Monday, December 31, 2007

Bibliography of Law and Religion Articles, Books and Blogs

The December 2007 Newsletter of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Law and Religion contains an extensive bibliography of books, articles and blogs on law and religion published in the last year. I have posted the bibliography at this link.

New Articles and Books of Interest

Recently Published Articles:

From SmartCILP:

  • The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, Vol. 46, No. 2 has been issued. It includes: symposium articles by Susan Stabile and Piero Tozzi on "When Conscience Clashes with State Law & Policy: Catholic Institutions" as well as: Sr. Melanie DiPietro & Alison Sulentic, SSM Health Care: The Integration of Catholic Social Thought Values in a Modern Health Care System; Gregory A. Kalscheur, Catholics in Public Life: Judges, Legislators, and Voters; Robert E. Rodes, Jr., On Lawyers and Moral Discernment; Rebecca Van Uitert, Undocumented Immigrants in the United States: A Discussion of Catholic Social Thought and "Mormon Social Thought" Principles.

New Books:

Impact of Bibles On Jurors In Imposing Death Sentence At Issue In 5th Circuit

Yesterday's Houston Chronicle carries a story about a November decision by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Oliver v. Quarterman, (5th Cir., Nov. 16, 2007). In it the court ordered briefing and oral argument scheduled on whether jurors' consultation of the Bible during the sentencing phase of a murder trial raises a presumption of prejudice, and, if so, whether the state has rebutted that presumption.

Winston Cochran, Oliver's lawyer, says that at issue is whether jurors, in imposing the death sentence on Oliver, were prejudiced by Numbers 35:16 that reads: "But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death" Cochran explained: "This poor old farmer, he got shot and when he was lying outside on the ground, he was struck with the barrel of a gun. So he was literally struck with an iron rod. You could say God and Moses anticipated this exact thing if you take a literal view of it. And that's got a lot of potential for mischief." Attorney Sue Korioth, who handled an earlier appeal in the case, said there was no implication that jurors voted based on Scripture. She said: "Several [jurors]... carried Bibles in and out like my daughter carries her 'Seventeen' magazine. It was just their reading material."

Huckabee Talks About His Religious Beliefs on Meet the Press

Tim Russert's interview with Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee yesterday on Meet the Press (full transcript) included several exchanges about Huckabee's religious beliefs. Here are some excerpts:

MR. RUSSERT: You went to the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and were asked about your political success, and you said, "There's only one explanation for it. It's not a human one," suggesting divine intervention.... And then, and then this comment. "I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."

GOV. HUCKABEE: Which was, by the way, ... [a] 1998 speech ... [t]o the Southern Baptist Convention. So it was a speech made to a Christian gathering, and, and certainly that would be appropriate to be said to a gathering of Southern Baptists.

MR. RUSSERT: But where does this leave non-Christians?

GOV. HUCKABEE: Oh, it leaves them right in the middle of America. I think the Judeo-Christian background of this country is one that respects people not only of faith, but it respects people who don't have faith. The, the key issue of real faith is that it never can be forced on someone. And never would I want to use the government institutions to impose mine or anybody else's faith or to restrict. I think the First Amendment, Tim, is explicitly clear. Government should be restricted, not faith, government. And government's restriction is on two fronts: one, it's not to prefer one faith over another; and the second, it's not to prohibit the practice of somebody's religion, period.

MR. RUSSERT: So you'd have no problem appointing atheists to your Cabinet?

GOV. HUCKABEE: No, I wouldn't have any problem at all appointing atheists. I probably had some working for me as governor.... And if people want to know how I would blend these issues, the best way to look at it is how I served as a governor. I didn't ever propose a bill that we would remove the capitol dome of Arkansas and replace it with a steeple. You know, we didn't do tent revivals on the grounds of the capitol. But my faith is important to me.... It drives my views on everything from the environment to poverty to disease to hunger. Issues, frankly, I think the Republicans need to take a greater leadership role in. And as a Republican, but as a Christian, I would want to make sure that we're speaking out on some of these issues....

MR. RUSSERT: ... [T]his is what you wrote in your book, "Kids Who Kill," in 1998: "It is now difficult to keep track of the vast array of publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations--from homosexuality and pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia." Why would you link homosexuality with sadomasochism, pedophilia and necrophilia?

GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, what I was pointing out is all of these are deviations from what has been the traditional concept of sexual behavior and men and women having children, raising those children in the context of a, of a traditional marriage and family. And, again, taken out of the larger context of that book, speaking about how so many of our social institutions have been broken down.

MR. RUSSERT: But do you think homosexuality is equivalent to pedophilia...

GOV. HUCKABEE: Oh, of course not.... Tim, understand, when a Christian speaks of sin, a Christian says all of us are sinners.... The perfection of God is seen in a marriage in which one man, one woman live together as a couple committed to each other as life partners.... Tim, I've been asked more about my faith than any person running for president. I'm OK with that. I hope I've answered these questions very candidly and very honestly. I think it's important for us to talk about it. But the most important thing is to find out, does our faith influence our public policy and how? I've never tried to rewrite science textbooks. I've never tried to come out with some way of imposing a doctrinaire Christian perspective in a way that is really against the Constitution. I've never done that.

MR. RUSSERT: But you said you would ban all abortions.

GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, that's not just because I'm a Christian, that's because I'm an American. Our founding fathers said that we're all created equal. I think every person has intrinsic worth and value...

MR. RUSSERT: But many Americans believe that that would be ... you imposing your faith belief...

GOV. HUCKABEE: But, no. It's not a faith belief. It's deeper than that. It's a human belief. It goes to the heart of who we are as a civilization....

MR. RUSSERT: Some Americans believe that life does not begin at conception...

GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, scientifically I think that's almost ... a point that you couldn't argue. How, how could you say that life doesn't begin at conception... biologically?

MR. RUSSERT: Do you respect that view?

GOV. HUCKABEE: I respect it as a view, but I don't think it has biological credibility....

MR. RUSSERT: October you told me you're going to win Iowa caucuses. Are you?...

GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, Thursday night I'll let you know. But let me tell you this, we're being outspent 20-to-1 here. If we do, you're going to have a political story like you've never had coming out of Iowa on Friday morning.

MR. RUSSERT: Would it be a miracle?...

GOV. HUCKABEE: I'm on record. Yes, it would.

Meanwhile last Friday, CNS News published a lengthy interview with Huckabee on his views about education and school choice.

Liberal New Hampshire Voters Also Concerned About Religion

Today's Concord Monitor reports that religious values are an important concern for many liberal voters in New Hampshire's upcoming primary. It says that some "liberal voters ... are trying hard this election to wrest the title of 'value voters' away from the religious right.... [M]any are using biblical values to promote traditionally liberal policies, such as greater attention to the environment, poverty and social justice ... [,and] opposition to the Iraq war."

Saudi Monitoring of Mosques Leads To Imam's Removal and More

Today's Arab News reports on an incident growing out of Saudi Arabia's monitoring of the performance of imams in the country's mosques. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has 270 employees who monitor imams and khateebs (preachers), as well as 203 technical teams that check out the architectural aspects of mosques. An imam was removed from his position for delivering anti-Western sermons. The imam then sent death threats by cell phone to Ministry of Islamic Affairs official Sheikh Abdullah Al-Hammad. At his trial, the imam confessed and was sentenced to seven months in prison and 150 lashes. Now an appeal of the conviction will be heard by Saudi Arabia's Cassation Court. Meanwhile, Al-Hammad has filed a lawsuit against the imam in a Saudi religious court.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Iowa LDS Churches Will Not Comment On Caucuses From Pulpit Today

Despite, or perhaps because of, Mitt Romney's candidacy, the 22,000 Mormons attending church in Iowa this Sunday will not hear pleas to attend a caucus or support a particular candidate. Today's Salt Lake Tribune reports that historically, before elections but not before caucuses, LDS churches have read a statement from the pulpit asserting the LDS's political neutrality, but encouraging members to be active voters. In contrast, many evangelical ministers are likely to urge their congregants to vote in caucuses, a move that is likely to help Republican candidate Mike Huckabee. Quin Monson, the assistant director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, says: "Clearly, if the church wanted to mobilize its members to get in, it could, but the backlash could be worse than the positive effect it could [have] on Romney."

