Sunday, January 31, 2010

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Allison v. Martin, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4928 (ED MI, Jan. 22, 2010), a Michigan federal district court adopted recommendations of a federal magistrate (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123727, Nov. 5, 2009), and rejected various free exercise and RFRA claims by an inmate who objected to the lack of Jewish religious services, wanted religious materials and claims he was denied participation in the prison's kosher meals program.

In Sareini v. Burnett, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4925 (ED MI, Jan. 22, 2010), a Michigan federal district court adopted recommendations of a federal magistrate (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123726, Dec. 21, 2009) granting summary judgement on some claims and denying it on others in a case in which a Shi'a Muslim inmate complained about restrictions on his religious exercise. The court dismissed a complaint that no separate Shi'a religious services were offered, but refused to dismiss claims seeking Halal meat, asking to be allowed to have certain religious items and accommodating observance of Muslim holidays.

In Mayo v. Norris, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5243 (ED AR, Jan. 22, 2010), an Arkansas federal district court adopted the recommendations of a federal magistrate (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123899, Dec. 18, 2009) and rejected a petition for a writ of habeas corpus by petitioner who objected on religious grounds both to his conditions of parole and his underlying conviction (after a negotiated guilty plea) for possessing methamphetamine. Petitioner quoted various Biblical verses that he said were inconsistent with the requirement he maintain a residence and not associate with convicted felons. He also argued that his sentence was harsher than what God's judgment would have been.

In Wilkerson v. Jenkins, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6602 (D MD, Jan. 27, 2010), a Maryland federal district court rejected an inmate's complaint that he was not permitted to wear his yarmulke outside his housing unit and that his work assignment interfered with his observance of the Sabbath.

In Ivory v. Tilton, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6557 (ED CA, Jan. 8, 2010), a California federal magistrate judge, while permitting plaintiff to proceed with retaliation and excessive force claims held that "plaintiff's allegations that 'Defendants' in general harassed him, called him Kosher boy in front of other inmates, both under heated and burned his food, deprived him of his Kosher meals on several occasions, and failed to provide him with proper eating utensils are not sufficient to state any claims." Plaintiff was granted leave to amend on the dismissed claims.

In Scott v. Padula, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6174 (D. SC, Jan. 26, 2010) a federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6173, Jan. 7, 2010), and denied a preliminary injunction to an inmate who wanted to have religious books pertaining to the Shetaut Neter faith while he is housed in the Special Management Unit.

In Lockamy v. Dunbar, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6893 (ED TX, Jan. 28, 2010), a federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124184, Oct. 6, 2009), and, among other things, rejected a RLUIPA challenge to application of prison contraband rules that precluded plaintiff from mailing religious articles torn out of a magazine (as opposed to sending the entire magazine) and a Christmas card that had been made from the back covers of copies of a prison publication.

In Yisrayl v. Walker, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6785 (SD IL, Jan. 27, 2010), an Illinois federal district court permitted an inmate who practices the African Hebrew Israelite faith to proceed on some of his claims-- that officials refused to serve him unleavened bread, refused to serve him a special holiday meal, denied him access to religious books, videos and a turban and have not hired a clergy member of his faith.

Parental Rights Terminated For 13 Children From Alamo Ministries Compound

On Thursday, a Miller County, Arkansas trial judge terminated the parental rights of six members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. Thirteen children from four families are involved. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that the children were taken into protective custody by the state in 2008 in an investigation of physical and sexual abuse at the Ministries' compound. (See prior posting.) A judge ruled that parents could be reunited with their children if they moved off church property and found jobs outside the Alamo Ministries so they are not financially dependent on it. (See prior posting.) The parents involve in Thursday's cases failed to move away. More details are unknown because the judge has imposed a gag order barring parents, attorneys and others from speaking to the press about the case. However a spokesperson for a parents rights group says that the rulings are unduly harsh because Ministries leader Tony Alamo is now in prison where he will likely spend the rest of his life. (See prior posting.) Parents say they will appeal Thursday's rulings. Also other appeals of removal of various of the children from the Tony Alamo compound are pending. The Arkansas Department of Human Services said that normally children would not be put up for adoption until all the appeals have been resolved.

Tennessee Adopts Curriculum Guidelines For High School Bible Courses

According to AP, last week the Tennessee State Board of Education approved guidelines for elective high school social studies courses teaching about the Bible and its historical content. The guidelines implement legislation passed in 2008 authorizing creation of a course focusing on "nonsectarian nonreligious academic study of the Bible and its influence on literature, art, music, culture and politics." (See prior posting.) A Tennessee ACLU spokesperson said the new guidelines appear sensitive to concerns that the classes not be used to try to covert students. The legislation did not require districts with existing Bible courses to move to the state curriculum. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Muslim Organization Objects To Remarks In Speech By California Mayor

The Council on American-Islamic Relations plans to file a complaint with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division over the State of the City speech given this week by Lancaster, California's mayor, R. Rex Parris. Yesterday's Fresno Bee reports that in the speech, Parris said that he is "growing a Christian community," and urged voters to support a ballot measure in April that would endorse prayer at city meetings.

