to attend.

Trial of Westboro Church Anti-Gay Funeral Picketers Opens

Yesterday's Baltimore Sun reports on the opening in Baltimore's federal district court of the trial charging Westboro Baptist Church and its leaders with intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy for the picketing of the funeral of Iraq veteran Matthew Snyder. (See prior posting.) Defendant Shirley Phelps-Roper, representing herself, told jurors that protesters remained out of sight, 1,000 feet away from the funeral of Lance Cpl. Snyder. She said that plaintiff Albert Snyder did not even see the picketers on his way to his son's burial. However Snyder's attorney told jurors that his client knew about the protests as he went to the funeral, and that since the funeral Snyder has suffered complications from diabetes. Westboro members regularly picket veterans' funerals to protest alleged U.S. acceptance of homosexuality. Among the signs carried near Snyder's funeral was one that read "Thank God for dead soldiers."

White House Hosts Faith-Based Conference on Human Trafficking

Yesterday, according to a White House news release, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives hosted a forum on "Faith-Based and Community Solutions to Combat Human Trafficking". The program was part of the Office's Compassion in Action Roundtable series. The conference focused on the role of faith-based organizations in "fighting for those coerced into bonded labor, bought and sold in prostitution, exploited in domestic servitude, enslaved in factories and captured to serve unlawfully as child soldiers."

Israel's High Court Overrules Rabbinate's Approach To Sabbatical Year Rules

Haaretz, Arutz Sheva and the Jerusalem Post all report on yesterday's decision by Israel's High Court of Justice that effectively forced the country's Chief Rabbinate to adopt a more liberal interpretation of rules governing agriculture in the country during this Sabbatical year. In the past, Orthodox rabbis in Israel have permitted the sale of produce grown on land technically "sold" to a non-Jew during the year in which Jewish-owned land in Israel is supposed to lie fallow according to religious law. This year, however, the Chief Rabbinate deferred to local rabbis, some of whom refused to certify as kosher produce grown under this legal loophole (known as "heter mechira"). (See prior posting.)

The 3-judge panel of the High Court ordered the Chief Rabbinate to exercise its authority to authorize kashrut certificates for produce grown under heter mechira. In the lawsuit filed by the Plants Production and Marketing Board, the Israel Farmers Federation, and a group of farmers and marketers, the High Court criticized the informal telephone poll that the Chief Rabbinate used to change its prior policy. The court also said that the Rabbinate's had no authority to take this more stringent stance unnecessarily, that its new approch seriously harmed farmers' livelihood, leads to discrimination and results in inequality due to the high prices of produce. The Court, according to Justice Rubenstein, was not expressing a Halakhic (Jewish legal) opinion, but was instead ruling on the administrative validity of the decision by the Chief Rabbinate.

For those interested in following Israeli issues closely, Joel Katz has a new blog and weekly E-Newsletter, Religion and State In Israel. A link to it is also in the Religion Clause sidebar.

5th Circuit Affirms Teacher's Parental Rights Win

Barrow v. Greenville Independent School District, (5th Cir., Oct. 23, 2007), is the latest decision in a long running challenge by a Greenville, Texas public school teacher who was passed over for promotion to Assistant Principal because she refused to move her own children from a private religious school to public school. The court held that under the law of the case, the district court was correct in applying strict scrutiny to the teacher's parental rights claim, even after the jury decided that teacher Karen Jo Barrow's free exercise rights were not infringed. The 5th Circuit also upheld the lower court's award of attorneys' fees to Barrow.

British Consistory Court Refuses Widow's Request To Move Husband's Remains

In the British town of Exeter, a widow, Dorothie Warwick, has lost her bid to have her deceased husband's ashes exhumed and reburied at the Exeter and Devon Crematorium where she could eventually be buried along side him. Her husband, Arthur, is now buried next to his parents in Exeter. Today's London Telegraph reports that while the Exeter City Council granted a license for exhumation, apparently the Church of England Consistory Court has final say in the matter since Arthur is now buried in consecrated ground. The Consistory Court has refused the request, which would involve moving Arthur's remains to unconsecrated grounds, saying that Mrs. Warwick's desire to be buried with her husband away from her in-laws is not a strong enough reason to depart from the normal rule that "a Christian burial is intended to be once and for all".

