Thursday, January 31, 2008

Brooklyn Anglican Church Settles Lawsuit; Keeps Building For Below-Market Price

Virtue Online reported yesterday that St. Joseph's Anglican Church (formerly Trinity Church of East New York) has settled the lawsuit brought against it by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. St. Joseph's broke away from the Diocese in 1977, and is now affiliated with the Anglican Church in America. Much of the congregation had come from the British West Indies where they were members of the Church of England, and they were upset with liturgical changes made in the 1970's. The Diocese sued to obtain ownership of the church's historic building in Brooklyn. Under the terms of the settlement, St. Joseph's will pay $275,000-- a below market value price-- and will retain ownership of its property.

First Lady Marks Catholic Schools Week

The First Lady, Laura Bush, spoke yesterday at Washington, DC's Holy Redeemer Catholic School to mark Catholic Schools Week. She used the occassion (full text of remarks) to praise Washington, DC's Opportunity Scholarship program and to focus attention on President Bush's State of the Union speech that called for a Pell Grants for Kids Program and a White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools. (See prior posting.) [Thanks to Mirror of Justice for the lead.]

White House Marks 7th Anniversary of Faith-Based Initiative

Yesterday President George W. Bush marked the seventh anniversary of the Faith-Based and Community Initiative by visiting an orgaization in Baltimore (MD) sponsored by the Episcopal Church. The Jericho Project helps released non-violent prisoners-- many fighting alcohol abuse-- to develop skills that permit them to find jobs and successfully re-enter society. (Baltimore Sun.) In his remarks (full text), Bush explained the problems he saw that led him to begin the FBCI:
Unfortunately, in some instances where there was an interface with government, people were told that in order to interface you have to take the cross off the wall, or take down the Star of David. In other words, you had to abandon the very principle by which you existed in the first place. And it made no sense. If a program was effective because they were willing to recognize a higher power, if a program was effective because people responded because they felt a call from a higher power, than to deny the higher power really reduced the effectiveness of the program.

The White House yeterday also released a Fact Sheet on the Faith-Based and Community Initiative. [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for the lead.]

California College Trustee Attacks Islam In Her Opposition To Course Proposal

A trustee of California's College of the Siskiyous has created a furor by a statement she made at a January 15 Board meeting expressing her opposition to a proposed new course in Beginning Arabic and the History of the Middle East. Yesterday's Mt. Shasta News, reports that Dorris Wood, a trustee of the public community college, said in a prepared statement: "

We know all we need to know about Arabs and Islam. They are our enemies pure and simple. There is no getting away from that. They have declared war on the United States and they are committed to our destruction.... Instead of trying to understand our sworn enemies, we need to teach our people about this country. Muslims have over the century invaded other countries and forced their religion by killing, plundering and ravaging. This is nothing new, [this course] is just a new way of invading. They are invading Christian countries of the world from the inside, one method being through our schools and universities.... If you want to give yourselves to Islam, I have no problem with that,you have the right and the freedom to do that, but don't give my country to them.

Faculty and student groups are calling for Wood's resignation.

Massachusetts Church Seeks Tax Funds for Roof Repairs

The Northampton, Massachusetts, First Churches has received support from the town's Historical Commission in its bid to obtain $250,000 from the Community Preservation Committee toward roof and ceiling repairs. The Community Preservation Committee distributes funds collected under a local real estate tax surcharge and matching state monies. Church leader see the Historical Commission support as important in countering any church-state concerns about the grant. The church's pastor, Rev. Peter B. Ives, says the building often hosts public activities, such as First Night events and political rallies. He hopes the building will be treated as a "meeting house". Today's Springfield (MA) Republican reports on the church's request.

Turkey's Headscarf Proposal Faces Fierce Opposition

As previously reported, the major political parties in Turkey are taking steps to reverse the country's traditional ban on university women wearing the Muslim headscarf. Today's Toronto Globe and Mail carries an article on the passionate opposition to the proposal among secularists and the military:

[T]he head scarf has become an issue that is threatening to split Turkey in two. The bill received an explosive response yesterday from Turkey's secular establishment, who see it as a menacing incursion of Islam into a country that has kept religion at bay since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's democratic revolution in 1925. "Turkey is headed step by step toward becoming a theocratic state," one MP, Onur Oymen, said during the parliamentary debate. The head of Turkey's army issued a veiled threat yesterday. "All segments of Turkish society know very well the position of the military on this issue," General Yasar Buyakanit told reporters, somewhat cryptically.

Connecticut Supreme Court Rejects Buddhist Temple's RLUIPA Appeal

Yesterday, the Connecticut Supreme Court in Cambodian Buddhist Society of Connecticut, Inc. v. Planning and Zoning Commission of the Town of Newtown, (CT Sup. Ct., official release date Feb. 12, 2008), upheld the denial of a building permit to a Buddhist Temple. It rejected a RLUIPA and state law challenge to the denial of a special exception sought so the Temple could be built on 10 acres near Newtown (CT). The court held that

the substantial burden provision of RLUIPA does not apply to neutral and generally applicable land use regulations that are intended to protect the public health and safety, such as those at issue in the present case.....

[T]he provisions of the town’s regulations allowing religious facilities to be built in a residential zone by special exception treat such uses more, not less, favorably than certain other nonresidential uses that are not allowed by special exception. Moreover, although the commission has some discretion to determine whether a proposed specially permitted use is consistent with residential use, the regulations do not grant the commission the discretion to apply the standards differently to religious facilities than it applies them to the other uses allowed by special exception, such as clubs, private schools, seasonal camps, certain public utility buildings, hospitals, sanitary landfills, nurseries and horse boarding stables.

The court also concluded that under the state's Religious Freedom Act (Sec. 52-571b), the legislature did not intend that construction of a place of worship would constitute "religious exercise" nor did it intend that the non-discriminatory application of land use regulations would be subject to strict scrutiny under the Act. Yesterday's Hartford Courant reports on the decision and the facts behind it. (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Jeffrey Struski for the lead.]

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tennessee Supreme Court Will Hear Case of Cult Leader Charged With Child Neglect

According to today's Knoxville News, the Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in the criminal case of State v. Sherman, (TN Ct. Crim. App., July 12, 2007). At issue is whether a religious cult leader can be convicted of child neglect for the death of a teenage girl after the girl's mother followed the advice of leader, Ariel Ben Sherman, to rely on spiritual treatment for the girl's cancer. Sherman, a minister in the Universal Life Church, was not married to the girl's mother nor had he adopted the girl. However the mother and daughter lived with him, as did several of his other followers. The state argues that Sherman can be charged with neglect because of his informal custodial or in loco parentis role. The mother, who is also being prosecuted, is raising a free exercise of religion defense.

Voter Complains About Polling Place At Church with Anti-Abortion Display

The Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal reports that Ormond Beach (FL) resident Amy Murphy-DeMeo is complaining that her polling place in yesterday's Florida primaries was at Prince of Peace Catholic Church. The Church opposes abortion by a display of rows of white crosses symbolizing aborted fetuses, and two banners reading: "Pray for the innocent . . . 4,000 babies aborted daily in the USA." The Volusia County Department of Elections says that because it merely rents space in the church, it cannot tell the church what to do. The election board does not like to use schools as voting locations because to do so it would have to run a background check on every poll worker.

Egyptian Court Decides 3 Cases On Listing Religion On ID Cards

In Egypt yesterday, Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice decided three cases involving the disclosure of religion on official Egyptian identity cards that must be carried at all times and that are needed to apply for a job, open a bank account, or register children for school. In two of the cases, the court agreed that members of the Baha'i faith could leave blank the line calling for religious affiliation. Previously the government had required individuals to select one of three religions-- Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Yesterday's decisions are a compromise after an earlier Supreme Administrative Court ruling that the Baha'i religion could not be explicitly listed. Yesterday's decisions are discussed by the AP and by the Baha'i World News Service.