Rifqa Bary's Parents Seek to Withdraw Settlement Consent Entered Last Week

Last week, it seemed like the case of Rifqa Bary was finally over. Her Muslim parents agreed that the 17-year old girl who fled, fearing her life was in danger because of her conversion to Christianity, could stay with her Ohio foster family, and that everyone would get counseling. (See prior posting.) According to today's Columbus Dispatch, however, that agreement has been short-lived. Claiming misrepresentations and fraudulent inducement, Rifqa's parents now want to withdraw their consent to the deal, claiming that Franklin County (OH) Children's Services is improperly allowing Rifqa to have contact with Blake and Beverly Lorenz, the people in Florida who helped Rifqa run away. The parents say that Rifqa's attorney sent Rifqa's handwritten birthday card to Blake Lorenz for Rifqa. The card referred to Blake as "daddy". Rifqa's parents have now asked for Rifqa's Ohio foster parents to be removed as guardian ad litem.

Friday, January 29, 2010

FFRF Objects To Planned Mother Teresa Postage Stamp

A month ago, the United States Postal Service announced the commemorative postage stamps it plans to issue during 2010. One of the stamps will honor 1979 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mother Teresa, a nun who worked among the impoverished in Calcutta, India. According to yesterday's Oregon Faith Report, the Freedom from Religion Foundation is objecting to the stamp because Mother Teresa is a religious figure. In response, Pacific Justice Institute will be sending a letter to the USPS offering legal support for the stamp.

North Carolina County's Sectarian Prayers Violate Establishment Clause

In Joyner v. Forsyth County, North Carolina, (MD NC, Jan. 28, 2010), a North Carolina federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (see prior posting) and concluded that the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners' invocation policy, as implemented, violates the Establishment Clause. The court found that the prayers offered at Board meetings advance one particular faith and have the effect of affiliating the Board with that faith. The court said that going forward, the county has three options: (1) do not open meetings with prayers; (2) open meetings with non-sectarian prayers; or (3) implement an invocation policy that involves diversity and inclusiveness in the prayers offered. ACLU of North Carolina issued a release approving of the decision. AP reported on the decision.

Air Force Academy Adds Chapel Space For Earth-Centered Faiths; Talks With Secular Student Group

The U.S. Air Force Academy Chapel is adding a worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions, such as Wicca and Druidism. A release from the Academy reports that dedication of the new outdoor worship circle on the hill overlooking the Cadet Chapel and Visitor Center is tentatively scheduled for March 10. This will be the latest addition to sacred spaces already set aside for Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist worship. [Thanks to Rev. Jeanene Hammers for the lead.]

Meanwhile, the Colorado Springs Independent yesterday reported [scroll down] that the Air Force Academy's Freethinkers group has apparently gained consent of administrators to affiliate with national Secular Student Alliance and move out from the Academy's Special Programs In Religious Education. The move came after SPIRE discouraged the group last spring from officially inviting atheist Christopher Hitchens. (Background.) Instead Hitchens met off campus with cadets. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

DHS Secretary Meets With Faith and Ethnic Leaders

A press release from the Department of Homeland Security reports that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano met yesterday with leaders from Muslim, Sikh, South Asian and Arab communities. The meeting focused on ways that DHS can increase engagement, dialogue and coordination with, and enhance information sharing between, the Department and faith- and community-based groups.

Court Says Pastor's Defamation Is Not Barred By 1st Amendment

In Tubra v. Cooke, (OR App., Jan. 27, 2010), an Oregon appellate court reversed a trial court's judgment notwithstanding the verdict in an interim pastor's defamation claim against his former church and two of its officers. The jury had awarded damages to the pastor, but the trial court held that the First Amendment deprived it of jurisdiction. Disagreeing, the Court of Appeals said:
If the organization is of a religious character, and the alleged defamatory statements relate to the organization's religious beliefs and practices and are of a kind that can only be classified as religious, then the statements are purely religious as a matter of law, and the Free Exercise Clause bars the plaintiff's claim. In defamation law terms, those statements enjoy an absolute privilege.

If, however, the statements--although made by a religious organization--do not concern the religious beliefs and practices of the religious organization, or are made for a nonreligious purpose--that is, if they would not "always and in every context" be considered religious in nature--then the First Amendment does not necessarily prevent adjudication of the defamation claim, but the statements may nonetheless be qualifiedly privileged under established Oregon law.

In this case, the alleged defamatory statements--that the pastor had misappropriated money and had demonstrated a willingness to lie--would not "always and in every context" be religious in nature. Thus, even though the statements related to plaintiff's conduct as a pastor of the church, that fact does not render those statements absolutely privileged as a matter of law under the Free Exercise Clause. Rather, that fact gives rise to a qualified privilege.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Building Permit Charges Against Amish Farmer Dismissed on Free Exercise Grounds

In Jackson County, Wisconsin, a state trial court judge earlier this month dismissed on free exercise grounds charges against an Amish farmer and his wife that they failed to apply for a building permit to build a home and a second residence on their property. According to yesterday's Jackson County Chronicle, defendant Samuel F. Stolzfus refused to sign a building permit application on religious grounds because he did not know if he could adhere to the promise in it that he would comply with local ordinances and the state's uniform dwelling code. The court concluded: "The town has failed to establish a compelling governmental interest in requiring signed applications from the Amish and, therefore, may not enforce the ordinance against them." In the two-year old case, the town did not charge that there were actual safety problems with the buildings Stolzfus constructed.