Child Custody Shift OK'd For Failure To Follow Religious Upbinging Agreement

In Herschfus v. Herschfus, (MI Ct. App., Dec. 27, 2007), a Michigan appellate court upheld a lower court's modification of a custody award. The court gave sole legal and physical custody of a divorced couple's child, Jacob, to the father, based in significant part on the mother's failure to comply with the agreement entered at the time of the divorce to raise Jacob in the Orthodox Jewish religion. It rejected the mother's First Amendment challenge, finding that "the trial court’s ruling was constitutionally appropriate because it was based on Jacob’s needs and not on a value judgment regarding the parties' practice of religion."

Recent Prisoner Free Excercise Cases

In Kelly v. McMillin, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94575 (SD MS, Nov. 19, 2007), a Mississippi federal magistrate judge dismissed as frivolous free exercise and equal protection claims brought by a prisoner challenging his treatment as a pre-trial detainee. Plaintiff alleged he had been denied the opportunity to participate in Ramadan because he was not fed according to his dietary specifications, and he was not supplied with a Quran even though Christian prisoners were supplied with Bibles.

In Mann v. Wilkinson, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94002 (SD OH, Dec. 21, 2007), an Ohio federal district court rejected a prisoner's claim that he should be permitted to attend separate Christian Identity worship services, but permitted plaintiff to move ahead with his challenge under RLUIPA to a total ban on his possession of a Christian Identity pamphlet.

In Azizi Oba Sefu v. Smith, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93959 (ED MO, Dec. 20, 2007), a Missouri federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed with his claim that his religious practices should be accommodated. Plaintiff alleged that he is a "charter member" of the Monotheistic Sanctuary of Abraham.

Christian High Schooler Opposing "Day of Silence" Wins Partial Victory

Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie School District, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94411 (ND IL, Dec. 21, 2007), involves a challenge by Christian high school student to an Illinois' high school's prohibition on his wearing a T-shirt containing derogatory negative statements about homosexuals. He wished to wear a shirt with the slogan "Be Happy, Not Gay". The court held that "school officials may prohibit a public high school student from displaying negative statements about a category of persons, including homosexuals, that are inconsistent with the school's educational goal of promoting tolerance." However, the court held that the student did have a right to wear a T-shirt carrying the positive slogan "Be Happy, Be Straight". Denying him the right to do so while permitting those with opposing views to wear T-shirts saying "Be Who You Are" supporting gay rights during a student group's "Day of Silence" would amount to viewpoint discrimination.

Falun Gong Encounters Resistance To City Resolutions Condemning China

Yesterday's Whittier (CA) Daily News reports on the difficulties encountered by Falun Gong representatives in the United States who are attempting to get various California cities to pass resolutions condemning China's persecution of Falun Gong. Covina City Council voted down a proposed resolution after opponents quoted passages from Falun Gong's founder disapproving of interracial marriage and reproduction. Spokesman John Li however argues that references to racial separation refers only to "celestial beings".

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Top Ten 2007 Developments In Church-State and Free Exercise of Religion

Here are my nominations for the 2007 Top Ten Developments in Church-State Separation/ Free-Exercise of Religion. A link to one of the postings on each development is also provided. I invite your comments, either concurring or dissenting, on my choices.

1. Religious views of candidates becomes major issue in race for Republican presidential nomination.
2. Supreme Court narrows standing in Establishment Clause cases: Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.
3. Eighth Circuit strikes down state financing of faith-based prison rehabilitation program-- Americans United for Separation of Church and State v. Prison Fellowship Ministries.
4. Suits over property ownership of break-away churches mushroom, particularly as increasing number of Episcopal congregations opt for more conservative affiliations.
5. Christian beliefs on homosexuality lead to opposition to extension of federal Hate Crimes law.
6. Anti-funeral picketing laws directed at Westboro Baptist Church become subject of litigation in several states.
7. Sectarian prayer in Indiana legislature sparks litigation; 7th Circuit panel finds no taxpayer standing in case.
8. State pharmacy boards challenged over rules requiring dispensing of "morning after" pill.
9. Muslim foot basins in university and airport rest rooms provoke controversy.
10. Florida Hebrew language/Jewish culture publicly-financed charter school approved over protests.

For comparison, here are links to my top 10 picks for 2006 and 2005. You may also find it interesting to compare my choices with the 2007 top story picks by the Religion Newswriters as well as Time Magazine's picks for the Top 10 Religion Stories of 2007.

PA Supreme Court Rejects Establishment Clause Challenge To Eminent Domain [Corrected]

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to Philadelphia's use of eminent domain to permit redevelopment of blighted property by a coalition of Catholic groups wishing to build a non-denominational, faith-based, not tuition based school for children of the neighborhood. In In re A Condemnation Proceeding In Rem by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia, (PA Sup Ct., Dec. 27, 2007), the court found that the city's conduct passed the Lemon test under the Establishment Clause. The court said, in part:
While ... an effect of this taking is to advance a religious organization’s mission to provide faith-based educational services, this is clearly not the principal or primary effect. The principal or primary effect ... is to eliminate blight in this long-suffering neighborhood. One secondary effect is the provision of quality nondenominational educational opportunities to low-income urban families in their own neighborhood... Another secondary effect could potentially be the advancement of religion; however, as far as we can tell from the record, all potential developers were treated in the same manner...
[Corrected:] Justice Baer dissented arguing that the action amounted to direct aid to a religious institution in violation of the Establishment Clause. Today's Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the decision.

Judgment Against Holy Land Foundation and Others Reversed By 7th Circuit

In Boim v. Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, (7th Cir., Dec. 28, 2007), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's award of $156 million in damages against four defendants, including the Holy Land Foundation (a large Muslim humanitarian relief organization) which allegedly contributed funds to Hamas. The suit was brought under 18 USC 2333-- a statute that permits recovery of treble damages by victims of international terrorism. The suit was filed by the parents and estate of David Boim who was murdered on the West Bank outside of Jerusalem by gunmen apparently connected with Hamas. The court remanded the case saying that plaintiffs need to prove a causal connection between defendants' conduct and the murder:
Permitting liability to be imposed on a defendant based solely on proof that the death of David Boim was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s conduct, without proof that the conduct actually was a cause of the death, would give section 2333 a far broader sweep than traditional tort principles would allow. The actual use to which the funds ... was put would be irrelevant. This would transform the doctrine of proximate causation from a principle that limits tort liability into one that expands liability, essentially rendering a defendant who intended to aid Hamas’s terrorist activities strictly liable for all foreseeable injuries even if that defendant’s aid actually did nothing to enable the terrorism and the injuries it inflicted....
Today's Springfield (IL) State Journal-Register reported on the decision.

Returning Military Chaplains Have No Reemployment Protection

An article that will appear in Sunday’s St. Louis Post Dispatch chronicles the re-employment problems faced by Reserve and National Guard military chaplains who are called up for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan and then return home. A 1979 Supreme Court case, concerned about governmental interference in affairs of religious organizations, has been seen as holding that chaplains are excluded from coverage under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 USC Sec. 4301 et. seq. (Background). The Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod has begun a program, Operation Barnabas, that works with chaplains, their families and their congregations before, during and after their deployment.

Friday, December 28, 2007

New Jersey Governor Signs Bills Protecting Religious Exercise

On Dec. 20, New Jersey's Governor Jon Corzine signed two bills designed to protect religious exercise in the state. A 3513 requires that exams for various state licenses be offered a second time on an alternative date when the scheduled exam conflicts with an applicant's religious observances. A3517 provides that patients or their family members can postpone signing admission papers when entering a health care facility if their date of admission is a day on which their religious beliefs preclude them from doing signing. The Jewish Standard reports that this will allow observant Jews admitted to a hospital on Saturday to wait until after sundown to sign required paperwork. The bills are part of a 7-bill package sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Schaer and Sen. Loretta Weinberg. (See prior related posting.)