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

White House Threatens Veto of ENDA

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives announced yesterday that they are postponing a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (See prior posting.) The Washington Blade reports that differing reasons were given for the postponement. The announcement came several hours after the White House issued an interesting Statement of Administration Policy threatening a possible veto of ENDA:

H.R. 3685 is inconsistent with the right to the free exercise of religion as codified by Congress in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).... For instance, schools that are owned by or directed toward a particular religion are exempted by the bill; but those that emphasize religious principles broadly will find their religious liberties burdened by H.R. 3685.

A second concern is H.R. 3685’s authorization of Federal civil damage actions against State entities, which may violate States’ immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The bill turns on imprecise and subjective terms that would make interpretation, compliance, and enforcement extremely difficult. For instance, the bill establishes liability for acting on "perceived" sexual orientation, or "association" with individuals of a particular sexual orientation.... Provisions of this bill purport to give Federal statutory significance to same-sex marriage rights under State law. These provisions conflict with the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman. The Administration strongly opposes any attempt to weaken this law, which is vital to defending the sanctity of marriage.

The White House concern about same-sex marriage stems from language in Section 8 of the Act: "An unlawful employment practice ... shall include [employment discrimination] ... that is conditioned, in a State in which a person cannot marry a person of the same sex, either on being married or being eligible to marry.

Vietnam Welcomes USCIRF Delegation; Suggests Discussions

A delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is in Vietnam from Oct. 21 to Nov. 2 to discuss religious liberty and related human rights issues. (USCIRF release). Vietnam has been on the State Department’s list of Countries of Particular Concern until recently, and USCIRF has recommended it be placed back on the list this year. (See prior posting.) Today VietnamNet reports that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told the visiting delegation that Vietnam is willing to talk with the U.S. about their disagreements on religious freedom matters. He said, however, that there are differences in cultures and legal systems between the two countries, and that the U.S. delegation should avoid imposing its lopsided viewpoints about religious freedom in Vietnam. He also urged the delegation to study the situation of Vietnamese who suffer from Agent Orange dioxin contamination-- a result of U.S. action during the Vietnam War.

UPDATE: On Thursday, Thanhnien News published a transcript of a meeting between USCIRF members in Vietnam and Deputy Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Huong. The U.S. delegation inquired of him about a number of religious and human rights issues.

Jewish Group Emphasizes To Congress the Religious Centrality of Jerusalem

As Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is about to appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations announced yesterday that it is delivering educational materials to members of Congress emphasizing the centrality of city of Jerusalem in the religion and history of the Jewish people. The material includes a copy of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's book, "Jerusalem: Eye of the Universe" (excerpts). The OU's director of public policy, Nathan Diament, said:
With political leaders stating or implying that Jerusalem might be redivided for the sake of a "peace process," we must remind them of basic principles. The holy city of Jerusalem has been central to the spirituality and destiny of Jews for millennia. Forty years ago, Jerusalem was rescued from languishing as a divided city. During the period of 1948-1967, when the city was under Arab jurisdiction, Jews and Christians were barred from their holiest sites. Many holy sites were damaged or destroyed. Western Jerusalem was subjected to daily sniper fire. The duly enacted policy of the United States of America is the recognition that the holy city of Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of the State of Israel.

Myanmar Uses Force Against Monks; Unsettles Society

Today's New York Times reports that in Myanmar, fundamental Burmese values have been unsettled by the government's successful use of force against Buddhist monks who have been demonstrating against the increased poverty and deprivation of the country's population. The Times says: "For decades, two powerful institutions have shaped Burmese life: the 500,000-member Buddhist clergy, which commands a moral authority over the population, and Senior Gen. Than Shwe’s junta, whose 450,000-strong military controls the population through intimidation. Their uneasy coexistence has shattered.... The guns have prevailed over mantras, at least for now." A shop owner in Yangon says his young son now fears becoming a soldier because he may have to kill a monk.

Establishment Clause Claim From Required AA Treatment Is Dismissed

In Davis v. City of New York, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78031 (EDNY, Sept. 28, 2007), a police officer in the NYPD alleged a number of constitutional and statutory violations stemming from police officials forcing her into treatment for alcoholism. One of her claims-- that the city violated the Establishment Clause by placing her in a religious-based Alcoholics Anonymous program-- was dismissed because plaintiff alleged only that the AA program was "religious-based", and did not allege that she was forced to pray or worship any god. (See prior related posting.)