In a third case, the same court refused to permit a Christian convert from Islam to list his new religion on his identity papers. IOL News yesterday reported that the court held that Mohammed Higazi (Hegazy) had not followed the proper procedures and, in any event, could not convert "to an older religion." The court wrote: "Monotheistic religions were sent by God in chronological order... As a result, it is unusual to go from the latest religion to the one that preceded it." The AP reports that Hegazy has been the subject of police torture and death threats from his father and from an Islamist cleric after his 1998 conversion was discovered and when he was pictured in a newspaper posing with a poster of the Virgin Mary.

Suit Settled; Student Gets Credit For Volunteer Hours At Church Program

Liberty Counsel announced yesterday that it had settled a lawsuit it had filed against the Long Beach (CA) Unified District School Board. The suit was filed after student Christopher Rand was denied Community Service Learning credit for volunteer work he performed because the work was performed for his church. (See prior posting.) Under the settlement, Rand was given full credit for his work in leading a children's activities program, and the school's policy was revised to allow students to complete mandatory community service hours at either secular or religious organizations on the same terms.

Progressive Muslim Group Blasts Canadian Agency's Study of Sharia Banking

Today's Toronto Star reports that a progressive Muslim group, the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), has criticized the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) for undertaking a study of Sharia banking. In a letter yesterday, the MCC told CMHC chief executive Karen Kinsley that religion has no place in the banking or mortgage industry, and that the organization should scrap its $100,000 study. The MCC said that most Canadian Muslims already use conventional mortgages. In a strong statement, MCC argued that: "Islamic Banking is nothing more than an attempt by Islamists, with backing from Middle Eastern Financial Institutions and their Western partners, to scare Muslim Canadians into believing that they should pay more to the banks and demand less in return as an act of religiosity." Douglas Stewart, the CMHC's vice-president of policy and planning, said the study was part of the agency's mandate to promote research to understand all parts of the Canadian housing system.

State Hears Religious Defense To Sexual Orientation Discrimination

An Alliance Defense Fund release reports that a hearing was scheduled for yesterday and today before the New Mexico Human Rights Division on a complaint by a lesbian couple that a photographer discriminated against them when she refused to photograph their commitment ceremony. The photographer apparently cited her Christian religious beliefs as the reason for the refusal. New Mexico law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. [Thanks to Eugene Volokh via Religionlaw for the lead.]

Colorado Senate Opens With Hinud Prayer for First Time [Corrected]

Yesterday, for the first time in its history, a Hindu clergyman delivered the opening prayer in the Colorado state Senate. The AP reports that Rajan Zed of Reno, Nev., began by saying "om" to represent the universe and then read passages in Sanskrit and English from he Rig-Veda and Bhagavad-Gita. Last July Zed made history by becoming the first to deliver a Hindu invocation in the United States Senate. He has been invited by three other state legislatures as well.

UPDATE: Following Zed's appearance, state Senator David Schultheis told WorldNet Daily that he was shocked. He said: "I don't know of any Hindus or individuals from India actually in the legislature.... I think the most troubling thing [is] we have this appearance, and yet the bulk of our population is Christian ... and we are not allowed to mention 'Jesus' in any prayer."

Archbishop of Cantebury Suggests New Law To Replace Blasphemy Ban

Yesterday in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered the James Callaghan Memorial Lecture, according to Times Online. In his remarks, Williams conceded that Britain's current blasphemy law "is unworkable and that its assumptions are not those of contemporary lawmakers and citizens overall." However, Williams urged replacing it with broader legislation to protect religious sensibilities. He argued that a new law should punish "extreme behaviors" that have the effect of silencing arguments. The government is in the process of consulting with the Church of England about a government proposal to abolish Britain's existing blasphemy prohibitions. (See prior posting.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chaplain Objects To Policy Allowing Prisoner to Choose Multiple Faiths

The Tacoma, Washington News Tribune today carries an interesting article about a 63-year old Catholic prison chaplain who is distressed over the Washington Department of Corrections new policy that allows prisoners to practice dual faiths. The policy change came in the settlement of a RLUIPA lawsuit brought by a prisoner who insisted that he be permitted to worship as both a Native American practitioner and as a Seventh-Day Adventist. The prison chaplain, Tom Suss, who is also a Catholic priest, has taken a voluntary leave of absence from his job after an inmate, under the new policy, requested to be classified as both Catholic, and as a member of the pagan Asatru movement. Suss says he cannot, as the new state policy requires, endorse a person being a Catholic and a pagan at the same time.

State Senator Mike Carrell is introducing an amendment to an existing prison bill to protect the jobs of prison chaplains whose duties conflict with their religious beliefs. Carrell argues that inmates will chose multiple religions in order to exploit the system and get various advantages. Department of Corrections policy already excuses chaplains from performing ecclesiastical duties that conflict with their religious tenets. Suss' problem however is with chaplains' nonreligious duties, such as giving prisoners access to religious items.

State of the Union Calls For Extension of School Choice and Charitable Choice

Among the laundry list of proposals in President Bush's State of the Union Message (full text) last night were these:

We must also do more to help children when their schools do not measure up. Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our Nation's Capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other non-public school. Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities. So I will convene a White House summit aimed at strengthening these lifelines of learning. And to open the doors of these schools to more children, I ask you to support a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids....

In communities across our land, we must trust in the good heart of the American people and empower them to serve their neighbors in need. Over the past seven years, more of our fellow citizens have discovered that the pursuit of happiness leads to the path of service. Americans have volunteered in record numbers. Charitable donations are higher than ever. Faith-based groups are bringing hope to pockets of despair, with newfound support from the federal government. And to help guarantee equal treatment of faith-based organizations when they compete for federal funds, I ask you to permanently extend Charitable Choice.

In today's New York Times, two former officials in the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives published an op-ed supporting Bush's call for making the Faith Based Initiative permanent. However David Kuo and John J. DiIulio, Jr. criticized the slow growth and the focus of the present program:

The initiative ... was designed so that small congregations and ministries that had long served needy neighbors on shoestring budgets — and not just large, national religious charities — could get their fair share of government aid. It did not happen. The number of faith-based organizations receiving a federal grant rose from 665 in 2002 to only 762 in 2004.... Over the past six years, federal grants to faith-based programs have shifted away from the local "armies of compassion" praised by Mr. Bush and toward large, national organizations with religious affiliations.

Turkey's Main Parties Agree On Plan To Lift Headscarf Ban At Universities

Both Reuters and the New York Times today report that in Turkey the religiously oriented AK Party of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has reached an agreement with opposition nationalist MHP Party on language of a constitutional amendment to permit Muslim women attending universities to wear headscarves. The lifting of the headscarf ban applies only to the traditional headscarf that ties under the chin, and not to the wrap-round headscarf that is viewed as a symbol of political Islam. Under the proposal, a woman's face must still remain in view so that she cannot conceal her identity. The headscarf ban continues for teachers and women working in public offices. The Republican People's Party, which reflects the views of the military, remains opposed to lifting the headscarf ban. It has insufficient votes to block the proposal, but may challenge it in court.

Austrian State Proposes Law To Restrict Building of Mosques

In the Austrian state of Carinthia, the government led by right-wing politician Jörg Haider has introduced a bill that would make it difficult to construct mosques or minarets. Spiegel Online reported yesterday that the proposed law would allow a special commission to block construction of any building that is "unusual" or which stands out because of its unusual architecture or height, if the building does not blend in with the neighborhood's existing architecture. Uwe Scheuch, the minister responsible for urban planning, insisted that the proposed law would not infringe on the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Anti-Muslim sentiment in Austria has been growing.

Good News Club Sues Virginia School Board Over Fees

In a release yesterday, Liberty Counsel announced that it had filed suit against the Williamsburg -James City County (Virginia) Public Schools challenging its policy of charging facility usage fees to the Good News Club. The club is a Christian after-school program operated by Child Evangelism Fellowship of Virginia. School board policy allows the superintendent to waive usage fees "in consideration of services rendered by public institutions or nonprofit organizations in direct support of public school students or staff." Fees are waived for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. In defending against charges of discrimination, the school board pointed to the equal access provision of the No Child Left Behind Act (Sec. 9525) that specifically requires schools receiving federal funds to provide equal access to the Boy Scouts and other youth groups listed in Title 36 of US Code as patriotic societies. (See prior related posting.)