Historic Church Gets State Grant For Repairs

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources through its Community Conservation Partnerships Program has awarded a $10,000 matching grant to the historic Methodist Episcopal Church of Burlington, PA for repairing wall and ceiling plaster. Yesterday's Towanda (PA) Daily & Sunday Review reports that church-- which is on the National Register of Historic Places-- is open to the public and does not have an active congregation. However members meet once a year in the building for a service. Apparently no one has raised church-state concerns regarding the grant.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Today Is 350th Anniversary of Flushing Remonstrance

An op-ed in today's New York Times reminds us that today is the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance-- a document (full text) seen as the first on this continent calling for religious liberty. The Remonstrance was signed by 30 citizens of New Amsterdam who objected to an edict issued by New Amsterdam's director general Peter Stuyvesant banning Quakers in the Dutch colony. [Thanks to Steven Sheinberg for the lead.]

China Justifies Rule On Tibetan Living Buddha Reincarnations

China Daily today published a long justification for China's rule on the management of reincarnations of Tibetan living Buddhas. The regulation was issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs on July 18 came into effect on September 1. (See prior related posting.) According to the official Chinese publication: "The rule is bound to have significant impact on standardizing governance on living Buddha reincarnation, protecting people's religious freedom, maintaining the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism and the building of a harmonious society."

Malaysia's Highest Court Rules On Divorce Jursidiction After Husband Converts

Malaysia's Federal Court has issued an important 2-1 decision in a case involving jurisdiction over a divorce when a spouse has converted to Islam. According to The Star, the majority held that a non-Muslim marriage does not automatically dissolve when one of the parties converts to Islam. The husband could go to the Syariah High Court, but the non-Muslim marriage would continue under civil law until civil courts dissolve it. The court also held that if either spouse converts to Islam, that spouse has the right to convert the children of the marriage. However the majority held that the wife in this case must refile her divorce petition in civil courts because under civil law she needs to wait at least 3 months after her husband's conversion to file.

UPDATE: The full opinion in Rajasingam v. Thangathorya is now available online.

"In God We Trust" Will Move To More Prominent Spot On $1 Coins

Section 623 of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2008 (HR 2764), signed into law by the President on Dec. 26, mandates that the motto "In God We Trust" on $1 Presidential coins be moved from the edge of the coins to a more prominent location on the face or back of the coins. Baptist Press yesterday reported that the provision was sponsored by Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd. Apparently some were concerned that the edge-incused inscriptions could wear off over time, and others thought moving the inscription might be a step toward totally removing it.

Ban On Feeding the Hungry On Public Property Challenged

In West Palm Beach, Florida, two non-profit groups have sued to challenge the city's three-month old ordinance that bans their feeding of the hungry on public property at two locations in the city. Yesterday's Palm Beach Post reports that plaintiffs claim the ordinance is vague and overbroad. One of the plaintiffs, "Art and Compassion" is a religious group that says feeding the poor is part of their religious obligation to God. Referring to a recent grand jury report that found West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel had created a "pay to play" environment in which developers felt pressure to contribute to city organizations and the mayor's campaign, plaintiffs in this law suit charge that a "pay to pray" system has been created. The lawsuit alleges: "Those who can pay for a building or pay money for the mayor's special projects or charities are granted the permission to pray and practice their religion as they see fit, but those who lack the funds to own a building. . . are told to go inside another's church in order to carry out their sacred duties outside the public view."

Court Says Kwanzaa Is Not "Religious"

A Shelby County, Tennessee Probate Court judge has ruled that Kwanzaa is not a "religious" celebration so that use of County Commission chambers for a Kwanzaa celebration does not violate the Establishment Clause. Yesterday's Memphis Daily News and today's Memphis Commercial Appeal report on the decision handed down in a suit filed last week by Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas against the county and County Commissioner Henri Brooks. Thomas argued that since nativity scenes and other religious events could not be hosted on county property, it would be discriminatory to permit a Kwanzaa event. Anthony Pietrangelo, representing Thomas, said that Kwanzaa is a spiritual alternative to Christmas and by allowing the event, the county would be saying "no to access for Christmas, but yes to access for Kwanzaa." Chancellor Walter Evans, however, disagreed ruling that the celebration is not religious just because it has a spiritual dimension to it. He also said it would be inappropriate for the court to allow one elected official to infringe on the territory of another elected official.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ahmadis In Pakistan Continue To Be Denied Recognition As Muslims

Today's London Telegraph reports on the ongoing problems faced by the 2 million members of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. They consider themselves Muslim, but a 1974 amendment to Pakistan's constitution declared them non-Muslims. Twenty years ago, charges were filed against the Ahmadiyya community in the Punjab city of Rabwah charging them with impersonating Muslims (a violation of Pakistan Penal Code Secs. 298B and C). The charges are still outstanding, so the 50,000 Ahmadis in Rabwah need to keep their beards short and avoid using Muslim religious invocations. The tombstone of Ahmaidyya scientist Dr. Abdus Salam used to read: "the first Muslim Nobel Laureate". However a magistrate ordered the inscritption removed. (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Matthew Caplan for the lead.]

Christian Churches Attacked By Hindus In Indian State of Orissa

The AP reports that in the Indian state of Orissa, Hindu extremists attacked and burned six small Christian churches on Christmas eve. There were conflicting reports of how the violence began. The Catholic Bishop's Conference said Hindu extremists objected to a Christmas pageant, believing it was designed to convince low-caste Hindus to convert. Apparently then some Christians forcibly stopping 80-year-old Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and attempted to attack him. A Hindu was killed in the resulting violence. Orissa is the only Indian state in which police permission is required before a person may change religions.

UPDATE: IANS reported on Friday that retired Orissa High Court Justice Basudev Panigrahi has been appointed to investigate the attacks under the state's Commission of Inquiry Act.

UPDATE: Christian Today reported on Saturday that a delegation from the All India Christian Council met with India's Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari to ask the government to stop ongoing attacks against Christians in Orissa and restore the rule of law. Other meetings of Christian delegations with government officials have also been held.

UPDATE: VHP on Saturday said that "forceful" conversions by Christian missionary groups were behind the violence in Orissa. It called for strengthening of the law on illegal conversions, enhanced sentences for violations and the monitoring of the flow of foreing funds into the area. (New India Press.)

Suit Filed Over Green Bay Nativity Display

Even though Christmas has passed, the Freedom from Religion Foundation along with 12 individuals is pursuing litigation against Green Bay, Wisconsin over the city's nativity scene display. (See prior posting.) The federal court complaint (full text) sets out the chronology of events and alleges that the display violates the Establishment Clause. The FFRF's Christmas eve news release announcing the lawsuit said: "Since federal offices are closed on Dec. 24, the Foundation has mailed its lawsuit to be received by Dec. 26 by the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin." A report on the lawsuit by Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers quotes Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt: "They can't even file the suit in recognition of the federal holiday. There's a message there — we do have a right to celebrate Christmas." The display is scheduled to be taken down today. (WFRV News).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Messages From President Online; From Queen on YouTube

Last Friday, the White House posted on its website the Presidential Message: Christmas 2007. After quoting a passage from Gospel of Luke, the Message begins: "During the Christmas season, our thoughts turn to the source of joy and hope born in a humble manger on a holy night more than 2,000 years ago. Each year, Christians everywhere celebrate this single life that changed the world and continues to change hearts today. The simple and inspiring story of the birth of Jesus fills our souls with gratitude for the many blessings in our lives and promises that God's purpose is justice and His plan is peace."

In Britain, this year's Christmas Message from Queen Elizabeth II will not only be broadcast on television, but will also be posted on YouTube. Today's New York Times reports that on Sunday, The Royal Channel: The Official Channel of the British Monarchy went live on YouTube, carrying videos of historic events in the Monarchy's history. These include the Queen Mother's wedding in 1923 and the first Royal Christmas broadcast in 1957. Transcripts of all the Royal Christmas broadcasts since 1952 are online at the Monarchy's website.

All of this contrasts rather vividly with the actions of of the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on this day in 1651. The Puritan-controlled legislature passed a law imposing a fine of 5 shillings for observing Christmas. As reported today by Politico, this was part of the Puritans' attempt to purify the church and their personal lives.