UPDATE: Here it the full opinion in Town of Albion v. Stolzfus, (WI Cir. Ct., Jan. 7, 2010). [Thanks to Robert L. Greene.]

Indonesian Government Says 20% of Mosques Face Wrong Direction

Worshippers in mosques are supposed to face Mecca when the pray. According to today's Jakarta Globe, Indonesia's ministry of religion says that there are errors in the direction worshippers face in 20% of the country's mosques-- mainly in the earthquake-hit areas such as Yogyakarta, West Java and West Sumatra. The ministry suggests that mosques just have worshipers change the direction they are facing, rather than renovating the entire building.

Bill Proposed In California To Protect Clergy From Perfoming Same-Sex Marriages

As the federal court trial challenging the constitutionality of California's gay marriage ban continues (New York Times 1/27), proponents of same-sex marriage yesterday introduced a bill in the California legislature to make the prospect more appealing to opponents. The Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act (SB 906) emphasizes the distinction between religious and civil marriage by changing language in state statutes relating to marriage to refer to "civil marriage." The bill goes on to add to the section which permits clergy to perform marriage ceremonies:
No person authorized by this subdivision shall be required to solemnize a marriage that is contrary to the tenets of his or her faith. Any refusal to solemnize a marriage under this subdivision shall not affect the tax exempt status of any entity.
According to LAist yesterday, both Equality California (press release) and the California Council of Churches back the measure.

1st Circuit Rejects Religious Persecution Claim By Chinese Woman Seeking Asylum

In Weng v. Holder, (1st Cir., Jan. 27, 2010), the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeal denying asylum, withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture to a native and citizen of China who claimed she has and in the future will likely face religious persecution. Jin Weng is an adherent of Zun Wang, a banned religion in China. An immigration judge had found Weng's testimony to be inconsistent with her earlier statements to immigration officials after she illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico. At that time, she did not mention religion but said she was fleeing China and feared returning there because of poverty and other nonreligious reasons. The judge rejected additional testimony by her at her immigration hearing regarding her religious persecution in China because he found her not to be a credible witness. Yesterday's National Examiner reports on the decision.

In West Bank, Mosques Become Part of Battle Between PA and Hamas

IPS yesterday reported that in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority's Fatah Party is using mosques in its battle against rival Hamas, as well as against critics within its own party. Earlier this month, the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs distributed a prepared sermon that imams were ordered to read before Friday prayers. While the PA has been dictating imam's speeches for a year, the sermon earlier this month was particularly controversial. It attacked Qatar-based Sheikh Youseff El-Qaradawi, an outspoken opponent of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. When some worshippers hurled abuse at imams reading the sermons, PA security forces raided a number of mosques and arrested some of the worshippers.

Qaradawi is considered a prominent scholar of Islamic law. He condemned Abbas for thwarting U.N. action on a report critical of Israel's 2008 incursion into Gaza. The rhetoric is heated. Qaradawi called for Abbas to be stoned in Mecca if it is shown that he instigated Israel against Gaza. The controversial PA sermons delivered in response called Qaradawi an ignoramus and a puppet of the government of Qatar.

Court Applies Ministerial Exception to Dismiss Suit by Catholic School Teacher

In Weishuhn v. Catholic Diocese of Lansing, (MI Ct. App., Jan. 26, 2010), a Michigan appellate court dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Catholic school teacher who taught mathematics and religion to 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Plaintiff challenged her termination. The court concluded that plaintiff's duties were primarily religious in nature, and that the ministerial exception doctrine applies to both her Civil Rights Act claim and her Whistleblower Protection Act claim. The court said: "Termination of a ministerial employee by a religious institution is an absolutely protected action under the First Amendment, regardless of the reason for doing so." (See prior related posting.) Yesterday's Michigan Messenger reported on the decision.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Peres Addresses Bundestag On International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as set by a 2005 United Nations Resolution. Marking the occasion, Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed the German Bundestag. (Full text of remarks.) In a wide-ranging speech, he urged that authorities bring to justice those still alive in Germany and elsewhere in Europe who participated in the genocide of the Nazi era. Reviewing the history of the Holocaust, he said:
The Nazi rabid hatred cannot be solely defined as "anti-Semitic." This is a commonly-used definition. It does not fully explain the burning, murderous, beastly drive that motivated the Nazi regime, and their obsessive resolve to annihilate the Jews. The war's objective was to conquer Europe; not to settle scores with Jewish history. And if we constituted, we the Jews, a terrible threat in the eyes of Hitler's regime, this was not a military threat, but rather a moral threat. An opposition to the desire that denied our faith that every man is born in the image of God, that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and that all men are equal.