UN Official Finds Religious Liberty Issues In Israel and Palestinain Authority

Reuters reports that Asma Jahangir, the United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, concluded a week-long visit on Sunday to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In a statement at the end of her visit, she criticized both Israel and the PA (consistently referred to by Jahangir as "the occupied Palestinian territory") for restrictions on religious freedom. A UN Press Release yesterday summarized the findings set issued by Jahangir, a Pakistani human rights activist. On Israel's part, the UN official criticized the effect of security measures on access to Christian and Muslim holy sites, Israel's preferential treatment of Orthodox Judaism, the inability of citizens with no official religion to marry in Israel, and pressures against religious proselytizing. On the Palestinian side, Jahangir criticized honor killings of women in the name of religion, a rising intolerance of Christians, pressure on Muslim women in Gaza to wear head coverings and suicide bombings by Islamic militants.

NPR Interview With Author of Book on Religon In White House

NPR has made available online a 34 minute segment from yesterday's Fresh Air consisting of an interview with Randall Balmer, author of the recently released book God in the White House. Balmer is also author of the Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism and editor-at-large of Christianity Today.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Presidential Candidates Preach At Churches Despite IRS Guidelines

Appearances by some of the presidential candidates yesterday, in advance of Florida's primary tomorrow and Super Tuesday's 24 primaries and caucuses, raise questions about the interpretation of IRS guidelines for Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, such as churches. Revenue Ruling 2007-41 (June 18, 2007) contains the following example of impermissible activities:

Situation 9. Minister F is the minister of Church O, a section 501(c)(3) organization. The Sunday before the November election, Minister F invites Senate Candidate X to preach to her congregation during worship services. During his remarks, Candidate X states, “I am asking not only for your votes, but for your enthusiasm and dedication, for your willingness to go the extra mile to get a very large turnout on Tuesday.” Minister F invites no other candidate to address her congregation during the Senatorial campaign. Because these activities take place during official church services, they are attributed to Church O. By selectively providing church facilities to allow Candidate X to speak in support of his campaign, Church O’s actions constitute political campaign intervention.

Does this IRS guideline cover speeches from the pulpit if a candidate does not explicitly ask for voters' support?

WMAZ-TV News reports that Sen. Barack Obama spoke for more than 30 minutes yesterday to an overflow crowd at Macon, Georgia's Harvest Cathedral. As part of his remarks, he said: "I believe that our values should be expressed not just through our churches and our synagogues, but through our government."

The Commercial Appeal reports that Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke at morning services at Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. During her remarks, she emphasized her support for universal health care, universal pre-kindergarten and an end to the Iraq war.

Former Governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee's Sunday morning church attendance seems to have been orchestrated more carefully with IRS guidance in mind. WFOL Fox35 reports that Huckabee attended services at Orlando, Florida's First Baptist Church. The church had invited all candidates to attend. Huckabee did not speak, but did have a brief exchange of reminiscences with Senior Pastor David Uth. Uth also said: "I have made a commitment that our church will not endorse a candidate. Our only purpose is to pray over each candidate and ask for God's wisdom for them. We will not treat any candidate any differently than another." However, Huckabee was scheduled to speak on Sunday evening at services at Pensacola, Florida's East Brent Baptist Church. The Huckabee Campaign notes that this talk is closed to the press.

Press reports do not indicate whether or not other candidates were also invited by the churches at which Obama, Clinton and Huckabee spoke.

Commentary: Oregon Circumcision Decision Avoids Issue of Child's Independent Free Exercise Rights

An important issue remained undecided after the Oregon Supreme Court on Friday sent back to the trial court for further findings the dispute between divorced parents over whether their 12-year old son could receive a religious circumcision. As previously reported, in Boldt v. Boldt, the Oregon Supreme Court remanded the case for further findings on whether or not the boy wanted the procedure. The court's decision only tangentially addressed a critical issue-- to what extent do minor children have free exercise rights when their religious views conflict with those their parents wish them to hold?

In the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case of Wisconsin v. Yoder, Justice Douglas dissenting in part raised this precise question. There Amish parents were being prosecuted for refusing to send their children to high school on the grounds that high school attendance conflicted with Amish beliefs. Douglas argued: "If the parents in this case are allowed a religious exemption, the inevitable effect is to impose the parents' notions of religious duty upon their children. Where the child is mature enough to express potentially conflicting desires, it would be an invasion of the child's rights to permit such an imposition without canvassing his views."

In Boldt, the child's father argued that the 12-year old's views were irrelevant. He, and several Jewish organizations as amici, argued that the 12-year old should have no more say in the decision than should an infant who is circumcised. In one of her arguments, the mother who opposed the circumcision (along with amicus Doctors Opposing Circumcision) also suggested that the boy should have no say in the matter, so that even if he wanted the procedure he should not be circumcised because of the medical risk involved. The court fudged the issue, holding that the boy's views are important, but only because forcing him against his will to have the procedure would impact his relationship with his father to the point that a change of custody might be in order.

In both speech and religion cases, courts have often vindicated rights of mature children, but in most cases parents supported their child's First Amendment claims. When there is disagreement between parents and child, the issue is more complex. An example of this is an abortion decision made by a mature minor over the religious objections of her parents. In this situation, the Supreme Court has upheld parental involvement, but not parental veto. Another example is a parent's attempt to remove his or her minor child from a religious cult. Courts appear willing to give parents full authority to do this for minors, though not for adult children. See Scott v. Ross, (9th Cir., 1998).

An excellent Harvard Law Review Note, Children as Believers, Minors' Free Exercise Rights and the Psychology of Religious Development, 115 Harv. L. Rev. 2205 (2002) [LEXIS link], further explores the issue of minors' religious rights.

Ohio Supreme Court Case Questions Family's Right To Body Parts of Deceased

Today's Washington Post reports on some of the religious concerns raised in Albrecht v. Treon, a case argued earlier this month before the Ohio Supreme Court. (Video of Jan. 23 argument.) A Jan. 20 Toledo Blade article has additional details on the case. Mark and Diane Albrecht discovered after their son's body had been buried that his brain which had been removed for examination in an autopsy had not been returned. This led to a federal class action against against the coroners and commissioners in 87 of Ohio's 88 counties. At issue is whether the Albrechts "were denied due process of law when the county 'took' parts of their son's body."

The federal trial court certified to the Ohio Supreme Court the question of whether Ohio law grants a right to next-of-kin to a decedent's body parts that have been removed in an autopsy. It noted that a subsequently enacted Ohio law guarantees return of body parts, but only when the autopsy is contrary to the deceased person's religious beliefs. Albrecht v. Treon, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18613 (SD OH, March 17, 2007). The Washington Post calls attention to one controversial line in the brief of the medical examiners filed with the Ohio Supreme Court: "The real family interest is in the 'soul' of the deceased, if it continues in an afterlife, or in the memory of the 'soul', rather than to the dead carcass."

Mormon Church President Dies; Officials Send Condolences

The New York Times reports that Gordon B. Hinckley, long-time leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, died Sunday in Salt Lake City, Utah. The 97-year old Mormon leader served as president of the LDS Church for almost 13 years. Among his innovations were changes in the Church logo to make the words "Jesus Christ" larger than "Latter Day Saints", and making the Church's extensive genealogical records publicly available online. Today's Deseret Morning News reports on expressions of sympathy from Utah's members of Congress, from state officials and from other leaders in the state.

Texas Lawsuit Challenges Water Quality Law Under RLUIPA

Today's Austin (TX) American-Statesman reports on an interesting suit filed last month in federal district court in Austin. Hope in the City, an Austin, Texas Christian church, is challenging the city's use of a law enacted to protect water quality in the Barton Springs watershed to prevent the church from paving over additional parts of its property for use as a parking lot. At issue is whether the city's water quality concerns underlying its "Save Our Springs" (SOS) ordinance are compelling enough to overcome a challenge under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Also at issue is whether the parking lot development is protected under a "grandfather clause" in the SOS ordinance.