Azeri Parliament To Consider Hijab Ban In Schools

In Azerbaijan, Parliament on Friday is expected to debate a new education bill. Trend News today reports that one portion of the proposed draft bans both pupils and teachers from wearing the Muslim headscarf (hijab) or other religious dress in schools. Azerbaijan’s Center for the Protection of Religious Rights and Freedoms of Conscience says that this ban violates the country's constitution as well as international agreements to which the country is a party. However Shamsaddin Hajiyev, chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Science and Education, says the ban is consistent with Azerbaijan's secular character where religion and state are separate. 95% of the country's population is Muslim.

UPDATE: During Friday's parliamentary debate, Oktay Asadov, Speaker of Azerbaijan Parliament, urged that the ban on headscarves be removed from the bill and that the matter be left to the head of each school. (Trend News).

Monday, December 24, 2007

President Sends Kwanzaa Greetings

Last Friday, the White House released the President's message to those observing Kwanzaa. The President said, in part: "As family and friends gather to celebrate Kwanzaa, our citizens are reminded of the many African Americans who have contributed their talent and strength to this great Nation. I commend those observing this holiday for taking pride in your rich heritage. May the coming year be filled with the blessings of health and happiness."

Huckabee's Use of Religion In Iowa Campaign Attracts Increasing Attention

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's appeal to Iowa's evangelical voters has become the center of press attention as the Iowa caucuses approach. Today's Dallas Morning News reviews Huckabee's strategy of working with the decentralized network of Christian evangelicals, lining up endorsements from high profile evangelical leaders. Reuters reported yesterday however that Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, has angered some Catholics by delivering the Sunday sermon at Pastor John Hagee's Cornerstone megachurch in San Antonio, Texas. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, says that "Hagee has a history of denigrating the Catholic religion." And in today's Des Moines Register, two former Iowa Lieutenant Governors, Democrat Sally Pederson and Republican Joy Corning, co-authored an op-ed decrying the growing interjection of religion into the campaign. They said: "We call on the presidential candidates to run for office based on their vision, their judgment and their plans to deal with the challenges and issues that confront our nation. Do not ask us to vote for you based on your personal religious affiliation. Do not ask us to stand in judgment of your opponents' religious beliefs."

Recent Scholarly Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

  • Caspar P.L. van Woensel, Symbols and the Law. BRAND, GOD, AND BAN: IMPROPER USE AND MONOPOLIZATION OF SIGNS WITH A HIGH SYMBOLIC VALUE, (Amstelveen, Netherlands: deLex, 2007 ).
From SmartCILP:
  • Aaron Baker, Controlling Racial and Religious Profiling: Article 14 ECHR Protection v. U.S. Equal Protection Clause Prosecution, 13 Texas Wesleyan Law Review 285-309 (2007).

  • Javaid Rehman, "War on Terror" and the Future of Muslim Minorities in the United Kingdom: Dilemmas of Multi-Culturalism in the Aftermath of the London Bombings, 29 Human Rights Quarterly 831-878 (2007).

  • Jeffrey Omar Usman, Defining Religion: The Struggle to Define Religion Under the First Amendment and the Contributions and Insights of Other Disciplines of Study Including Theology, Psychology, Sociology, the Arts, and Anthropology, 83 Notre Dame Law Review 123-223 (2007).

  • Symposium. The Future of Islamic Law Scholarship. Foreword by Hisham M. Ramadan; articles by Bernard K. Freamon, Nazeem MI Goolam, Sherman A. Jackson, Liaquat Ali Khan, Aminah Beverly McCloud and Hisham M. Ramadan. 2006 Michigan State Law Review 1399-1640.

  • Symposium: Religion and Morality in the Public Square. Excerpts from keynote address by Noah Feldman; articles by Christopher J. Eberle, Kent Greenawalt, Leslie Griffin, Peter Steinfels, Richard W. Garnett and Bernadette Meyler. 22 St. John's Journal of Legal Commentary 417-558 (2007).

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Alabama Court Rejects Defamation Claim On Church Autonomy Grounds

In Reynolds v. Wood, 2007 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 782 (AL Ct. Civ. App., Dec 21, 2007), an Alabama state appellate court overturned a $10,000 verdict that plaintiff had won at trial and dismissed a defamation claim brought by a church deacon against its pastor. The court said: "The statements at issue in this case were made by a pastor during a sermon and addressed the conformity of a deacon to the church's standards of faith and morality. Our courts may not decide the truth or falsity of such statements and, therefore, may not entertain claims pertaining to those issues. Furthermore, as a matter of policy, we have strong reservations about restricting the religious speech of a pastor from his pulpit.... Deacon Wood may seek recourse through the governing boards and disciplinary processes established by the church..." An AP report gives some background on the dispute between the parties over the operation of the church's benevolent fund.

Huckabee Discusses Concerns On Religion With Reporters

MSNBC carries an interesting account of Mike Huckabee's conversation with reporters on his campaign bus in Iowa on Friday. Responding to concerns that as President he would favor Christians, he said: "I don't think anybody's going to find that ... I'm some intolerant bigot when it comes to religion.... [I]n my view of faith, it's only faith if it's voluntary ... and to try to force faith on somebody would, to me, violate the heart and soul of it as to what it should be."

Asked whether he would continue the tradition he started as Arkansas governor to celebrate Christian Heritage Week and hang the 10 Commandments in his office, he replied: "[I] don't know why I wouldn't.... The Ten Commandments form the basis of most of our laws and therefore, you know if you look through them does anybody find anything there that would be all that objectionable? I don't think most people would if they actually read them."

Finally, in a lighter vein, Huckabee missed the humor in an exchnage with a reporter about Christmas eve plans. Huckabee said his family has a tradition of going out for Chinese food after Christmas eve services. Asked if this was to help him better relate to the Jewish community (where there is a similar custom), Huckabee-- apparently mystified-- replied "No, its Chinese food." [Thanks to Carpetbagger Report for the lead.]

County Resolution Urges Public Recognition of God

According to an AP story today, last week the Knox County (TN) Commission passed, by a vote of 8-3, a resolution "urging all American citizens to proclaim to every level of government its responsibility to publicly recognize God as the foundation of our National Heritage." (Agenda Item R-07-12-917). In the past, similar resolutions have generated significant controversy. They generated less this time because in October a judge invalidated the appointment of eight of the Commissioners, who, he found, were appointed in violation of the state's Open Meetings Act.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Scott v. California Supreme Court, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93525 (ED CA, Dec. 20, 2007), a California federal Magistrate Judge rejected a prisoner's claim that his First amendment free exercise rights and his rights under RLUIPA were vioalted when the warden refused to permit him to change his name for religious reasons. The court said that it found no evidence demonstrating that plaintiff's practice of his religion was substantially burdened by the refusal.

In Harris v. Schriro, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93350, (D AZ, Dec. 18, 2007), an Arizona federal district court dismissed as a defendant a dietitian employed by the company that provides kosher meals to Arizona prisons. The court held that plaintiff had not demonstrate a connection between the dietitian's conduct and alleged violations of plaintiff's First Amendment rights. Plaintiff claimed he was denied regular kosher meals. (See prior related posting.)

In Alston v. Department of Corrections, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91964 (WD VA, Dec. 14, 2007), a Virginia federal district court rejected an inmate's claim that being served, on two occasions, his Common Fare meal with a dirty tray lid violated his free exercise rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA.

In Sides v. Religious Accommodation Committee, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73075 (MD PA, Oct. 1, 2007), a Pennsylvania federal district court accepted a magistrate's recommendation (2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91832, Aug. 3, 2007) insofar as it concluded that an inmate does did not need certain racially inflammatory documents confiscated from him in order for him to prove that he is an adherent of "Creativity". The court said, however, that issues remain as to whether the confiscated documents are religious materials entitled to free exercise protection.