House of Lords Today Debates Religious Hiring By Faith Schools

In Britain today the House of Lords will debate a series of amendments proposed by Baroness Turner of Camden to limit the extent to which voluntary-aided faith schools can hire teachers on the basis of religion. (Ekklesia, Accord Coalition). Under current law, these faith schools (which receive government support) can broadly discriminate in recruitment, pay and promotion on the basis of religion, and can dismiss teachers for conduct that is incompatible with the precepts of the school's religion. The amendments would require faith schools to show that discrimination on religious grounds is a "legitimate" and "proportionate" occupational requirement-- the same standard that currently applies to religious charities in Britain. The amendments would limit schools' present ability to apply religious criteria to those who teach only secular subjects and are not in leadership roles. (London Guardian op ed.) Today's debate follows a vote on Monday in which the Lords eliminated provisions in the Equality Bill that narrowed exemptions from the sexual orientation anti-discrimination provisions for religious organizations. (See prior posting.)

Focus on Family Ad Featuring Tim Tebow Will Run During Superbowl

According to yesterday's Gainesville Sun, the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family has raised over $2.5 million to run a 30-second ad during the Superbowl featuring former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. The athlete is known for his Chritsian beliefs, often writing references to Bible verses in his eye black. (Photo from Huffington Post). He was the first home schooled athlete to be nominated for the Heisman Trophy. According to a press release earlier this month from Focus on the Family, Tim and his mother Pam will share a personal story centered on the theme "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life." News accounts speculate that the ad will center on Pam Tebow's decision, after she became seriously ill, to ignore a doctor's recommendation that she have an abortion. She gave birth to Tim. The National Organization for Women has written CBS questioning why it made an exception to its policy against advocacy ads here. In response, CBS has announced it would consider other "responsibly produced" advocacy ads for the few remaining spots on the Feb. 7 Superbowl broadcast.

Father's Suit Against Family Planning Clinic Dismissed

Yesterday's Corpus Christie (TX) Caller reported that a Texas federal district court has dismissed a lawsuit against a family planning clinic brought by a father who objected to the clinic's giving his 14-year old daughter the "morning after pill." He said that this violated her religious and moral training. South Texas Family Planning in Kingsville (TX), however, contended that federal guidelines for its grant funds preclude requiring parental consent to dispense so-called "Plan B."

German Family, Persecuted for Homeschooling, Granted Asylum In U.S.

Yesterday's Washington Post reports that a couple who fled from Germany to Tennessee in order to home school their children have been granted political asylum by a U.S. immigration judge. Uwe Romeike and his wife argued that they were persecuted in Germany for their evangelical Christian beliefs and for homeschooling their children to avoid public schools whose curriculum they believed to be opposed to Christian values. German law requires children to attend public or private schools. When the Romeikes ignored orders to send their children to school, German police came to their home and took the children to school. In 2007, Germany's highest appellate court ruled that in severe cases children could be removed from their home. The asylum grant allows the Romeike's to remain in Morristown, TN, where they have lived since 2008. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman refused to comment on whether the government would appeal the immigration judge's decision.

Rabbis Urge AG Holder To Grant Rubashkin Pre-Sentence Release

Six prominent Orthodox rabbis held a news conference in Washington, D.C. yesterday and then walked to the Department of Justice to deliver a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder protesting the pre-sentencing detention of Sholom Rubashkin, former manager of the Postville, Iowa Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant. Yeshiva World News carries the full text of the letter aruging that Rubashkin, who was convicted last November of bank fraud relating to a loan to Agriprocessors and of failing to pay livestock providers in a timely manner, does not present a flight risk. After these convictions, the government dropped immigration-related charges that had been filed against for employing illegal immigrants. The letter to Holder reads in part:
Mr. Rubashkin has been an observant Orthodox Jew since birth. His dietary observances prevent him from eating food that is not certified as kosher or that is heated in a non-kosher appliance. He, therefore, has eaten only cold food while in prison....

He and his wife have ten children, six of whom live at home with their parents. They have an autistic 16-year-old son who has always been heavily dependent on his father. Mr. Rubashkin’s absence from his home at this time – when he is most needed to prepare his children in case he is sentenced to a lengthy prison term – is devastating....

Moreover, his friends and his religious community have offered to pay for a 24-hour private armed security guard that will, in effect, imprison him in his home until his sentencing. A total of approximately 8 million dollars in the equity of 43 homes has been offered as security for his appearance. And to demonstrate the intensity of their conviction that he will not flee, rabbis have offered Torah scrolls – that may not be assigned except for the most extreme and exigent needs – as security for his presence.
The Forward yesterday also reported on the rabbi's news conference.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

French Parliamentary Report Urges Ban of Full Face Veil In Public Buildings and Transport

A long awaited report from a French parliamentary committee released today recommends a ban on women wearing the Muslim full-face veil in hospitals, schools, government office and on public transport. It suggested that anyone ignoring the ban in a public building should be denied the services offered in it. The report called wearing of the full face veil "a challenge to our republic," and urged Parliament to pass a resolution declaring that the veil is contrary to French republican principles of secularism. According to BBC News, the report also recommends taking into account in asylum requests coercion to wear the full veil as an indication of a wider persecution, and calls for creation of a national school of Islamic studies. The report, however, stopped short of calling for a total ban on full face veils, viewing that as difficult to enforce and as possibly making France a target for terrorism. (See prior related posting.)