Recent Articles on Law and Religion

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:
  • Martin H. Belsky, The Religion Clauses and the "Really New" Federalism, [abstract], 42 Tulsa Law Review 537-551 (2007).

  • Charles W. Collier, Terrorism as an Intellectual Problem, 55 Buffalo Law Review 815-840 (2007).

  • John T. Noonan, Jr., The Religion of the Justice: Does it Affect Constitutional Decision Making?, 42 Tulsa Law Review 761-770 (2007).

  • Thomas A. Schweitzer, Book Review. (Reviewing Bruce Ledewitz, American Religious Democracy: Coming to Terms with the End of Secular Politics.) 23 Touro Law Review 561-574 (2007).

  • Jack B. Weinstein, Does Religion Have a Role in Criminal Sentencing?, 23 Touro Law Review 539-560 (2007).

  • Pope John Paul II and the Law, Part I. Articles by George Weigel, Robert John Araujo, S.J., Kevin L. Flannery, S.J. and Jane Adolphe. 5 Ave Maria Law Review 361-468 (2007).

Muslim Woman In Bangladesh Planning Conversion Burned By Unknown Attackers

Bos News Life reported yesterday that in Bangladesh, a 70-year old woman is in critical condition with burns over 70% of her body after unknown Muslim extremists set fire to her house to prevent her from being baptized in February as a Christian. On January 7, attackers set Rahima Beoa's bamboo and wood home afire. Beoa's daughter and son-in-law already converted from Islam to Christianity two years ago. Relatives and neighbors remain angry about those conversions.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Standards For Use of Religion By Political Candidates Proposed

Today's Newsday carries an editorial titled "God on the American Campaign Trail". It calls attention to a statement issued earlier this month (Jan. 15) by Faith in Public Life and a group of Catholic, Evangelical, and mainline Protestant leaders concerned about misuse of religion in this year's presidential primaries. Here are excerpts from the statement which is titled Keeping Faith: Principles to Protect Religion on the Campaign Trail:

Exclusionary religious rhetoric by candidates and constant scrutiny of the minutiae of their faiths undermine religion's valuable role in public life. It also runs contrary to the unique American commitment to both religious freedom and non-establishment of religion. History is replete with examples of religion compromised by its collusion with power, and the role of religion in the current campaign raises concern that it is once again being misused.

... Following Article VI of the U. S. Constitution and the First Amendment, we identify three basic principles.

*No person should be expected to leave their faith at the door when operating in the public square. But it is inappropriate to use religious or doctrinal differences to marginalize or disparage candidates.... No religious test may be applied to candidates for public office - not by the law, not by candidates, not by campaigns.

*Candidates for public office should welcome the contributions that religion brings to society. But ... candidates for public office are obliged, in their official capacity, to acknowledge that no faith can lay exclusive claim to the moral values that enrich our public life.

*... While it is appropriate for candidates to connect their faith to their policy positions, their positions on policy must respect all citizens regardless of religious belief.

Meanwhile today's Jerusalem Post reports that the Anti-Defamation League has called on Barack Obama's campaign to clarify fliers distribted to South Carolina voters declaring that Obama is a "committed Christian". Obama's campaign said the fliers were intended to counter false e-mail rumors that Obama was a Muslim. (See prior posting.) A copy of the flier is avaialable online from TPM.

USCIRF Calls For Release of Afghan Student Sentenced for Blasphemy

On Friday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging the U.S. to press Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to release Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh. Kambakhsh is a 23 year old student and journalist who has been sentenced to death in Afghanistan for circulating material insulting to Islam. (USCIRF release.) As previously reported, Kambakhsh apparently distributed to other students an article he found on the Internet that commented on Quranic verses about women. USCIRF says the U.S. must encourage Afghanistan to protect freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief. The agency's letter decried the way in which Afghanistan is enforcing the provision in its Constitution that provides: "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."

Some Are Critical of Proposed Turkish Constitutonal Changes

Saturday's Turkish Daily News reports on its interviews with academics and jurists opposed to the government's proposal to amend Turkey's constitution to reverse the country's ban on wearing of head scarves at universities. (See prior posting.) The government plans to add language guaranteeing freedom of dress so long as it does not violate general morals, as well as a clause guaranteeing equality in the provision and utilization of public services. Opponents predict dire results from the broad language being proposed.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Henderson v. Virginia, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5230 (WD VA, Jan. 23, 2008), a Virginia federal district court rejected an inmate's claim that his free exercise rights were violated when, in a disciplinary action, he was temporarily removed from the Common Fare diet and placed on a diet loaf. Plaintiff furnished no evidence that he has a sincere religious belief that requires that he maintain a kosher diet.

In Hernandez v. Schriro, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4908 (D AZ, Jan. 22, 2008), an Arizona federal district court rejected claims by a Native American prisoner that his rights under RLUIPA were violated when he was unable to engage in pipe ceremonies and sweat lodges, possess red and blue headbands, wear his religious medicine bag outside his cell, obtain certain herbs, or work with a spiritual advisor after he was placed in a maximum custody unit.

Bratton v. Curry, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4587 (ND CA, Jan. 9, 2008), involved a complaint by a Muslim prisoner that prison authorities refused to serve him Halal or kosher meals with meat and instead offered him only a vegetarian alternative. A California federal district court held that plaintiff had alleged viable Eighth Amendment, Equal Protection and RLUIPA claims, but not a free exercise violation.

In Marr v. Case, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4427 (WD MI, Jan. 18, 2008), a Michigan federal district court accepted a magistrate's recommendations and dismissed an inmate's free exercise, eighth amendment, retaliation and ethnic intimidation claims. The court described the incident giving rise to the claims: "At a meal, Plaintiff ... requested a kosher eating utensil because the package of utensils he was given was desecrated.... Defendant ... allegedly replied ... 'I'm sick of this sh-t, dude.' ... Defendant [also] ... allegedly stated "get your tray and get the f-ck away from me, they should have exterminated all you bastards in the concentration camps." ... Plaintiff went to a table and waited for 20 minutes without receiving a utensil before leaving without eating."

In Baisden v. Arpaio, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4377 (D AN, Jan. 8, 2008), an Arizona federal district court dismissed, with leave to amend, a prisoner's claim that during a portion of his confinement he was unable to attend church for several weeks because only the first 15 of 250 inmates to get in line were permitted to attend. However plaintiff failed to allege how defendant sheriff was personally involved in this alleged free exercise violation.

New Restrictions Reported On Tibetan Buddhist Monastaries

Radio Free Asia reported Friday that Chinese officials are imposing new restrictions on Buddhists in the Tibet Autonomous Region, at the same time they have recruited 140 Tibetan young people to perform traditional dances at the upcoming Beijing Olympics. The dancers are being trained to demonstrate that Tibetans are happy under Chinese rule. The new restrictions are particularly aimed at Buddhist monasteries, believed to be the main forces that are perpetuating a separate Tibetan identity. Novice monks are no longer allowed to replace monks who die, and monks are not allowed to conduct prayer sessions in temples. Tibetan government officials are banned from wearing traditional Tibetan dress and maintaining prayer rooms or altars in their homes. The Tibet Autonomous Region Political Consultative Committee is discussing plans to employ senior lamas to convince the people that the Dalai Lama is bent on dividing China.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

9th Circuit Holds For Muslim Prisoner In Dietary Accommodation Case

In an unusually long opinion for a case of this type, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Shakur v. Schriro, (9th Cir., Jan. 23, 2008), reversed the trial court and sent back for further factual development a Muslim prisoner's claim for dietary accommodations. Plaintiff wished to access kosher meat meals, instead of the prison's ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants focusing on the cost and administrative burden in accommodating plaintiff.