Pearland Texas School Board Debates Prayer At Meetings

Yet another school board is battling over whether to continue a long-standing practice of opening its meetings with prayer. This time it is the Pearland Texas Independent School District, near Houston. KTRK TV reported yesterday that Suzy Roberts, one of the board's newest members, questioned the practice at a meeting and then at a board workshop. The suggestion outraged Baptist minister, Reverend Mike Hogg, who showed up with over 200 people at this month's board meeting to press for prayer to remain. Board member Roberts however says that the board should be focusing on excellence in education. She said: "If I'm a Muslim child and the board only prays to Jesus Christ,... I would think, 'Maybe my school doesn't think I matter'."

Proposed Thai Law Will Protect Buddhism

Thailand's National Legislative Assembly today will consider a bill that is designed to protect and promote the Buddhist religion. Today's Bangkok Post reports that the proposed law will impose a jail term of 10-25 years and/or a fine of 500,000-1,000,000 baht (approx. US$16,000 to US$32,000) for insulting, offending, imitating and distorting Buddhism and the Lord Buddha. It calls for a jail term of 5-10 years and/or a fine of 100,000-500,000 baht for damaging Buddhist objects, personnel and places. A similar sentence will be imposed on anyone having sexual relations with a monk, novice or nun, and enhanced penalties are prescribed for assaulting a monk, novice or nun. Also, for the first time, the bill recognizes and promotes the status of nuns in Buddhism. The bill also calls for the creation of a government committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, to promote and protect Buddhism.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Christian Evangelicals Oppose Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Christianity Today reports that a number of conservative Christian evangelical leaders have spoken out against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), HR 3685, which will come before the House of Representatives for a vote tomorrow. The bill would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill exempts religious organizations and religiously supported educational institutions where the curriculum "is directed toward the propagation of a particular religion". However it would not exempt para-church organizations or independent pro-family movements. Colin A Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, said that he is not opposed to non-discrimination laws but is opposed to perverting the language of discrimination to advance the political goals of the homosexual agenda. Provisions in an earlier version of ENDA that would have also banned employment discrimination against trans-gendered individuals was split of into a separate bill after it appeared that there was greater opposition to that proposal. (

California School Board Split Over Motto In Classrooms

In Bakersfield, California, the 5-member Kern High School District board of trustees is badly split over competing proposals to place "In God We Trust" posters in classrooms. Yesterday's Bakersfield Californian reported that originally trustee Chad Vegas proposed placing the motto in all classrooms. Then he modified his proposal, suggesting that it be placed there along with the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. He says that understanding the link between faith and country is necessary to understand the nature of the United States. Two of the trustees have been opposed to the plan, and yesterday trustee Bryan Batey said he could only support placing the documents in civics and history classrooms. Trustee Joel Heinrichs who opposes the plan says it is offensive to equate patriotism and faith.

Maldives Constitution Drafting Delayed Over Issue of Shariah

In the Maldives, the process of drafting a Constitution has been delayed by a controversy over whether the document should outlaw acts prohibited by Shariah and protect all conduct not prohibited by Islamic Shariah law. Minivan News today reports that President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's brother-in-law, Abbas Ibrahim, is proposing that the clause embodying Shariah be added. Opponents say that the proposal effectively undercuts the separation of powers in the new constitutional draft. Since there is disagreement on many details of Shariah, this would permit the Executive to define what is and is not illegal. Malidvian Democratic Party member Ibrahim Ismail says that the government is using religion as an excuse for delaying the new constitution.

Mistrial In Holy Land Foundation Prosecution

The New York Times reports that yesterday in Dallas (TX), a federal judge declared a mistrial in the case against the Holy Land Foundation and five of its supporters. (Full text of indictment.) The jury acquitted one of the defendants, Mohammed El-Mezain, on all but a conspiracy charge against him. It was unable to agree on a verdict on the charges against the other defendants (or on the conspiracy charge against El-Mezain)-- leading to the mistrial. At trial the prosecution attempted to show that the Foundation supported terrorism by sending over $12 million to Muslim charitable groups (zakat committees) controlled by the terrorist organization Hamas. Some of the defendants had family ties to Hamas leaders. The Holy Land Foundation had been the largest Muslim charity in the United States until the government froze its assets in 2001.