Excessive Christian Proselytizing In Military Charged

Yesterday's Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel carries a lengthy opinion piece by Jason Leopold on the Military Ministry, a national organization that is a subsidiary of Campus Crusade for Christ. Relying in particular on information discovered by Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Leopold reports that "Military Ministry's staff has successfully targeted US soldiers entering basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston, with the approval of the Army base's top commanders." The piece quotes Military Ministry staff as saying they are working to send soldiers "out into the world as Government paid missionaries." The website of Fort Jackson's Military Ministry reportedly carried a photo of basic training battalion commander, Lt. Col. David Snodgrass, and battalion chaplain, Maj. Scott Bullock, in uniform with Military Ministry director Frank Bussey. Leopold also says that President Bush has recently nominated Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, deputy Air Force Chief of Chaplains, to replace the outgoing Air Force Chief of Chaplains. He points out that in 2005 the New York Times quoted Richardson as saying that the Air Force reserves the right "to evangelize the unchurched."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nepal's Government Presses For Change In Traditions for Hindu Child-Goddess

The AP reported on Saturday that a nearly 400-year old religious tradition in Nepal is coming under challenge from government officials as well as others. Traditionally, a young girl around the age of 4 is chosen from the goldsmith caste to live as the incarnation of the Hindu deity Taleju. (Background). The chosen girl-- at least until recent changes-- has been largely isolated in a Katmandu palace, and is worshipped as a goddess, until she reaches puberty and is sent back to her family, unprepared to adjust to a normal life. Now however activists charge that this practice violates Nepalese law. The Supreme Court began an investigation, and the country's new democratic government refused to allow King Gyanendra to receive the goddess's annual blessing. Apparently the prime minister, rather than the king, is to receive the blessing. The king, however, went to the goddess without permission, a step that led the government to retaliate by reducing the number of royal bodyguards.

French President Calls For Greater Role For Religion In Public Life

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a visit to the Vatican on Thursday, caused consternation among some in France by encouraging a greater role for religion in giving meaning to public life. Reuters reported on the trip during which Sarkozy received the title of Honorary Canon at the Lateran Basilica, an honor given to the head of France since Henry IV. (Zenit). Zenit published quotes from two of Sarkozy's speeches. At the Basilica, he said: "Secularism should not be a denial of the past. It does not have the power to sever France from its Christian roots." In meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, Sarkozy said: "I am calling for a positive laicism, that is to say, a secularism that watches over freedom of thought, of belief and unbelief, does not consider religion as a danger, but as an asset."

Church and State Responses To Same-Sex Couples Continue To Evolve

As the debate over recognizing same-sex couples continues, both church groups and governmental bodies are responding in varied way. The AP today reports that in some liberal churches around the country-- such as some United Church of Christ congregations -- ministers have begun performing only religious marriage ceremonies. They refuse to act as agents of the state to sign civil marriage licenses so long as state law rejects same-sex marriage. Rev. Mark Wade, pastor of a Unitarian Universalist Church in Asheville, N.C., said that the move emphasizes the separation of church and state: "We tell couples to go to the magistrate. I felt I couldn't serve an unjust law." At the same time, in Massachusetts where same-sex marriage is recognized, some conservative pastors refuse to perform the civil portion of marriage ceremonies so that they are not pressured to officiate for same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, Toledo, Ohio yesterday became the largest city in the state to create a domestic partnership registry. Today's Toledo Blade reports that on its first day of operation, eight couples registered with the city as domestic partners. The city ordinance creates the registry for both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners. Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner who signed the ordinance last month says that he is a "strong Christian believer" who does not advocate alternative lifestyles, but who does believe in minority rights and diversity. One of those who registered yesterday, Carol Bresnahan, vice provost at the University of Toledo, said that bigotry in the name of religious belief accounts for those who oppose the law. When the ordinance was passed last month, the Ohio's Gay People's Chronicle reported that there are 152 similar registries nationwide.

Nativity Displays Continue In The News As Christmas Approaches

As Christmas day draws near, disputes over governmentally sponsored nativity displays continue to erupt. One in the small town of Exmore,Virginia was the focus of a Washington Post article on Friday that discusses more generally the phenomenon of complaints about holiday displays. According to the Post: “Three national legal groups are involved in the dispute there. They disagree over whether a Christmas tree-shaped ornament the town placed on a nearby telephone pole proves -- or disproves -- that the Nativity scene is just part of a broader, generally secular display.” A bit more background on the Exmore display is in Saturday’s Salisbury (MD) Daily Times.

Friday’s Manitowoc, Wisconsin News discusses the objections to the nativity scene on the local court house lawn raised by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. County Board Chairman Jim Brey’s reaction was: “It's unfortunate that just a few people can choose to be offended out of the blue and disrupt and insult the good people in our community who care very much about the holiday and the meaning for the holiday.” In response to arguments that the display is a town tradition, Rich Bouril, the resident who originally complained about the display, said: “Slavery was a tradition once.”

Finally, in Britain, 18-year old Christopher Geisler will spend both Christmas and New Years in jail after he stole the figures of Jesus and Mary from a nativity scene in front of Worcester’s Guildhall. Geisler, who was already on bail for two assault charges, apparently had been drinking and said he stole the statues “for a laugh”. This is the third year in a row that the nativity scene has been vandalized. According to today's Worcester News, Geisler’s father was upset that he would not be home for Christmas.

One RLUIPA Suit Filed; Another In the Offing

In San Diego, California, the Pacific Beach United Methodist Church has filed a RLUIPA lawsuit after San Diego's Neighborhood Code Enforcement Office threatened to cite the congregation for its use of its building to feed the homeless. Friday’s San Diego Union-Tribune reports that every Wednesday night for 14 years the church has served dinner and offered medical care for homeless men, women and children. The lawsuit alleges that the threatened zoning enforcement action prevents church members “from practicing the fundamental tenets of their Christian religion on their church's property.”

Meanwhile in Litchfield, Connecticut, a RLUIPA suit may be in the offing now that the Historic District Commission has denied an application by a Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish congregation to restore and add onto a Victorian house on the edge of the district for use as a synagogue and living quarters for the rabbi. The Commission says it would welcome a proposal to build a much smaller building, but Chabad says that there are already Episcopalian, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches in the same neighborhood that are larger than the proposed new synagogue. The Hartford Courant reported on Friday that this proposal to build the town’s first synagogue has been controversial from its inception, with the Commission chairwoman, who is herself Jewish, called anti-Semitic by by Chabad after she objected to the proposed star of David and the use of Jerusalem stone in the renovated building.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Majority Upholds Witness' Religious Objection to Raising Hand To Be Sworn In

In a 2-1 decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld the right of a plaintiff in a lawsuit to refuse for religious reasons to raise her right hand when being sworn in at a deposition and at a subsequent hearing. In Donkers v. Kovach, (MI Ct. App., Dec. 18, 2007), the majority opinion held that while raising one's right hand is required by Michigan statue when an oath is administered, the statute does not require the same conduct when, as here, a witness is administered an affirmation instead of an oath. Judge Markey dissenting argued that the statutory provision permitting an affirmation still requires raising of the right hand. He went on to hold that this requirement violates neither the First Amendment's religion clauses nor parallel provisions in the Michigan constitution. She concluded that the requirement is secular in origin and fosters a secular purpose, and that it is a neutral law of general application. Because plaintiff voluntarily chose to bring suit in a Michigan court, she must, Judge Markey ruled, "abide by Michigan's laws and court rules."

Malay Officials Say Christian Paper Must Change Its Translation of "God"

Under Malaysian law, newspaper publishers must obtain annual government permits in order to publish. Today's International Herald Tribune reports that publishers of a Catholic weekly newspaper, The Herald, have been informed that they will not have their permit renewed unless they stop translating "God" as "Allah" in the Malay language version of their paper. Officials say "Allah" may only be used to refer to the Muslim God and may not be used more generically. Instead, according to officials, the paper should use the more term "Tuhan" when referring to God in a Christian context. Internal Security Ministry official Che Din Yusoff says that there are also three other Malay words that may not be used by other religions: "solat" (prayers), "kaabah" (the place of Muslim worship in Mecca) and "baitula" (the house of Allah). However Herald editor Rev. Lawrence Andrew says: "We follow the Bible. The Malay-language Bible uses Allah for God and Tuhan for Lord. In our prayers and in church during Malay mass, we use the word Allah."