The court held that the prisoner need not show that a central tenet of his faith was burdened in order to raise a viable First Amendment claim, so long as his religious belief is sincere. It said that "the district court impermissibly focused on whether 'consuming Halal meat is required of Muslims as a central tenet of Islam'." It failed to consider plaintiff's claim that the vegetarian diet gives him gastrointestinal discomfort that interferes with the purity and cleanliness needed for Muslim prayer. The court held that the present record did not permit it to determine whether the requested kosher diet places more than a de minimis burden on the prison system. It also concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate on plaintiff's RLUIPA claim because there is a factual dispute as to the extent of the burden on plaintiff's religious activities, the burden that would be created by accommodating his request, and whether less restrictive alternatives exist. Saturday's Sierra Vista (AZ) Herald reports on the decision.

Oregon High Court Rules In Custody Case Involving Religious Circumcision Dispute

Yesterday the Oregon Supreme Court decided a widely followed change-of-custody case which raises issues of parental rights and Jewish religious circumcision. In Boldt v. Boldt, (OR Sup. Ct., Jan. 25, 2008), the court was faced with an appeal by a now-divorced mother who is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, seeking to prevent her former husband-- a convert to Judaism-- from having their 12-year old son circumcised. Among other claims, the father argued that "American Jews must be free to practice circumcision because it is and has been one of the most fundamental and sacred parts of the Jewish tradition." He contended that any order requiring an evidentiary hearing on the matter would usurp the role of the custodial parent and violate the First Amendment.

Instead of reaching a decision on custody, the court remanded the case, ordering the trial court to determine whether the child wants the circumcision, or objects to it-- an issue over which the parents disagree. The court said:

We conclude that, although circumcision is an invasive medical procedure that results in permanent physical alteration of a body part and has attendant medical risks, the decision to have a male child circumcised for medical or religious reasons is one that is commonly and historically made by parents in the United States. We also conclude that the decision to circumcise a male child is one that generally falls within a custodial parent's authority, unfettered by a noncustodial parent's concerns or beliefs -- medical, religious or otherwise....

However, ... at age 12, M's attitude regarding circumcision, though not conclusive of the custody issue presented here, is a fact necessary to the determination of whether mother has asserted a colorable claim of a change of circumstances sufficient to warrant a hearing.... [F]orcing M at age 12 to undergo the circumcision against his will could seriously affect the relationship between M and father, and could have a pronounced effect on father's capability to properly care for M.... Thus, if mother's assertions are verified the trial court would be entitled to reconsider custody....
(See prior related posting.) Today's Oregonian has extensive coverage of the decision. [Thanks to Steve Sheinberg for the lead.]

Friday, January 25, 2008

9th Circuit Hears Arguments In Arizona Scholarship Tax Credit Challenge

Yesterday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Winn v. Garriott, an Establishment Clause challenge to Arizona's scholarship tax credit program. The district court upheld the program which funds parents sending their children to a variety of private schools, over 70% of which are religious. A report in yesterday's Arizona Republic describes the operation of the program: "A taxpayer sends up to $1,000 to one of Arizona's 56 'school-tuition organizations,' designating the money for a particular school or student but not a dependent. The school-tuition organization passes along the gift to an affiliated private or religious school to help fund the student and can keep 10 percent for administrative expenses. At tax time, the taxpayer files for a dollar-for-dollar credit off state income taxes." A posting on Espresso Straight set out the views of those favoring the scholarship arrangement. An audio recording of yesterday's oral arguments is available online from the 9th Circuit. (See prior related posting.)

Florida School Board Changes Policy To End Higher Fees For Religious Club

A press release issued yesterday by Liberty Counsel reports that the Orange County, Florida School Board has agreed to change its policy that charged facility usage fees to the Good New Clubs, but permitted groups such as the Boy Scouts to use school facilities without charge. The School Board has now refunded past fees paid by the Good News Clubs and has created a new policy that specifically treats Good News Clubs and Scouts alike.

Appeal Filed In Texas Moment of Silence Case

Today's Dallas Morning News reports that an appeal to the 5th Circuit has been filed in Croft v. Perry, the Texas "moment of silence" case. In the case, the lower court rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to Texas' mandate that public schools give students a moment of silence each day during which they may reflect, pray or meditate. (See prior posting.)

5th Circuit Reinstates Muslim Doctor's Retaliation Claim Against VA

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this week reversed a Mississippi federal district court and held that a Muslim physician had raised genuine issues of fact in his retaliation claim against the Biloxi Veterans Affairs Medical Center. In Rikabi v. Nicholson, (5th Cir., Jan. 23, 2008), Dr. Khaled Rikabi alleged that the Center's chief of staff openly referred to Muslims as a threat to the United States after 9-11. The wife of the Center's Human Relations Manager said that she and her husband dislike Muslims and how Muslims live. Rikabi was dismissed from his position at the Center in March 2003, but he continued to provide infectious disease consultations at the Center. In June 2003, Rikabi made a verbal EEO complaint and three hourse later the Center's chief of staff instructed hospital staff to stop using Rikabi's services. Rikabi says this was retaliation. The chief of staff said the action was taken because of an onsite altercation between Rikabi and his wife three months earlier. Subsequently the chief of staff gave a different explanation for his actions. Today's Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger reports on the decision.

Right Wing Dutch Politician Plans Anti-Quran Film; Government Is Concerned

In the Netherlands, right-wing Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has provoked controversy by announcing that he is producing a 10-minute film about the Quran that will portray the Muslim scriptures as a "fascist book" that incites violence and that promotes intolerance of women and homosexuals. Some reports say that Wilders rips or burns the Quran on camera in the film. The AP reported yesterday that Wilders has not yet found a broadcaster willing to air the still-unfinished film. He says he will post it on the Internet if he can find no other outlet for it. Wilder's party holds nine of the 150 seats in Netherlands' Parliament. The Independent today says that the Dutch government is preoccupied with concern about the fallout that might result from the film. Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, issued a statement saying in part: "The government is preparing for the possible repercussions that the broadcast of the film could have, internationally as well as domestically." Imams are being encouraged to preach calm at services today, while cities have been put on alert. An article in yesterday's American Muslim analyzed possible reactions to the film.

Religious Discrimination Claim Rejected In Firing of Community Services Director

In Evans v. State of Washington, (WA Ct. App., Jan 23, 2008), a Washington state Court of Appeals rejected employment discrimination and retaliation claims brought by a regional Community Services Division director who claimed her dismissal from her position by the state violated Washington's law prohibiting religious discrimination in employment. Plaintiff Linda Evans was a pastor who headed a church ministry that ran a housing program for low-income teen parents and their children. Evans was variously accused of using her management position to coerce employees into participating in her church, coercing subordinate personnel into giving preferential treatment to her church members, using state computers and telephones to promote her church, praying with employees and allowing employees to address her as "pastor" during working hours. She was dismissed on the grounds that new leadership was needed in her office. The court found that Evans failed to prove either disparate treatment or retaliation, nor did she show that the Department of Social and Health Services' asserted reasons for its actions were a pretext for discrimination.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

9th Circuit Defines "Religious Exercise" In RLUIPA

On Tuesday, in Greene v. Solano County Jail, (9th Cir., Jan. 22, 2008), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided an important interpretive question under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. In the case, a former maximum security prisoner challenged a California jail's policy of prohibiting maximum security prisoners from participating in group religious worship. RLUIPA prohibits imposing a substantial burden on a prisoner's "religious exercise", absent a compelling interest and narrowly tailored means. The Court of Appeals held that "religious exercise" means a particular practice within a religion-- here attending group services-- and not merely the general practice of one's religion. So a substantial burden on that practice is enough to create a RLUIPA problem. The court remanded the case for the trial court to determine whether the total ban on group religious worship is the least restrictive means of maintaining jail security. Today's San Francisco Chronicle reports on the decision.

"Peer Reviewed" Creationism Journal Launched

Nature News yesterday reported that Answers in Genesis, the group that last year opened a Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, has now launched a new online scholarly journal, Answers Research Journal. The journal's website describes it as "a professional, peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research from the perspective of the recent Creation and the global Flood within a biblical framework." The journal's editor-in-chief, Australian geologist Andrew Snelling, says that "papers ... will be reviewed ... through a large network of well-qualified creationist researchers, scientists, and theologians who are the best thinkers in their fields of creationist research." Volume 1, Issue 1, is already available.