The Dallas Morning News reports that U.S. Muslim leaders were relieved by the verdict. At a Dallas news conference, Mahdi Bray of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation said: "The American Muslim community is protected under the First Amendment. Feeding people is not a crime and we aren't going to let the American government make it a crime."

Churches Lack Standing To Challenge Oklahoma Illegal Immigrant Law

A Tulsa, Oklahoma federal judge yesterday ruled that a group of churches and church leaders lack standing to challenge the constitutionality of Oklahoma's new "Taxpayer and Citizens Act" (HB 1804). The new law makes it illegal to transport, hire, harbor, house or conceal illegal immigrants. It also requires local law enforcement authorities to check on immigration status, and effectively ends state benefits for illegal immigrants. NewsOK reports on the decision and says that the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders that-- along with several other plaintiffs-- filed the action will amend its complaint and refile it within the next few days. The law is scheduled to go into effect Nov. 1.

UPDATE: The Oklahoma City Journal Record reports that the lawsuit was refiled on Thursday, this time adding as a plaintiff a restaurant that claims it has lost 40% of its business as a result of the passage of HB 1804.

Israel's Justice Minister Opposes Proposed Constitutional Compromise On Religion

In a speech to the Knesset two weeks ago, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert strongly supported ongoing efforts by the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to come up with a draft of a Constitution. The compromise now under consideration would prohibit the High Court of Justice from exercising "judicial oversight" on various matters of religion and state - including marriage and divorce, religious conversion, the nature of the Sabbath and Jewish holidays in the public domain, Jewish dietary laws at state institutions and the granting of Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Under the proposal, Knesset legislation on religious matters could not be invalidated by the Court because it violates principles of equality, or other constitutional protections. So, for example, legislation that prohibited women from serving as judges on rabbinical courts would be protected. However today Haaretz reports that Israel's Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann is opposed to this compromise between secular and religious forces.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ohio Court Refuses To Enforce Muslim Dowry Obligation

Saturday's Columbus Dispatch reports on an Oct. 10 decision by the Franklin County (OH) Common Pleas Court. Domestic Relations Judge Dana S. Preisse ruled that a promised dowry ("mahr") is unenforceable. Ruling against a Muslim woman, the judge said: "the obligation to pay $25,000 is rooted in a religious practice, the dowry is considered a religious act, not a legal contract ." Now-divorced Raghad Alwattar argued that the dowry was part of an enforceable pre-nuptial agreement. The judge ruled, however, that a prenuptial agreement must be entered into without duress. Here husband Mohammed Zawahiri was hurried into making the agreement only a few minutes before the wedding. In some other states, this sort of contract has been enforced. Columbus imam Mouhamed Tarazi says that after this case he will require grooms to sign a promissory note for the mahr so it will be enforceable in civil court.

Dalai Lama's Bloomington Visit Sparks Controversy Over City Hall Displays

Beginning Tuesday, the Dalai Lama will be spending six days in Bloomington, Indiana to visit the Tibetan Culture Center and to lecture at the University of Indiana. (Cincinnati Enquirer.) To mark the visit, Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan placed an exhibit in Ciy Hall. It includes photographs and craft work of Tibet, religious cloth paintings, a Peace Tree and statues of Buddha. A group of Christians however claim that they should be permitted space for a similar display. Friday's WorldNet Daily reports that they showed up at City Hall with two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments and set them up on a table in front of the display of Buddhist artifacts. One participant read a statement saying: "These commandments are our symbol of peace, and we want to include them with the city's display to promote religious enlightenment. We ... do not agree with the ideology of the Dalai Lama or Buddhist beliefs – we are Christians and believe in one God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

In response to the city's contention that its display of Tibetan objects is cultural, not religious, Christian activist Amy Bernitt said the Ten Commandments also are cultural and artistic because they are carved from limestone for which the Bloomington area is famous. The city quickly removed the Ten Commandments after the brief ceremony.

Study of Florida's Faith-Based Prison Program Released

Last week, the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center released a report on Florida's faith-based prison rehabilitation program titled Evaluation of Florida's Faith- and Character-Based Institutions. The report concluded:
Staff, inmates, and volunteers overwhelmingly find value in the FCBI model and believe that it is achieving its goals of changing inmate behaviors, preparing inmates for successful reentry, and ultimately reducing recidivism. Respondents feel that, in particular, the FCBI experience helps promote family reunification and employment prospects upon release, while also improving the prison environment for inmates, volunteers, and staff.