9th Circuit Rejects RLUIPA Zoning Challenge In Brief Opinion

In an unpublished opinion which sets out none of the relevant facts, the 9th Circuit last Friday in Lowry v. Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, (9th Cir., Jan. 22, 2010), rejected a pro se appeal in a case in which plaintiffs claimed that a zoning decision violated their free exercise rights. The court concluded that summary judgment was properly granted under RLUIPA and Arizona law because no substantial burden on the exercise of religion was shown. No 1st Amendment violation was shown because the zoning laws are neutral and generally applicable. Plaintiffs' equal protection claim failed because they did not identify others who were treated differently under the zoning ordinances.

Gnostic Center Fails Britain's "Public Benefit" Test To Be A Charity

In Britain, Third Sector today calls attention to a decision (full text) handed down last month by the Charity Commission rejecting an application by The Gnostic Center for registration as a charity. Apparently the decision, finding that the Center failed the "public benefit" test imposed by Britain's Charities Act, was reaffirmed earlier this month after a review by two of the Charity Commission's board members. (Third Sector). In the decision, the Commission found that the Center did not advance education for public benefit, concluding that : "It is not advancing education based on broad values that are uncontroversial, which would generally be supported by objective and informed opinion." The Commission also rejected the claim that the Center is advancing religion for the public benefit, holding:
To be a religion in charity law, there must also be a positive, beneficial, moral or ethical framework promoted, since a spiritually improving effect on its own is insufficient.... There was no evidence of shared morals or ethics amongst followers or the promotion of these by the Gnostic Center.
Finally the Charity Commission rejected the argument that the Center promoted moral or spiritual welfare or improvement of the community for public benefit, finding no demonstrable impact of the Center's teachings and practices on society.

Bangladesh Takes Next Step To Ban Religious Political Parties

Bangladesh has taken another step toward banning religious-based political parties. Earlier this month, the country's Supreme Court reinstated a constitutional ban on such parties. (See prior posting.) Now, according to RTT News today, the Election Commission has written to three Islamic political parties directing them to amend their charters to remove various religious references.

Federal Court Applies Younger Abstention In Challenge To Maine's Charitable Solicitations Act

In Christian Action Network v. State of Maine, (D ME, Jan. 13, 2010), a Maine federal district court applied the Younger v. Harris abstention doctrine and dismissed a challenge by Christian Action Network (CAN) to Maine's Charitable Solicitations Act. CAN claimed that the law imposes an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech, is overbroad, and that the state had discriminated against it on the basis of its viewpoint in refusing to renew its charitable solicitation license. The refusal was based on alleged unlicensed solicitation of donations in Maine in April 2009 and CAN's unauthorized use of the Governor's name in a mailing that suggested the Governor endorsed the anti-Muslim message in the group's newsletter. The court's decision requires CAN to assert its constitutional challenges in state enforcement proceedings that had been commenced before the federal lawsuit was filed. (See prior related posting.) WorldNet Daily today carries an article critical of the decision.

House of Lords Votes To Keep Broader Discrimination Exemptions For Religious Organizations

In Britain yesterday, the House of Lords defeated a a government attempt in the pending Equality Bill to narrow the employment discrimination exemptions currently available to religious institutions under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. Under that law, religious organizations can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in order to comply with religious doctrine or to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a substantial number of the religion's followers. (Sec. 7(3).) The Equality Bill, which consolidates a number of Britain's anti-discrimination laws, would have limited the exemption to individuals whose "employment mainly involves" either "leading or assisting in the observance of liturgical or ritualistic practices of the religion," or "promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion (whether to followers of the religion or to others)." (See prior posting.)

In the House of Lords, Bishop Scott-Joynt and Baroness O'Cathain, an evangelical, proposed amendments to retain the 2003 exemptions. (Christian Today). According to Christian Institute, in three separate votes yesterday (216- 178, 195-174 and 177-172), the peers voted to approve Lady O'Cathain's amendments.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Malaysian Court Overturns Book Ban on Academic Essays on Muslim Women

In Malaysia, the Kuala Lumpur High Court today overturned a ban imposed by the Home Ministry in 2008 on the book Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism. According to The Edge, the book, which contains ten academic essays by activists and intellectuals, was published by a Muslim feminist NGO. In its opinion, the court rejected the Home Ministry's claim that the book would disturb public order and confuse Muslim women and those with a shallow knowledge of Islam. The court said: "Some may not agree with what is stated in the book but this is to be expected in an academic text, which this book is. But to conclude that it can create public disorder is something that cannot stand to objective scrutiny."

Christians In Nigerian City Charge Military With Genocide

In Nigeria, the Army's attempt to end Muslim-Christian violence in the the northern city of Jos (see prior posting) has led to charges of genocide by the Plateau State Christian Elders Consultative Forum. According to today's Nigeria Guardian, Christian leader charge that Maj-Gen. Saleh Maina has sent out military patrols made up only of Muslims who have then killed Christians. The military denied that only Muslim soldiers were being deployed. An editorial in today's Guardian gives more background, reporting that more than 4000 have been killed in sectarian violence in the city since 2001.

Ban on Burqa Debated In France, Britain

In France, a Parliamentary commission is scheduled to publish its recommendations tomorrow on whether the Muslim women should be banned from wearing the full-face veil in public places. According to Islam Online yesterday, France's Conference of French Imams supports a ban, saying that a majority of Muslim scholars agree that women are not required to cover their full face. They say that the issue is being used to "tarnish" the image of Muslims in France and elsewhere in the West. However other Muslim leaders in France oppose any ban. The leader of the French Council for the Muslim Religion says that a ban would infringe Muslim's religious freedom. The president of the French Union of Islamic Organizations says he believes that a ban would encourage Islamophobia, though he supports requiring women to identify themselves in public transportation when necessary for security purposes.