Parents Say Vermont Teacher Pushes Christianity In Classroom

The ACLU of Vermont has complained to school officials about Irasburg (VT) seventh grade teacher Wally Rogers who they say has gone too far in promoting his personal religious beliefs in his public school class. A report today from the Vermont Press Bureau says that Rogers gave a student a flier titled titled "Why Jesus Is Better Than Santa Claus." In the fall the 10 commandments were posted in Rogers classroom. His accelerated reading program list contains a number of Christian-themed books and Christian books were on his classroom bookshelf. His web page on the school's website included links to Christian web pages. A letter from the ACLU led school officials to remove some of the books and web links, and the school superintendent has sent a memo to faculty and staff on separation of church and state. However several parents remain concerned.

Korean Buddhists Complain About Polling Places In Churches

In South Korea, Buddhists and other groups are complaining that a disproportionately large number of voting stations have been located in Protestant churches. Today's Korea Times says that in last December's presidential elections, 1160 of the 13,178 polling places were in religious institutions. 91% of the religious buildings used were Protestant churches. Only 0.3% were Buddhist. Election officials say the locations met the voting law requirements for transportation, safety and handicap accessibility.

Denver Archbishop Criticizes Bill That Would Limit Religious Hiring Preferences

Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput is criticizing a bill pending in the Colorado legislature that would prohibit religious organizations from using religious criteria in hiring of any person whose position is paid for by government grant funds. The Catholic News Agency reported yesterday that House Bill 1080 could prevent Catholic non-profit organizations from preferring Catholics for key leadership positions. The Archbishop has threatened to end Catholic Charities' involvement in government funded programs if the bill passes, saying that it would threaten the religious identity of the organization. The Colorado Catholic Conference says it understands that the Anti-Defamation League has been a leading advocate of the bill, and called on the ADL to distance itself from the proposal. The ADL's website contains a 2001 statement on President Bush's faith-based initiative, calling for safeguards including ensuring "that taxpayer money does not fund religious discrimination in the hiring and firing of people who will deliver the services."

UPDATE: At a news conference yesterday in the Vatican, Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes set out his support for Archbishop Chaput’s position on Colorado HB 1080. (CNA).

Afghan Student Sentenced To Death For Distributing Article On Quranic Verses

The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday reported that a journalism student at Afghanistan’s Balkh University was sentenced to death on Tuesday for distributing material found by a religious court to be insulting to Islam. The student, Sayad Parwez Kambaksh, apparently distributed an article he found on the Internet that commented on verses in the Quran about women. Radio Free Afghanistan says that the case now moves on to the first of two appeals. Journalist organizations in Afghanistan have called on President Hamid Karzai to pardon Kambaksh. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting claims that Kambakhsh was prosecuted in order to punish his brother, a reporter who has written pieces critical of very powerful commanders in Balkh and other northern provinces.

UPDATE: On Feb. 6, The Independent quoted Afghan ministerial aide, Najib Manalai, who said of Kambaksh: "I am not worried for his life. I'm sure Afghanistan's justice system will find the best way to avoid this sentence."

Dutch Government Will Ban Burqa In Schools and Government Offices

Reuters and Jurist both reported yesterday that the Dutch government will shortly impose a ban on Muslim women wearing the burqa in schools and government offices. The Cabinet reportedly has rejected on freedom of religion grounds a broader proposal by right-wing politician Geert Wilders that would have totally banned burqas from being worn in public.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Israel's Knesset Approves Religious Affairs Ministry Proposal

Last week, according to YNet News (1/14) , Israel's Knesset voted 51-37 to approve the government's proposal to re-establish the Ministry of Religious Affairs (see prior posting) and to expand the powers given to Yitzhak Cohen, the Minister heading it. Cohen promised to equalize salaries between various religious councils and to assure that council employees are paid on time. Last month, Lod's Municipal Religious Council suspended burial services to protest wage delays. (YNet News (12/23). [Thanks to Religion and State In Israel for the lead.]

Citizens Protest School Board's Refusal To Permit Gideon Bible Distribution

Yesterday's Hope, Arkansas Star reports on the Hope Public Schools Board of Trustees meeting held last Monday at which 25 people appeared to protest the Board's decision that it would not permit the Gideons to continue their practice of handing out Bibles to fifth graders in the public schools. Shirley Cooper, spokesperson for the group, told the school board:
This has been done as long as we can remember. I remembered how I treasured my little red testament and I still have it and how many of you still have yours? It is heartbreaking to think we can go into other country and they are begging for God's word, but here in America and in our own home town, it is refused. We feel things like this are exactly what's wrong with our country and our town. What do we have to lose? We have never been sued over this before and if anything should come up we would have to pursue it further, but I know the Lord would fight this battle for us.
School Board President Joe Short said he would rather see school funds going toward education than toward defending a lawsuit. Implying that there were alternatives available, he said that students could do whatever they wanted to on their own during non-instructional hours. Earlier this month, a Missouri federal district court struck down a school policy permitting distribution of Gideon bibles during the school day.

Interview With Mikey Weinstein, Founder of Military Relgious Freedom Foundation

February's Philadelphia Jewish Voice has published an interview with Michael Weinstein Founder and President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Weinstein has been fighting religious proselytizing in the military. He says, in part:
I tell people also this is not a Christian-Jewish issue, it is a fundamentalist Christian versus the Constitution issue. I am not at war with Christianity, I’m not at war with evangelical Christianity... but we are at war with a small subset of evangelical Christianity...the Premillenial, Dispensational, Reconstructionist Dominionist, Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians who believe they have an unlimited right to push their particular biblical worldview.... By last week, over 6,800 active duty members of the United States Marine Corp, Navy, Army and Air Force have come to our foundation pretty much as spiritual rape victims/tormentees and the shocking thing is 96% of them coming to us are Christians themselves.

Vietnam's Catholic Church Wants Property Returned

An AP report today says that the Catholic Church in Vietnam is pressuring the government to return to it the old Vatican embassy in Hanoi that was taken by the government in 1960. This is one of many church properties that were taken over by the government after 1954. Church leaders and their parishioners have been gathering in front of the former embassy, now used as a youth sports center, for prayer vigils to draw attention to their claim. Government officials say a priest voluntarily turned the embassy property over to the government in 1960. Observers say the Church's public challenge shows that relations between the government and the Church have improved dramatically. Five years ago such demonstrators would have been arrested.

Supreme Court Rejects Prisoner's Tort Claim For Lost Religious Items

Yesterday in a 5-4 decision in Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, (US Sup. Ct., Jan. 22, 2008), the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a tort claim by a federal prisoner seeking to recover the value of property that was lost when his belongings were moved from one prison to another. The missing items, worth $177, included two copies of the Qur'an, a prayer rug and religious magazines. The court's majority opinion, written by Justice Thomas, relied on a provision in 28 USC Sec. 2680(c) that precludes Federal Tort Claims Act suits for detention of goods or property against "any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer." The majority concluded that the provision is not limited to officers enforcing customs or excise laws. AP covers the decision, reporting that plaintiff Abdus-Shahid M.S. Ali claimed that the missing religious items are part of a widespread pattern of harassment against Muslim inmates since 9-11. (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Blog from the Capitol for the lead.]

Court Says Religious Conflict With Grand Jury Appearance Justifies Dismissal

In People v. Shemesh, (NY App. Div., Jan. 15, 2008), a New York appellate court in a 3-2 decision affirmed a lower court's dismissal of a grand jury indictment on free exercise grounds. Defendant asserted his right to appear before the grand jury that was considering handing down a perjury indictment against him. However he ultimately did not testify because the prosecutor refused to reschedule his appearance to prevent a conflict with defendant's observance of Passover. The majority held that "under these unique circumstances ... the People did not offer defendant a reasonable or meaningful opportunity to testify before the grand jury." The two dissenters argued that defendant's belated rejection of various other acceptable dates to testify raised a question of whether he was making a good faith effort to cooperate.