... At six months after release, male FCBI inmates have lower reincarceration rates than a matched comparison group of inmates housed in general population FDOC facilities.... [However] the differences between the two male groups are not statistically significant at twelve months post-release, nor are the differences between female FCBI participants and their matched comparisons at either six or twelve months after release.... [C]orrections officials may ... wish to replicate the impact analysis ... in a year’s time, when the sample sizes are more likely to yield results in which they can have increased confidence.
The Report also concluded: "The FCBI model is carefully administered to avoid many of the conflicts with the principle of church-state separation that have led to challenges of other faith-based prison programs."

Role of Maldives Government Over Religion Debated After Extremist Bombing

A full-blown church-state controversy seems to have broken out in the Maldives according to a report by Minivan News yesterday. After a bombing in Male last month which injured 12 tourists, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has called for a ban on preaching by foreign clerics and for the criminalizing words or actions likely to encourage extremism. Grayoom has also written the government-appointed Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs [background], instructing it to impose a ban on the full-face veil. However the conservative Adhaalath Party has called on supporters to ignore the President's directive and the Supreme Council says it has not decided how to respond to it. More broadly, Supreme Council chief Sheikh Rasheed is supporting a bill to make the Council independent of the President. The Adhaalath Party argues that the government, instead of enacting criminal sanctions, should rely on Islamic scholars to reform religious dissidents.

Recent Articles and Books on Law & Religion, Church-State

From SSRN:

From SmartCILP:
  • Ryan Spear, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (Reviewing Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion; Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation; and E. O. Wilson, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth), 1 Harvard Law & Policy Review 495-506 (2007).

Recent Books:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Values Voter Summit Hears From Republican Candidates

The New York Times reports on the Values Voter Summit in Washington that ended yesterday. The meeting was an attempt by Christian conservatives to focus on which Republican Presidential candidate to support. Rudolph Giuiliani's speech [excerpts] was described at the "most anticipated", as he attempted to overcome concerns that conservative Christian voters have about his stands on abortion and gay rights, as well as his personal life. In a straw poll among attendees, Mitt Romney came out first, with Mike Huckabee second, and Ron Paul third. Giuiliani came in eighth out of the nine candidates, followed by John McCain.

Indian State Bans Private Publishing of Sikh Scriptures

In the Indian state of Punjab, the Cabinet this month agreed to the promulgation of an Ordinance to ban private publishing houses from publishing the Sikh scriptures, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. World Sikh News on Friday reported on developments. The new law will give a monopoly on publishing to the official Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). The announcement has led Punjab’s oldest publisher, B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh, to stop its publication of the Sikh scriptures. The government acted after two relatives of Harbhajan Singh, the owner of the private publishing house, were dragged and beaten by hardliners who alleged that copies of the scriptures published by them were being transported in a way that was not in accord with Sikh law.

Seattle Airport Opts For Secular Holiday Display This Year

After a highly publicized controversy last year over the display of Christmas trees and a request to display a Hanukkah menorah (see prior posting), this year Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is opting for a non-religious seasonal display. Friday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that the airport will feature a display of birch trees surrounded by lights in an artificial snow bank. Airport deputy managing director Michael Feldman said, "we’re featuring peace and harmony". The attorney representing a rabbi who was at the center of last year’s controversy says that the Airport instead should have had a multicultural display recognizing various religious and ethnic groups.

Unlicensed Marriage Gives Husband No Control Over Funeral Rites

Last Thursday, the Delaware Chancery court in Wilmington refused to issue an order blocking Christian funeral services for murder victim Jeanea Irvin, who had converted to Islam eight years ago. Saturday’s Wilmington News-Journal reports that Irvin’s husband, Timothy Boyer, had asked the court to stop the funeral being planned by Irvin’s family so she could be buried according to Islamic law. However, Timothy and Jeanea had married in 2006 in a religious ceremony without obtaining a civil marriage license. The court ruled this meant the marriage was not recognized under Delaware law, and the normal rights Irvin’s husband would have to determine the details of her funeral instead passed to her parents.

UPDATE: The full opinion is now available on LEXIS: Boyer v. Irvin, 2007 Del. Ch. LEXIS 146 (DE Ch., Oct. 19, 2007).