Meanwhile, in yesterday's London Times, Dominic Lawson published a powerful op-ed opposing suggestions by the UK Independence Party that the burqa be banned in Britain. He writes that the view of Muslims being portrayed by those who support a ban is reminiscent of these lines from Adolph Hitler in Mein Kampf: "As I was once strolling through the inner city, I suddenly happened upon an apparition in a long caftan with black hair locks. Is this a Jew? was my first thought ... but the longer I stared ... the more my first question was transformed into a new conception: is this a German?"

Recent Articles and Books of Interest

From SSRN:

Other articles:

Recent Books:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Italian Judge Removed In Dispute Over Crucifixes In Courtrooms

In Italy, The Superior Council of Magistrates has removed Judge Luigi Tosti from the professional rolls of Italian magistrates. AP reported on Friday on the action that essentially removes Tosti from office. Tosti has refused to hear cases because there are crucifixes in Italian courtrooms. He has argued that defendants are entitled to be tried in secular courtrooms. The Council took similar action in 2006, but apparently reversed itself after Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation rejected Tosti's conviction for refusing to carry out official duties.(See prior posting.) The Council's most recent action came after Tosti refused to hear cases in a courtroom where the crucifix had been removed to meet his objections. Apparently he is insisting they be removed from all courtrooms.

Appellate Court Allows Church Parking Lot Over Historical Preservation Objections

In Friends of The Bethany Place, Inc. v. City of Topeka, (KS Ct. App., Jan. 22, 2010), the Kansas Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, upheld the decision of the Topeka City Council to allow Grace Episcopal Cathedral to build a parking lot on a tract in downtown Topeka that is listed on the Register of Historic Kansas Places. The State Historical Preservation Officer opposed the project and the district court ruled against the project. (See prior posting.) However the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the district court improperly "went beyond the record and reweighed the evidence before the Council in finding what it considered to be feasible and prudent alternatives to the Church's proposed project." Judge Greene dissented, saying that he "would affirm the district court's decision setting aside the Council's action as arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable."

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Merrell v. Lawler, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3218 (MD PA, Jan. 15, 2010), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed an inmate's free exercise claim, but with leave to amend. Plaintiff alleged that because of a back injury, he was unable to climb steps to get to the fourth tier where the chapel was located. However he failed to name defendants that were responsible for obstructing his ability to use the chapel.

In Edwards v. Bruno, 2009 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3305 (CT Super., Nov. 9, 2010), a Connecticut trial court rejected claims of a Jewish prisoner that he was not given a reasonable opportunity to pursue his faith at Passover. He was given 7 pounds of matzoh, seder food prepared by an ordained rabbi, and a one-on-one seder conducted by the Protestant chaplain (who was also a Messianic rabbi).

In Rubio v. Diaz, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3776 (WD TX, Jan. 15, 2010), a Texas federal magistrate judge dismissed free exercise and RLUIPA claims by an inmate who complained that his writing material, including his Bible and his Bible study correspondence, were confiscated pursuant to a subpoena generated by an investigation by the Texas Rangers. He claimed his personal Bible had the names and addresses of his family members in it, and he needed it to communicate with them. He says it also had sentimental value to him.

In Canada v. Ray, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4115 (WD VA. Jan. 19, 2010), a Virginia federal magistrate judge recommended that a Muslim inmate be permitted to move forward with his claim that his free exercise rights and his rights under RLUIPA were violated when he was required to either face discipline or take a tuberculosis skin test which he claimed contained alcohol or pork products, both forbidden by Muslim law.

In Reynolds v. Newcomer, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123469 (WD LA, Dec. 21, 2009), and in Carr v. Newcomer, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123559 (WD LA, Dec. 21, 2009), a Louisiana federal magistrate judge concluded that inmates' religious exercise was not substantially burdened, and recommended that the claims in two similar cases be dismissed as frivolous. Plaintiff claimed they have been denied the right to receive religious material such as Bibles, books, and magazines; and that the warden allows Pentecostalists and other Christian "sects" to proselytize inmates in the dormitory's common day room. One of the plaintiffs also claimed that shortly after his arrival at the prison, his religious pendant -- a gift from his grandfather -- was confiscated and that he was denied a Bible shipped to him because it was improperly packaged.

In Windham v. Pierce, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4518 (SD TX, Jan. 21, 2010), a Native American inmate challenged the requirement he take a test before being transferred to a Native American designated prison. When he was transferred without taking the test, he objected that there is no volunteer to lead services and the circle is inactive. His first claim was dismissed as moot, and his second was dismissed without prejudice because it should be brought in a different venue.