Malaysian Authorities Confiscate Christian Children's Books Over Illustrations

Australia's Christian Today reports that Malaysian authorities have recently confiscated Christian children's books claiming that graphic depictions in them of the Biblical figures Abraham and Moses violate Islamic law. General-secretary of the Malaysian Council of Churches, Reverend Hermen Shastri, called on the Interior Ministry to amend its regulations to prevent enforcement officials from acting on their personal whims.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nevada Dems Schedule Convention For Eve of Passover

As previously reported, Nevada effectively disenfranchised observant Jews and Seventh Day Adventists last week by holding its caucuses to select delegates to the Republican and Democratic national conventions on Saturday. Now, it turns out, that the Nevada Democratic State Convention-- an all-day event-- will be held Saturday, April 19, in Reno. Not only is that the Jewish Sabbath, but that evening is the start of Passover. Even less-observant Jews generally attend a seder, which means many will travel to be with family or will need the day to prepare for the evening seder meal. Thanks to Frume Sarah's World for discovering this latest religious accommodation issue.

Suit Challenges Limits On Pastor's Speech Near Gay Pride Event

The Alliance Defense fund announced that it filed a federal lawsuit in Wichita, Kansas last Thursday on behalf of a pastor who was prevented from preaching and distributing literature on a public sidewalk near a Gay Pride event held last June in Wichita's Heritage Square Park. Police insisted that Pastor Mark Holick instead move to a private parking lot nearby. The complaint (full text) in Holick v. City of Wichita alleges that the police conduct violated Holick's rights to freedom of speech, association and religion as well as the 14th Amendment's due process clause. The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment and an injunction prohibiting interference with Holick's speaking in traditional public forums at future Gay Pride Events.

India's Supreme Court Allows Religious Pilgrimage Subsidies To Continue This Year

The Hindu reports that on Monday India's Supreme Court extended its order (see prior posting) allowing the government to pay out subsidies for Haj pilgrims and also for Mansarovar pilgrims. A constitutional challenge to the payment of subsidies under India's Haj Act is pending in the Allahabad High Court, which had temporarily enjoined the payment. The Supreme Court extended its earlier stay of that order, allowing subsidies for this year to proceed. The Supreme Court also asked the High Court to move expeditiously on the pending challenge.

Suit Challenges Massachusetts Law Creating Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones

Suit was filed in federal district court in Boston on Friday challenging Massachusetts' recently-enacted law (SB 1353) creating a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. In McCullen v. Coakley (full text of complaint), a group of pro-life advocates who wish to talk with, and distribute literature to, women entering a Boston area Planned Parenthood clinic ask that the new law be declared unconstitutional on its face and as applied. Alliance Defense Fund, announcing the filing of the lawsuit, said: "It’s ironic that Massachusetts, the ‘cradle of liberty,’ would pass a law that effectively creates a First Amendment-free zone that silences those who seek to share the truth about abortion."

Saudi Arabia Now Allows Unaccompanied Women In Hotels

Saudi Arabia has moved away from strict Islamic law and has begun permitting women to stay at the country's hotels, unaccompanied by a male relative or guardian. Both BBC News and the AP reported yesterday on the royal decree that permits the Ministry of Trade to promulgate new regulations that merely require unaccompanied women to present photo ID to a hotel manager. This information then must be sent to local police. The decision was adopted after a study conducted by the Interior Ministry, the Supreme Commission of Tourism and the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Role of Religion In Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The place of religion in the federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader who was co-pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and who used religious rhetoric in many of his calls for racial equality in the United States, has always been unclear. President Bush's Proclamation declaring the 2008 date for the holiday has only this reference to Dr. King's religious beliefs: "Dr. King's faith in the Almighty gave him the courage to confront discrimination and segregation, and he preached that all the powers of evil are ultimately no match for even one individual armed with eternal truths."

Nevertheless, a visit to King's Ebenezer Baptist Church is obligatory for many of this year's presidential candidates according to yesterday's Atlanta Journal Constitution. Sen. Barack Obama spoke at Sunday services, and both Gov. Mike Huckabee and former President Bill Clinton will be at today's formal King Day observances at the Church. Huckabee will be introduced at the ceremony, but Bill Clinton-- as former President, rather than as candidate Hillary Clinton's representative-- will speak.

Meanwhile, Jonesboro, Georgia resident mark Swiger has created a religious initiative to mark MLK Day. Using the website, Swiger urges every church-goer on the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day to invite along someone of a different race. Saturday's Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the initiative is in response to King's comment that 11 a.m Sunday morning is America's most segregated hour.

Pittsburgh Presbyterian Church Gets Injunction; Holds Disaffiliation Vote

Today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that last Wednesday, Pittsburgh's Memorial Park Presbyterian Church obtained a temporary injunction from a Pennsylvania trial judge, barring the Pittsburgh Presbytery from interfering with a planned meeting of church members. At the meeting this week end, church members voted overwhelmingly to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and affiliate instead with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. A Presbytery-appointed administrative commission had written the church forbidding the meeting, but on Thursday at a court hearing the Presbytery withdrew its opposition to the injunction when church officials agreed not to take any action to dispose of church assets. Earlier this month, the church filed a separate lawsuit seeking to confirm its title to church property and prevent seizure of its buildings by the Presbytery after negotiations with the Presbytery broke down. (Church letter announcing lawsuit.)

Britsh Gay Rights Group Protests Evangelical As Equalities Commissioner

Today's London Guardian reports that a gay rights group in Britain is criticizing the appointment of Joel Edwards, leader of the Evangelical Alliance and in the black community, as a commissioner to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement criticizes Edwards' attempts to obtain exemptions for Christian groups from non-discrimination requirements that mandate equality in the provision of goods and services to gays and lesbians. Edwards said he welcomes the presence of lesbian and gay people on the Equalities Commission and said: "I would be disappointed if my contribution to this commission is only seen in the light of issues around sexuality."

2008 Anti-Roe v. Wade Activities Have Secular Theme

Tomorrow is the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. While opposition to Roe has largely been religiously-based, religion has been surprisingly absent from two national anti-abortion initiatives. First, President Bush last week declared yesterday, January 20, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. His formal Proclamation makes no mention of religion or God, nor does it specifically mention abortion. It makes reference to protecting life "at all stages", but nowhere indicates when the initial stage of life is seen to begin. It rather cryptically calls on Americans "to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies...."

Perhaps the ceremony the President had in mind is Tuesday's March for Life in Washington. The March for Life Education and Defense Fund sponsors this annual event to mark the anniversary of Roe. Its website this year makes no mention of religion, religious beliefs or God. The march's theme this year is: "Build Unity on the Life Principles Throughout America. No Exception! No Compromise!"

Recent Scholarly Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

Other recent articles:

Egyptian State Council Gets Advice From Islamic Scholars On Copts Reconverting

Courts in Egypt have increasingly faced requests for new identification documents from Coptic Christians who have initially converted to Islam and then have reconverted to Christianity. Counselor Moataz Kamel Morsi, Deputy Chairman of the State Council, asked Egypt's top religious body, the fatwa committee at Al Azhar, for guidance. Yesterday Al Arabiya reported that the fatwa issued in response says that the decision to convert to Islam should not be retractable, and re-converting is "a grave crime that cannot be met with leniency." It concludes that offenders should first be given a chance to "repent", but if they do not they should be punished according to Sharia. Some scholars say Islamic law prescribes no specific punishment for apostasy, while others say it is punishable by death.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pastor Briefings Being Held In Advance of Presidential Primaries

Yesterday's Dallas Morning News reports that key figures in the Texas Restoration Project that held a series of closed-door pastor briefings in the 2006 elections are taking their presentations on the road to this year's presidential primary and caucus states such as Florida, Iowa and South Carolina. Sponsors say the briefings are nonpartisan and merely urge ministers to mobilize their congregations to vote for candidates with their moral agenda. Many of the speakers at the briefings, however, are supporters of candidate Mike Huckabee.