UPDATE: The AP reported on Dec. 27 that the Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo has sued challenging the government's position after it seized children's educational material being brought into the country. Government officials said the Christian books' use of "Allah," could raise confusion and controversy among Muslims.

Denial of Visa To Muslim Scholar Upheld By Court

Yesterday in American Academy of Religion v. Chertoff, (SDNY, Dec. 20, 2007), a New York federal district court upheld the U.S. government's denial of a visa to Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim scholar who had originally been offered a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame, and who later wished to attend other academic events in the United States. The court found that the government had articulated a facially legitimate and bona fide reason to exclude Ramadan. He had contributed funds to an organization which he knew, or should have known, provided funds to Hamas, a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. The court refused to pass on the constitutionality of a separate provision of the Patriot Act that excludes from the U.S. any alien who "endorses or espouses terrorist activity". The ACLU issued a release criticizing the decision. It said: "The ACLU continues to believe that Ramadan, a leading European academic whose work addresses Muslim identity and the role of Islam in democratic societies, remains banned due to his political viewpoints."

UN General Assembly Passes Resolution Against Defamation of Religions

Jurist reports that on Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on Combating Defamation of Religions. The resolution, introduced by Pakistan on behalf of countries that are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, was passed by a vote of 108 to 51, with 25 abstentions. (UN Press Release). The United States, Canada and a number of Western European nations voted against the lengthy resolution which provides in part that the General Assembly:
8. Deplores the use of the print, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination against Islam or any other religion, as well as targeting of religious symbols;

9. Stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions, Islam and Muslims in particular;

10. Emphasizes that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations as provided by law and necessary for ... respect for religions and beliefs....

Czech Government and Churches Reach Agreement On Nationalized Properties

In the Czech Republic, a landmark agreement has been reached between a government committee and representatives of 17 religious orders. The Prague Post reported on Wednesday that the agreement deals with Church claims for property that was nationalized by the government after the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. Under the agreement, religious orders and congregations will actually receive back their property-- about 558,000 acres (one-third of the property that was nationalized). Churches and religious groups will receive compensation of $4.6 billion for the remainder of the property, which will then be able to be developed for other uses. Reportedly the compensation will be paid out over a period of 60 to 70 years. The proposed agreement still must be approved by Parliament and signed by President Vaclav Klaus. This seems likely to happen, and the arrangement could go into effect as early as January 2009.

White House Website Answers Questions On Presidential Holiday Decorations

On the White House website, yesterday's Ask the White House featured responses by Amy Allman, Director of the Visitors Office, to questions about White House holiday decorations. Readers learned that there are 33 Christmas trees in the White House this year, that Benjamin Harrison was the first President to place Christmas decorations in the White House, and that 300 pounds of white chocolate was used to make the Gingerbread House that is currently on display.

EEOC Accuses Restaurant Chain of Religious Discrimination Against Muslim

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a religious discrimination claim for back pay and damges against the Atlanta-based Folks Southern Kitchen Restaurants. CBS46 reports that the restaurant refused to hire a Muslim woman, Soumaya Khalifa, for a cashier's position because Khalifa wears a Muslim head scarf. The restaurant claimed that wearing the hijab violates its dress code. The EEOC says that the restaurant should have made reasonable accommodation for Khalifa's religious beliefs.

Trinidad Court of Appeal Rejects Challenge To Trinity Cross Award

In Trinidad & Tobago yesterday, the Court of Appeal affirmed a constitutional ruling handed down last year by a High Court judge (see prior posting). The Court of Appeal held that while the country's Trinity Cross award may be discriminatory against non-Christians, it was issued under letters patent that predate the current Constitution. Under Section 6 of the Constitution, pre-existing laws are not subject to attack for violating the Constitution's Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. Today's Trinidad & Tobago Express says the Court of Appeal ruled that "while the power to confer honours is an executive one, it has the force of law that allows it to qualify as existing law under the provisions of the Constitution." Officials, however, have already decided to change the design of the country's top honor. (See prior posting.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Staff of Christian Groups Having Difficlty Extending Visas In Israel

In Israel, evangelical Christian groups are having difficulties obtaining long-term visas for their permanent staff to remain in the country, according to reports by the Jerusalem Post and CBN News. Under Israeli law, a special recommendation from the Interior Ministry is required in order for foreign workers to extend their 5-year visas. Extensive turnover in staffing at the Interior Ministry has apparently complicated the problem. While many of the Christian groups have been honored for their work by the Knesset and the Tourism Ministry, Interior officials are not necessarily familiar with the organizations.

Canadian Law School Ends Policy of Cancelling Class for Jewish Holidays

In Canada, a decision earlier this month by the University of Windsor law school to end its long-standing policy of cancelling classes on the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur has met with criticism. Today's Windsor (Ontario) Star reports that some non-Jewish students, as well as Jewish students, criticized the change. Muslim students elsewhere in the University fear that the move will hinder their efforts to get classes cancelled for Muslim holidays. The law school's faculty council voted to change its holiday policy because of the increasing diversity of the law school's student body. Dean Bruce Elman said that "the law school should not favor one religious group over other non-Christian religious groups." In making its decision, the law faculty council also agreed to create a task force to draft a plan for "reasonable accommodation" for all religious and cultural groups.

China's President Speaks About Religion In China

China's president Hu Jintao yesterday discussed religious issues at a meeting of the Political Bureau of the 17th Communist Party of China's Central Committee. Today's Shanghai Daily quotes Hu: "We shall fully carry out the Party's policy of free religious beliefs and manage relevant affairs in line with the law." He said that the Party and the government will encourage religious believers to remain patriotic, and that China will use human understanding and aim for mutual respect in dealing with religion. He added: "The Party and government shall reach out to religious believers in difficulties and help them through their problems." Hu emphasized the need for training of religious professionals. Training programs have have already offered religious leaders, theology teachers and government officials training in the history of world religions, ethics, management, psychology and law.

Suit Against California Teacher Continues To Draw Attention

In Mission Viejo, California yesterday, 300 students and former students of Capistrano Valley High School teacher James Corbett joined a rally in his defense after a student in his Advanced Placement European History class filed suit challenging remarks Corbett made in class that were seen to be hostile toward religion and toward traditional Christian views on sexuality. (See prior posting.) Today's Los Angeles Times says that Corbett's supporters praise his teaching and say he instills in students the values of freedom of thought and speech. Near the pro-Corbett rally, supporters of plaintiff Chad Farnan also gathered. Farnan has attracted national attention to the lawsuit by appearing on Bill O'Reilly's Fox TV broadcast. (Video of interview.)

Immigration Judge Releases Imam Pending Visa Appeal

Today's New York Times reports that an immigration judge in Pennsylvania has released Imam Kadir Gunduz on $5000 bond while he appeals his pending deportation to Turkey. Since July 2006, Citizenship and Immigration Services has been conducting site visits to review the status of individuals in the country on religious worker visas. Gunduz has lived in the U.S. for 19 years on a combination of visas. In 2002, he was granted a temporary religious worker visa, and subsequently applied for permanent residency. That application was denied and Gunduz was taken into custody earlier this month when CIS determined that he had changed his status from head imam handling administrative duties at a Pittsburgh mosque to directing a chaplaincy program and working with prison inmates. CIS has become stricter on religious worker visas since a 2005 study revealed a high rate of fraud in the program. (See prior related posting.)

Time's Interview of Russia's Putin Includes Q&A On Religion

Time Magazine has named Russian President Vladimir Putin as its "Person of the Year". Time editor-in-chief John Huey and managing editor Richard Stengel conducted a lengthy interview with Putin. In the full transcript, Putin answered several questions regarding his religious beliefs, and the role of religion in Russia. Here are excerpts:

TIME: One of the issues that is being discussed in our presidential election is the role of faith in government.... What role does faith play in your own leadership and what role should faith play in government and in the public sphere?

PUTIN: First and foremost we should be governed by common sense. But common sense should be based on moral principles first. And it is not possible today to have morality separated from religious values. I will not expand, as I don't want to impose my views on people who have different viewpoints.

TIME: Do you believe in a Supreme God?

PUTIN: Do you? ... There are things I believe, which should not in my position, at least, be shared with the public at large for everybody's consumption because that would look like self-advertising or a political striptease....