In Jihad v. Fabian, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4749 (D MN, Jan. 21, 2010), a federal district court approved a magistrate's recommendations (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123652, Dec. 23, 2009) and refused to grant a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction in response to plaintiff's complaints regarding impediments to his practice of Islam. Plaintiff, claiming a violation of his free exercise rights and of RLUIPA, alleged that authorities failed to provide a Muslim chaplain and enough Islamic services; prohibited religious meetings without a volunteer present; failed to provide Halal meals and a location where he can perform five daily salat (prayers); and prohibited him from wearing a Kufi (prayer cap) or an Islamic medallion outside of his clothing.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mother Who Starved Children, Relying on God, Convicted of Endangerment

The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger reports that a Sussex County (NJ) jury on Thursday convicted 50-year old Estelle Walker of child endangerment. Police found Walker's four malnourished children in a lakeside cabin in 2006. Walker's lawyer claimed that Walker was not responsible because she acted out a a delusional religious belief that God will provide. She did not eat either, and merely prayed with her children. Walker faces up to ten years in prison on each of four counts of second-degree endangerment. Earlier she had rejected a plea bargain that would have allowed her to go free with the one year time already served while she had not been able to post bail. She said she had been directed through prayer not to accept the arrangement. During Walker's trial, a psychiatrist testified that she is religious to an extreme degree, but not mentally ill.

Philippines Makes Eid'l Adha a National Holiday

The Manila (Philippines) Bulletin on Friday reported on the signing last month by President Maria Gloria Arroyo of a new law that makes the Muslim holiday of Eid'l Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) a national holiday in the Philippines. Under a law that Arroyo signed in 2002, Eid'l Fitr is already a national holiday. The Office of Muslim Affairs has been given the authority to determine the dates of the two Muslim festivals which come at different times each year on the secular calendar. At a recent Muslim Inter-Organizational Meeting, participants also debated a bill that had been introduced into the Philippine Parliament to prohibit the pejorative use of "Muslim" and "Christian" to identify those charged with crimes. Only 5% to 10% of the Philippine population are Muslim. (Wikipedia).

Tribal Government Funds Rebuilding of Catholic Church On Reservation

The Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 imposes most of the restrictions found in the Constitution's Bill of Rights and in the 14th Amendment on Tribal governments. However, it does not impose Establishment Clause limitations on tribes. This has permitted the tribal government of California's Rincon Indian Band to pay $3.2 million in tribal funds derived from Harrah's Rincon Casino to rebuild an expanded Catholic Church on the Rincon reservation. Today's San Diego Union Tribune reports that the prior Chapel, built in the 1930's, was one of 65 buildings on the reservation destroyed by fire in 2007. Approximately 80% of the Rincon tribe members are Catholic.

Pope Keeps Cardinal Bertone On As Secretary of State

Zenit reported this week that Pope Benedict XVI will keep Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as the Vatican's Secretary of State even though the Cardinal has reached age 75 which makes him eligible for retirement. A letter from the Pope announcing his decision said that Bertone had played a particularly valuable role in building a dialogue with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who is the founder of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.

California Proposes Halal and Expanded Vegetarian Diets For Prisons

On Jan. 16, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued a Notice of Proposed Regulations that would add a halal meat alternative program as a third religious dietary option for inmates at all adult institutions in the state. Participation in the program will be open to Muslim inmates and other inmates with a religious need to consume halal meat, as determined by a Muslim Chaplain. The proposed regulations would also amend existing regulations for vegetarian diets to make it clear that it is available to inmates who seek it for a personal or ethical reasons, as well as those who request it for religious reasons. The Notice says that the purpose of the proposed regulations "is to avoid future costly litigation and unnecessary expenses to the taxpayers of the State of California." Links to all the formal notices, text and forms involved are available from the CDCR website. Yesterday's Fresno Bee reported on the proposed regulations.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Passenger's Tefillin Leads To Security Scare and Emergency Landing

A U.S. Airways Express plane with 15 passengers aboard en route from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Louisville yesterday made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after a flight attendant became concerned when a 17-year old Jewish youth put on tefillin for his morning prayers. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, neither the flight attendant nor the pilot had ever seen tefillin-- small leather boxes containing scriptural verses connected to leather straps and placed on the arm and head. The pilot reported that a passenger had a device with "wires" on the plane. In a statement, the airline said the crew "did not receive a clear response" when they asked the passenger about the tefillin. Law enforcement vehicles surrounded the plane when it touched down and it was taken to a remote area where the boy, and his sister who was travelling with him were removed. Apparently with 20 minutes or so, police decided the pair, shaken by the experience, posed no threat. A TSA statement referred to the unscheduled landing as a "disruptive passenger" incident.

Group Urges Action To Appoint International Religious Freedom Ambassador

CNSNews reported yesterday that the Christian Advocacy group, Open Doors USA, has begun a petition drive to urge President Obama to fill the vacant position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Open Doors spokesperson Lindsay Vessey said that an appointment is needed to demonstrate the importance of international religious freedom. The position was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). Washington Post's On Faith reported that rumors circulating in the capital suggest that the White House is considering prominent New York City pastor, Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, for the position. Meanwhile, international religious freedom advocates are also concerned that the Ambassador-at-Large position does not carry enough clout to affect foreign policy.

Also yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a letter it sent earlier this month to President Obama urging him to designate Vietnam a "Country of Particular Concern" under the IRFA. It also asked him to press Congress to pass the proposed Vietnam Human Rights Act (S. 1159/ H.R. 1969). USCIRF had already recommended adding Vietnam to the list in its 2009 Annual Report issued last May. (See prior posting.)