Catholic Hospital Sued For Refusing Transgender Surgery

In San Francisco Superior Court, a transgendered individual who had completed gender reassignment surgery to become a woman sued a Catholic hospital in Daly City (CA) that refused to permit her physician to perform breast augmentation surgery in the hospital. The complaint (full text) in Hastings v. Seton Medical Center alleges that the hospital's outpatient surgery manager told plaintiff that she could not have surgery at the hospital because "God made you a man." Fox News on Friday reported on the case in which plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief, alleging gender discrimination in violation of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act and a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. A spokeswoman for the Daughters of Charity Health System (of which Seton Medical Center is a part) said in a written statement: "Vincentian and Catholic values form the basis of our identity and set the parameters for our ethics and standards of behavior in health care."

Saudis Discuss Women's Rights and Polygamy With UN Committee

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is meeting in Geneva from Jan. 14 to Feb. 1 to review reports on eight countries' implementation of their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. (UN Press Release). On Jan. 17, the Committee reviewed the report on Saudi Arabia, questioning the Saudi delegation at length about various issues. (UN Press Release). Saudi Arabia signed the convention with the following reservations:
1. In case of contradiction between any term of the Convention and the norms of Islamic law, the Kingdom is not under obligation to observe the contradictory terms of the Convention.
2. The Kingdom does not consider itself bound by paragraph 2 of article 9 of the Convention [equal rights with respect to nationality of children] and paragraph 1 of article 29 of the Convention [arbitration provisions].
In this context, Saudi officials discussed with Committee experts the permissibility of polygamy in Saudi Arabia:

Islam had sanctioned polygamy ... with some restrictions, namely of the number of wives, and the equal treatment of the wives by the husband. This was because of men’s strong sexual desires, or their wish to have children in case of being married to a barren wife. Polygamy was a necessity to enable women to lead a normal life. Polygamy was ethical, as it did not allow a man to have sexual relations with any woman other than his wife, and was humanitarian, as it provided for women to be wives and to be treated as such, and provided for.... Some women preferred to be a second wife rather than living alone.

An AFP report yesterday summarized the Saudi report and the exchange between Committee experts and Saudi officials.

Sharia Councils Operate In Britain

Yesterday's London Telegraph published a report on Sharia Councils that operate in a number of British mosques. They mainly deal with issues of marriage and divorce, and with financial disputes. Under current British law, their judgments have no legal force and so are binding only on those who voluntarily agree to comply with them. Some however are arguing that British law should give some form of recognition to judgments of the dozens of existing Sharia Councils, in part to regulate a system that now operates outside civil guidelines.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Hill v. Cruz, (5th Cir., Jan. 14, 2008), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a Muslim inmate's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims challenging the Texas prison system's policy on the substitution of pork entrees with other food items.

In McCollum v. California, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95716 (ND CA, Dec. 13, 2007), a California federal district court dismissed Wiccan inmates' Establishment Clause and equal protection challenges to California's Five State-Sanctioned Faiths Policy because plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies. However it permitted inmates' free exercise claims, as well as a taxpayer Establishment Clause challenge, to move forward. (See prior related posting.)

In Hysell v. Pliler, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2721 ED CA, Jan. 14, 2008) a California federal magistrate judge rejected an inmate's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims that he was denied access to various artifacts necessary to practice his Wiccan religious beliefs. The court found the instances cited were either justified by a compelling governmental interest or did not place a substantial burden on defendant. Certain other claims were rejected as unexhausted.

In Bryant v. Tilton, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2930 (ED CA, Jan. 14, 2008), a California federal magistrate judge rejected a claim by a Muslim prisoner that the exclusion of those serving a life sentence without parole from California's conjugal visit program infringed his free exercise rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA. Plaintiff argued that under Islamic law, his wife could file for annulment or divorce if their marriage is not consummated within four months. However, the court found, plaintiff married in 1993 and at that time he was able to, and did participate in the family visiting program.

In Wesley v. Muhammad, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3136 (SD NY, Jan. 10, 2008), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended that a Muslim inmate be allowed to proceed with most of his claims that meals served and prison commissary items furnished to him at Rikers Island prison facilities violated his religious dietary requirements that limited him to Halal food.

In Best-Bey v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3540 (ED PA, Jan. 17, 2008), an inmate alleged that he was not permitted to observe his holy day of Friday or keep his fez on for the day. A Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed the claim against the city of Philadelphia, finding that the alleged violations did not stem from any policy or practice of the Philadelphia Prison System, and that the city cannot be held on a respondeat superior theory for actions of prison employees.

Debate Over Female Circumcision In Indonesia

Today's New York Times Magazine, in an article titled A Cutting Tradition, explores the tradition of female circumcision in Indonesia and the debate in Indonesia over banning it. The Ministry of Health has prohibited medical personnel from engaging in female genital cutting, but the decree has not been backed by legislation and does not apply to traditional circumcisers and birth attendants. The article profiles the annual circumcision event sponsored by the Islamic educational and social service organization, the Assalaam Foundation.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

China Appellate Body Releases Four House Church Leaders

In China, the Hubei Provincial Re-Education Through Labor Administration Committee issued a decision (full text) earlier this month releasing four Christian house church leaders from a labor camp to which they had been sentenced. The Administration Committee's ruling reversed a decision made last year by the Re-Education Through Labor Administration Committee of Enshi Autonomous Region. Christian News Wire yesterday reported on the January 8 reversal which found that the original sentences were based on insufficient evidence. Of the nine house church leaders arrested in July 2007 on charges of "engaging in organizing and making use of an evil cult organization to undermine the enforcement of State laws", three women remain in labor camps.

Court Says Private Religious School Not Covered By California's Unruh Act

The Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise reports that in a January 11 ruling, a California trial court dismissed a discrimination lawsuit filed against Wildomar's California Lutheran High School by two 11th graders who in 2005 were expelled because school officials suspected they were in a lesbian relationship. The school's code of conduct provides that students can be expelled for immoral or scandalous behavior that contradicts Christian values. Riverside Superior Court Judge Gloria Trask apparently ruled that the the non-profit religious school is not a business, and so is not covered by provisions in California's Unruh Civil Rights Act (CA Civil Code Sec. 51 ff.) that prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation. (See prior related posting.)

NY Corrections Department Settles Title VII Suit Brought By Feds

The U.S. Department of Justice announced yesterday that a New York federal district court has approved a consent decree under which the New York State Department of Correctional Services must keep in place a process under which employees seeking religious accommodations to workplace policies get an individualized review and determination. The consent decree settles a Title VII lawsuit filed last March by the Justice Department after a Muslim correctional worker at a halfway house complained he was told he must remove his kuffi (skull cap) while at work, and that there was no policy in place to review the employee's request for accommodation of his religious practices. The Department of Corrections had already agreed that the Muslim employee involved can wear a dark blue or black kuffi with his uniform. (See prior posting.)

Trinidad & Tobago Court Advertises For Input On Whether Juror Can Wear Burka

The High Court in Trinidad & Tobago is taking an unusual approach to the question of whether a Muslim woman wearing a burka may serve as a juror. Trinidad & Tobago Express and Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday today both report on the decision of High Court Judge Joan Charles to run advertisements in newspapers once a week for the next two weeks inviting religious organizations and other interested parties to submit their views on the matter. The issue arose in December when a woman was discharged from jury service after she refused to lift the veil on her burka to allow her face to be seen by the defendant throughout the trial, as Judge Charles claimed was required.

Serbia Accused of Improperly Denying Registration To Religious Groups

Forum 18 reported yesterday that in Serbia, the Religion Ministry continues to deny state registration to religious communities on five different grounds that are not found in the country's Religion Law. The watchdog group says that former Religion Minister Milan Radulovic, who is now an adviser in the Ministry, refuses to grant legal status to churches that refuse to unite with other similar communities; to any Orthodox church that is not part of the Serbian Orthodox Church; to non-monotheistic religions; to religions that do not have a headquarters in another country; and to groups that are viewed as either non-traditional or philosophical. Radulovic says that some of these groups might be recognized in 450 to 500 years "when they pass historical tests." (See prior related posting.)