TIME: Earlier you used the phrase, Thou shalt not steal. Have you read the Bible?

PUTIN: Yes, I have. And the Bible is on my plane. I fly frequently, you know. And on the plane I use, there is a Bible. I also have an icon there with some sewing on it. I fly long distances. We're a vast country. So I have time there to read the Bible.

TIME: I understand that you don't want to be public with your religion. But is there some way we can characterize your faith?

PUTIN: You could say that it is my deep conviction that the moral values without which humankind cannot survive cannot be other than religious values. Now, as regards a specific church or other establishment, that's a separate matter. As somebody said once, if God exists, he does know that people have different views regarding church.

TIME: Now the situation is emerging whereby the Russian Orthodox Church is apparently becoming a dominating force in Russia. It's the only church that has signed official relations on cooperation with the Ministry of Defense, law-enforcement agencies and the Foreign Office....

PUTIN: .... Our law recognizes four traditional religions in Russia. Our American partners criticized us for that, incidentally, but it has been defined by our lawmakers. These traditional Russian religions are the Orthodox Church, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.

TIME: .... [I]t's still hardly proper in a secular country for the top military brass of the General Staff under the command of their Chairman to hold a service together with the top hierarchy, as occurred at the Orthodox Church at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet nuclear bomb.

PUTIN: Well, I would say that if those General Staff brass were Jews, Muslims or Buddhists and would have chosen to celebrate this wonderful event at other religious shrines, I would welcome that. So you cannot talk about the inequality of any of those religions. But still some 80% of the Russians consider themselves Orthodox Christians, which makes the Russian Orthodox Church the largest of them all.

Sudan Sentences Two Egyptian Booksellers On Blaspehmey Charge

A court in Sudan has convicted two employees of an Egyptian publisher on charges of insulting Islam (Sudan Penal Code Sec. 242 and 242A) because of a book they were selling at a book fair in Khartoum. Earth Times yesterday reported that Abdel-Fattah Abdel Raouf and Mahrus Abdel-Aziz were sentenced to six months in prison after they sold a Muslim extremist a copy of Nabil Fayyadh's book about Aisha, the Prophet Muhammad's wife, titled The Mother of the Faithful Devours Her Sons. Hasan Madbouly, co-owner of the publishing house, said that Sudanese authorities had approved the book before it was put on display at the fair. The Egyptian embassy will appeal the convictions and is seeking the release of the two men.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Huckabee Campaign Ad Has Unusual Christian Explicitness

This campaign ad from Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has attracted a good deal of attention. In it, Huckabee says: "Are you about worn out by all the television commercials you've been seeing, mostly about politics? Well, I don't blame you. At this time of year sometimes it's nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and friends."

An AP analysis of the ad-- which is airing in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina-- says that it "is unusual for a presidential candidate in that it is a religious message that excludes all religions except for the predominant Christian faith." Yesterday's Boston Globe says that the ad "is drawing cheers from Christian bloggers, consternation from advocates of church-state separation, and a fair amount of fascination from all sides." Some suggest that the bookshelf in the background was intended to represent a cross. Huckabee yesterday in Houston said that the nation is in serious trouble if reminding voters about the religious meaning of Christmas is politically incorrect. (Houston Chronicle).

Meanwhile, AFP today reports on the reactions of non-believers to the increasingly religious tone of political campaigns.

Youth Minister's Confession To Pastor Protected By Cleric-Penitent Privilege

According to today's Trenton (NJ) Record, a state Superior Court judge in Patterson (NJ) has barred prosecutors from using as evidence in an upcoming sexual assault trial a confession given by a church youth minister to the church's pastor. Pastor Milton Mendez arranged a meeting with youth minister Emerzon Gomez after learning that a 14-year old girl had said she had oral sex with Gomez while Gomez was giving her a piano lesson in her home. Prosecutors argued that Mendez, pastor of a charismatic Catholic congregation, was acting as an investigator, not as a spiritual advisor, when he got Gomez to confess to him. The court, however, decided that the confession is protected by the state's cleric-penitent privilege-- something that Pastor Mendez did not know when police questioned him about his conversation with the accused youth minister.

9th Circuit Remands RFRA Objection To Giving DNA Sample

Yesterday in United States v. Zimmerman, (9th Cir., Dec. 18, 2007), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a federal district court wrongly rejected a criminal defendant's objection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to providing a DNA sample. The sample was mandated by the 2004 DNA Act (42 USC Sec. 14135a.) The district court had merely held that defendant's beliefs were not religious because they are not central to the Roman Catholic faith in which he was raised. The 9th Circuit remanded saying that RFRA does not require that a belief be central to a mainstream religion. Instead, it ordered the district court to determine the precise scope of the defendant's beliefs, to determine whether they are sincerely held religious beliefs that are substantially burdened by giving a DNA sample and, if so, whether nevertheless this is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. [Thanks to Sean Sirrine for the lead.]

San Francisco Archbishop Issues Q&A's On Religion and Politics

Following up on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' guidance on choices facing the electorate (see prior posting), San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer has released a statement, in Question and Answer format, titled Religion and Politics - 2008. Here are some excerpts:
Q: Doesn't separation of church and state mean that religion and politics should have nothing to do with each other?

A: Religion and politics, church and state, should be independent of each other. However, both politicians and religious leaders rightly - and unavoidably - concern themselves with many of the same issues ... and it is only sensible that they communicate and even collaborate on the answers....

Q: Doesn't the moral perspective of the Catholic bishops on the issues facing voters in 2008 simply deny the reality of today's partisan divide and political choices?

A: Yes, the Catholic Church denies the reality and logic of a political structure in which citizens are forced to choose between protecting unborn children and fighting the horrors of global poverty because there are no viable candidates willing to do both. We deny the reality and logic of a political structure that prevents the emergence of candidates pledged to fighting the evil of euthanasia while seeking comprehensive justice on the issue of immigration.

Catholic News Service today reports on the Archbishop's statement.

Boulder City Council Approves Building Of An Eruv

After a discussion of First Amendment concerns, Boulder, Colorado's City Council last night approved by a vote of 5-2 a proposal to lease use of public rights-of-way so an Orthodox Jewish congregation can build an eruv-- a symbolic boundary within which religious restrictions on Sabbath activities can be relaxed. Acting City Attorney Jerry Gordon told Council that because the city already permits residents to lease use of public rights-of-way for cornices, patio seating and other encroachments, it cannot treat applications for religious uses more restrictively. Today's Boulder Daily Camera, reporting on the vote, quoted eruv opponent Councilwoman Lisa Morzel who said: "I believe that there are many people who would be offended with the idea that we are going to take a demarcation for religious purposes to make it convenient for a community to abide by a rule that's 4,000 years old."

Oklahoma City Employees Sue Over Holiday Display Policy

On Monday a federal lawsuit was filed over a Departmental Memo on holiday decorations issued last month by the City Manager of Oklahoma City (OK). The memo tells city employees that holiday decorations in government offices should be religiously neutral-- evergreen trees, snowflakes and reindeer, and not angels, crosses or menorahs. The complaint in Spencer v. City of Oklahoma City, (WD OK, filed Dec. 17, 2007) labels the memo the "Anti-Christmas Memo" and alleges that it violates the speech, free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment as well as the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. In particular, it asserts that the memo and the city's enforcement of it "has targeted the Plaintiffs religious expression and exercise based solely on its religious viewpoint." Alliance Defense Fund which filed the suit on behalf of two city employees issued a release announcing it and saying: "The attacks on Christmas are simply part of a larger war being waged on anything and everything Christian."

Reporting on the lawsuit, today's Oklahoman says City Manager Jim Couch sent supervisors a follow-up memo on Tuesday saying that his original directive applies only to holiday decorations in public spaces at city office buildings — not decorations in employees' personal work spaces. Many of the allegations in the lawsuit relate to plaintiffs' desire to maintain religious items in one employee's office, and to a Bible kept in an employee break room.