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Legislator Urges Schools To Seek Exemption From Moment of Silence

Legislative opponents of Illinois' new mandatory moment of silence in school classrooms are now suggesting that school boards take a different route, according to yesterday's Chicago Tribune. Illinois law, 105 ILCS 5/2-3.25g, permits school districts to seek a waiver of any mandate imposed by the School Code on various grounds, including when necessary to improve student performance. State Representative Jeff Schoenberg has written to Evanston/Skokie School District 65 urging it to seek a waiver of the moment-of-silence requirement on the ground that it is an unnecessary interference with teachers' management of their classrooms which has nothing to do with improving student performance. If the State Board of Education approves a waiver request, the state legislature may still veto it.

Street Preacher Sues After Citation For Violating City Sign Law

In Naperville, Illinois, Street preacher Elmer "Joe" Christopherson filed suit Thursday challenging a ticket he received for violating a city ban on signs within ten feet of a roadway. On Sept. 2, Christopherson was preaching in downtown Naperville, carrying a 6x3 foot placard with a message about Jesus and redemption. After he had been preaching for three hours, and had earlier been heckled by onlookers, police told Christoperson and his group from Burning Hearts Outreach Ministries that they had to take down their sign. The lawsuit filed in DuPage County Court alleges that the citation against Christopherson violates his First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights. Yesterday's Christian NewsWire and today’s Chicago Tribune report on the case.

British Appellate Court Finds Clergyman Covered By Employment Rights Act

Building on a 2005 sex discrimination case decided by the House of Lords (see prior posting), yesterday in New Testament Church of God v. Stewart, ([2007] EWCA Civ 1004, Oct. 19, 2007), the England and Wales Court of Appeal upheld an Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision that a pastor of The New Testament Church of God is an "employee" under the 1996 Employment Rights Act. This holding permits him to bring a claim for unfair dismissal after the Church accused him of financial irregularities and suspended him from his duties.

The Court of Appeal said, however, that whether a clergyman is an employee will vary from church to church and from religion to religion. It observed: "The religious beliefs of a community may be such that their manifestation does not involve the creation of a relationship enforceable at law between members of the religious community and one of their number appointed to minister to the others. The law should not readily impose a legal relationship on members of a religious community which would be contrary to their religious beliefs." Reporting on the decision, The Times pointed out that earlier cases had referred to ministers as "servants of God" who had been appointed to a holy office, instead of treating them in the same way as secular employees.

California Church Loses Bid For Preliminary Injunction Under RLUIPA

In International Church of the Foursquare Gospel v. City of San Leandro, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76831 (ND CA, Oct. 2, 2007), a California federal district court has refused to grant a preliminary injunction under RLUIPA requested by a San Leandro, California church. International Foursquare Gospel was seeking either rezoning or a conditional use permit so a member congregation could construct a church on land now zoned for industrial use. The court found that plaintiff never completed the requirements for a conditional use permit application. As to its application for rezoning, plaintiff failed to show a likelihood of success in demonstrating either a substantial burden on its free exercise of religion or unequal treatment.

Jehovah's Witnesses Battle Authorities In 2 FSU Countries

Forum 18 reported on Thursday that Tajikistan’s Ministry of Culture has issued an order revoking the registration of the Jehovah’s Witness denomination and banning all activities by them in the country. The formal order says that Jehovah's Witness activity violated the country's Constitution as well as the Religion Law by distributing religious literature to non-members. However Saidbek Mahmudolloev, head of the Information Department at the Culture Ministry's Religious Affairs Department, said the major concern with the Jehovah's Witnesses is their refusal to serve in the armed forces. Jehovah's Witnesses plan to appeal to President Emomali Rahmon and Prime Minister Okil Okilov to challenge the ban.

Meanwhile the Jehovah’s Witnesses have won a significant legal victory in Pridnestrovia (also known as Trans-Dniestria)-- a break-away republic within the internationally recognized boundaries of Moldova. According to Thursday's Tiraspol Times, Pridnestrovia’s Supreme Court has held unconstitutional a requirement imposed by Religious Affairs Commissioner Pyotr Zalozhkov that that Jehovah’s Witnesses register under local laws governing the leadership of religious organizations.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Peterson v. Price, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75737 (ND WV, Sept. 28, 2007), a West Virginia federal district court accepted a magistrate judge’s recommendation to dismiss a federal prisoner’s Fist Amendment claims. Plaintiff complained that he had been removed from the prison’s kosher food program, but the court found that this was justified; he had purchased non-kosher food from the commissary. The court also agreed that the failure to furnish plaintiff a kosher bag lunch during two mock lockdowns did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

In Tafari v. Annets, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76017 (SDNY, Oct. 15, 2007), a New York federal Magistrate Judge recommended that an inmate be permitted to proceed with his claim that his free exercise rights were violated when on five separate occasions he was denied kosher food while in transit between prison facilities. The magistrate recommended dismissal of a number of other claims.