UPDATE: The Tulsa World reports that on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy DeGiusti denied a temporary restraining order in the lawsuit, saying that it was not necessary because of the clarifying memo sent out by the City Manager. UPDATE: The opinion denying the TRO is available on LEXIS: Spencer v. City of Oklahoma City, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94675 (WD OK, Dec. 19, 2007).

Teacher's Title VII Religious Discrimination Claim Dismissed

In Amekudzi v. Board of Richmond Public Schools, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92275 (ED VA, Dec. 17, 2007), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a Title VII religious discrimination claim brought by a substitute school teacher. Benony Amekudzi alleged that the Richmond public schools "allowed Magic and Witchcraft to be Taught" and invited weather forecasters to give magical powers to control the weather to students, but prohibited him from teaching about Christianity. The court, in rejecting plaintiff's claim, said: "While the RPS must reasonably accommodate Amekudzi's religious beliefs ..., it is not required to permit Amekudzi to turn his classroom into a pulpit. In fact, if it did so, it could be held liable for violating the Establishment Clause."

En Banc Review Sought Of 8th Circuit Decision On Faith-Based Prison Program

The state of Iowa and Prison Fellowship Ministries are seeking en banc review from the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in Americans United for Separation of Church and State v. Prison Fellowship Ministries, Inc., (8th Cir., Dec. 3, 2007). The AP yesterday reported on the filing of the motion which seeks review of a decision by a 3-judge panel earlier this month. The panel concluded that a state funded faith-based inmate rehabilitation program operated in an Iowa prison by InnerChange violates the Establishment Clause. (See prior posting.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Visits By Conservative Christian Leaders To White House Must Be Disclosed

In Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, (D DC, Dec. 17, 2007), a federal district court has ordered the Secret Service to release records of visits to the White House and to Vice President Dick Cheney's residence by nine prominent conservative Christian leaders. Reuters, reporting on the decision, says it could shed light on the extent to which religious leaders such as James Dobson affect policies of the Bush administration. The court held that the visitor records are "agency records" under the control of the Secret Service that must be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which made the FOIA request, is a self-described government watchdog group.

UPDATE: The White House on Thursday asked federal district court Judge Royce C. Lamberth to stay enforcement of his order to release records while his decision is appealed. (AHN)

UPDATE: On Friday, the federal district court granted the White House's motion, allowing the logs to be kept secret until the Court of Appeals rules in the case. (AP)

RLDS Church Wins Preliminary Injunction Protecting Its Trademarked Name

In Community of Christ Copyright Corp. v. Miller, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90531 (WD MO, Dec. 7, 2007), a Missouri federal district court granted a preliminary injunction barring a Raytown, Missouri church from using the federally registered trademarks "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" and "RLDS". Defendant church is one of the breakaway "Restoration Branches" of the RLDS church. The court rejected defendant's claim that the marks are generic and also rejected its fair use defense. The court ordered defendant to change its signage and to cancel ads using the protected trademarks. [Thanks to Brian D. Wassom for the lead.]

Green Bay's Holiday Display Attempts Create Problems

Things seem to have gotten a bit out of hand with holiday displays in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As previously reported (1, 2), City Council President Chad Fradette put up a nativity scene, and city council invited other religions to place their own displays up as well. Quickly a Wiccan pentacle joined the creche. Today's Green Bay Press Gazette reports that overnight, someone stole and damaged the Wiccan display. Meanwhile, yesterday Mayor Jim Schmitt announced a moratorium on new displays until City Council has a chance tonight to consider proposed guidelines. That angered two people who had brought displays-- a Unitarian Universalist who wanted to put up a peace sign and another individual who wanted to display a decorated cross wrapped in American flag cloth to symbolize the improper merging of church and state. Other proposed displays included ones for Festivus and a "Flying Spaghetti Monster" display. The mayor's proposed guidelines limit the size of displays, provide they cannot contain written words, lights or electronic devices, and require the symbol to be one of a religious holiday celebrated between Dec. 8 and 31.

UPDATE: On Tuesday evening, Green Bay City Council voted to leave Fradette's nativity display up until Dec. 26, to impose a moratorium for now on any other religious displays, and to eventually draw up a set of guidelines for future displays. The Council vote was 6-6 with Mayor Schmitt breaking the tie. Schmitt on Wednesday ordered city maintenance workers to move a Christmas tree and wire reindeer next to the nativity display to secularize the display. He said Liberty Counsel advised him that his Santa Claus-and-reindeer display on City Hall's other main entrance was already sufficient to do that. Meanwhile the Freedom from Religion Foundation is talking with possible plaintiffs in order to file a lawsuit. (Green Bay Gazette, Dec. 20).

Saudi King Pardons Rape Victim Sentenced For Meeting With Man

Today's New York Times reports that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has pardoned a rape victim who, in a high profile case, was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail for meeting her boyfriend in a car, unaccompanied by a male relative. The woman was partially dressed in the car when she was attacked by seven men who raped her. Her sentence, imposed under Islamic law administered by Saudi courts, had been widely criticized. (See prior posting.) The woman, who has now married, was not jailed while she appealed her conviction. There have been reports that the woman's brother tried to kill her to vindicate the family's honor. Saudi Minister of Social Affairs, Abdul Mohsin al-Akkas, said that if the woman needs housing to protect her after her pardon, the government will offer it to her.

CLS At University of Montana Sues Over School's Refusal To Grant Recognition

The Christian Legal Society chapter at the University of Montana law school has filed suit in federal district court challenging the Student Bar Association's refusal to recognize the organization and provide it with funds for its activities. The complaint (full text) in Christian Legal Society v. Eck, (D MT, Dec. 14, 2007), alleges that the SBA Executive Board originally recognized the CLS group, but revoked that recognition after a student body vote rejected an SBA budget that included funding for CLS. The law school's dean upheld the SBA decision. In derecognizing the CLS chapter, the SBA Executive Board said that the Chapter's requirement that voting members and officers agree with its Statement of Faith, including sexual abstinence outside of heterosexual marriage, violates the SBA's non-discrimination rule. The suit alleges that CLS's First Amendment rights of expressive association, free speech and free exercise of religion have been infringed. Alliance Defense Fund issued a release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

As UN Votes On Death Penalty, Islamic Countries Seen As Block To Abolition

Earth Times reports that today the United Nations General Assembly will vote on a resolution (full text) calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. The resolution also calls on nations that still maintain the death penalty to respect international standards protecting the rights of defendants in capital cases. In Rome, AKI interviewed former French justice minister Robert Badinter, author of a new book, Against the Death Penalty. Badinter told AKI that the major obstacles to abolishing the death penalty world-wide are regimes run by Islamic fundamentalists. He says that reform within Islam is a prerequisite to success: "If for example, the Moroccan sovereign, who is said to be a direct descendant of the [Islamic] prophet, and who shares the roles of head of state and religious leader, decides to abolish the death penalty, then we find ourselves with an instrument in our hand which can be used to start a dialogue with other Islamic countries."

10th Circuit Hears Arguments In Eagle Feather Protection Challenge

Yesterday the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in United States v. Friday, a criminal prosecution of a member of the Northern Arapaho Indian Tribe for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). The district court below dismissed charges against Winslow Friday, finding that the government's implementation of the BGEPA violated his free exercise rights. (See prior posting.) Yesterday's Casper (WY) Star-Tribune reported that in the appellate court, the government argued that Friday lacked standing to challenge the BGPEA's permit process because he never applied for a permit. Federal public defender John T. Carlson, representing defendant, argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service hid the existence of the permit process. Attacking the BGEPA, he said: "No other religion has a permit system denying it access to its sacred objects."

Report Claims Kenya Presidential Candidate Promises To Institute Shariah

In a report published yesterday, International Christian Concern claims that in Kenya, leading presidential candidate Raila Odinga has promised Muslims that if he is elected, he will bring Sharia law to Muslim parts of the country. The report says that a secret Memorandum of Understanding between Odinga and Sheikh Abdullahi Abdi, chairman of the National Leaders Forum, provides that if he is elected, Odinga will "within 6 months, re-write the Constitution of Kenya to recognize Shariah as the only true law sanctioned by the Holy Quran for Muslim declared regions." This provision is not in a public version of the Memorandum of Understanding that was released last month.