In Farnsworth v. Baxter, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72209 (WD TN, Sept. 26, 2007), a Tennessee federal district judge denied defendant’s motion to dismiss a RLUIPA claim brought by a prisoner who complained about the failure to provide Messianic Jewish religious services. Defendant had argued that damages are not available under RLUIPA in suits brought against officials in their individual capacities.

In Cruz v. Scribner, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76423 (ED CA, Oct. 3, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge dismissed, subject to the right to file an amended complaint, claims by a Native American prisoner that he was denied the right to participate in the annual Pow-Wow, Banquet and Sweat Ceremony that is part of his religion. Plaintiff failed to allege any link between the named defendants and his free exercise, equal protection and RLUIPA claims.

In two nearly identical opinions, a California federal district court held that plaintiff prisoners must specifically allege how their religious rights are being violated in the institution where they are incarcerated instead of making broad and generic allegations about policies or practices at all other California prison facilities. The cases are Bonner v. Tilton, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76932 (ED CA, Oct. 2, 2007) and Green v. Tilton, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76925 (ED CA, Oct. 2, 2007).

In Jones-el v. Pollard, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77505 (ED WI, Oct. 18, 2007), a Wisconsin federal district court permitted an inmate to move ahead with a variety of claims under the First Amendment and RLUIPA. Plaintiff charged that he was prevented from observing Ramadan, was deprived of Islamic publications, was prevented from possessing prayer oil and a prayer rug while in segregation, and was denied Halal meals. He also alleged that prison authorities favor Christianity over Islam by employing full-time Christian chaplains and using Christian chapels.

Friday, October 19, 2007

USCIRF Report Criticizes Lack of Progress On Religious Liberty In Saudi Arabia

Yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a long report (full text) that is highly critical of Saudi Arabia for failing to implement promised reforms designed to protect human rights, including the free exercise of religion. USCIRF recommended that the U.S. government strengthen its human rights diplomacy with the Saudis and address Saudi exportation of extremist ideology, hatred and intolerance in educational material sent around the world. The report also recommended a number of other steps to further religious liberty in Saudi Arabia, including dissolving of the Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice. A widely circulated AP article focuses on a recommendation in the report that the Islamic Saudi Academy, a private K-12 school in Fairfax County, Virginia, be closed down until the school's textbooks can be reviewed. [Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the lead.]

Power of Traditional Rabbinic Authorities In Israel Continues To Be An Issue

In Israel, the battle to liberalize Rabbinic courts continues. Yesterday's Jerusalem Post reports that several women's rights groups along with a group of progressive Orthodox rabbis have filed suit in the High Court of Justice challenging the recent appointment of 19 new judges to the Rabbinic courts. (See prior posting.) The 60-page petition claims nepotism, political pressure and procedural errors in the appointments. Underlying the lawsuit are concerns over how the traditional haredi judges will deal with women's rights in divorce proceedings.

Meanwhile, in another attempt to maintain the authority of traditional Rabbinic bodies, Israel's Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, arrived in the United States this week to oversee the Rabbinical Council of America's appointment of religious court judges to its conversion courts. Amar has ordered that only conversions by special Orthodox Jewish tribunals that he has approved should be recognized in Israel. JTA reports on these developments. (See prior related posting.)

Egyptian Muslim Fundamentalist Sues To Enforce His Views

Today's Wall Street Journal profiles Egyptian cleric Yusuf El-Badry, a conservative Muslim who has "pioneered the practice of suing ministers, poets, academics and religious scholars in Egypt's courts to promote his strict interpretation of Islam." El-Badry's most recent lawsuit has been filed against Egypt's Minister of Health and Population challenging the country's ban on female circumcision. The Journal reports that El-Badry "isn't a trained attorney, but he prefers to argue his cases before the judge himself. With his flowing robes and white turban, he stands out in court, where attorneys typically wear suits. Intellectuals across the Middle East have railed against his crusade..."