Bible References On Rifle Sights Will End

Trijicon, Inc. issued a statement yesterday voluntarily agreeing to stop its previously reported practice of including coded references to Bible verses as part of the serial number on rifle sights supplied to the military. The New York Times reports that the company will also supply the Pentagon with 100 free modification kits that will allow the military to remove the serial numbers from rifles of units deployed in combat. Foreign military units will also be offered the kits. Trend reports that Australia and New Zealand have both announced that they will remove the inscriptions from rifle sights issued to their military. Meanwhile, blogger Christian Fighter Pilot suggested this week that there was in fact a close tie-in between the Biblical verses chosen by Trijicon and the rifle sights. The sights use fiber optic and light enhancement technology, and all of the Bible verses chosen (Old and New Testament) include "light" as a theme.

Alaska Appellate Court Says Religious Belief in Marijuana Was Not Sincere

In Lineker v. State, (AK Ct. App., Jan 20, 2010), the Alaska Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision upheld a trial court's finding that defendants had not established that their possession of marijuana was supported by a sincere religious belief. Judge Mannheimer dissenting argued that the trial court's findings in places seemed to assess the sincerity of defendants' beliefs by examining whether they were unorthodox. (See prior related posting.)

Court Holds Church Can Tear Down Historic Rectory

In Stamford, Connecticut, a state trial court judge on Wednesday refused to enjoin St. Andrew's Episcopal Church from tearing down its its 136-year old rectory building. The Stamford Advocate reports that in a 26-page opinion the court rejected the challenge brought under a rarely used state law that allows any citizen to sue to prevent the "unreasonable" destruction of historic buildings. In denying the temporary injunction. the court concluded that there is no feasible or affordable alternative to the church's arrangement with a real estate developer.

Suit Challenges Regulation of Spiritual Counsellors As Fortune Tellers

Yesterday's Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch reports on a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Virginia challenging the constitutionality of a Chesterfield County (VA) law that regulates "spiritual counsellors" in the same way that fortune tellers are regulated. This includes a requirement to obtain a permit after a background check and character references, as well as zoning restrictions and a $300 license tax. Spiritual adviser Sophie King says she is engaged in a religious activity. She says she is not a fortune teller because she merely relays information she receives without knowing how it relates to her individual client. The county, in a motion to dismiss filed this week, says that King is engaged in a business that may be regulated. The motion to dismiss also argues that the federal court lacks jurisdiction over challenges to the county's business license tax or zoning ordinance.

Diocese Challenges Designation of Church As Historic District

Yesterday's Springfield (MA) Republican reported that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has filed suit in state court seeking to enjoin enforcement of a city ordinance enacted last December that creates an historic district out of Our Lady of Hope Church. The suit, filed against the city, the mayor and the council members in office when the district was created, also seeks unspecified damages. Historic district designation means that the building may not be torn down, and no changes can be made to its exterior, without approval of the city's Historical Commission. The complaint alleges that by limiting its ability to control church buildings, including religious symbols on them, the ordinance infringes the Diocese's constitutionally protected free exercise rights and freedom of expression, as well as violating equal protection guarantees, under both the state and federal constitutions.

Egypt's High Administrative Court Overturns Ban On Niqab In University Exams

World Bulletin reports that on Wednesday, Egypt's High Administrative Court overturned a ban imposed by the Minister of Higher Education on female students wearing the full-face niqab in university examinations. The court said:
Freedom to wear the niqab is guaranteed by human rights and constitutional liberties, and a girl's right to dress the way she sees fit in accordance with her beliefs and her social environment is a firm right that cannot be violated.
The court added, however, that a student must show her face when asked to do so for security reasons. The decision reverses one handed down by a Cairo court earlier this month. (See prior posting.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court Decision Impacts Those Seeking Asylum Because of Religious Persecution

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday handed down an immigration law opinion that has important implications in cases in which an individual about to be deported or removed seeks to reopen proceedings to claim asylum because of religious persecution in his country of origin. A federal regulation makes discretionary a decision to reopen proceedings to consider changed conditions relating (among other things) to religious persecution in his country of origin. In Kucana v. Holder, (Sup. Ct., Jan. 20, 2010), the Court, in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, held that a statutory bar to judicial review of decisions by the Attorney General that are made discretionary by statute does not apply to decisions by the Attorney General made discretionary only by federal regulations. In this case, an Albanian citizen sought political asylum, fearing political persecution. His motion to reopen his removal proceedings was based on claims that conditions in Albania had worsened. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion. ScotusBlog reports on the decision.

Court Rejects Claim of Religious Exemption From Income Taxes

In Bennett-Bey v. Shulman, (D DC, Jan. 20, 2010), the federal district court for the District of Columbia dismissed a pro se complaint in which plaintiff claimed a free exercise exemption from having federal income taxes withheld from her salary. Tanya Bennett-Bey alleged that she had sovereign immunity from federal taxes because she is a beneficiary of the Great Moorish Estate Express Trust, which makes her "a Moorish American Citizen." The court first found that it lacked jurisdiction because plaintiff had never filed for a refund from the IRS. Beyond that, plaintiff failed to allege that paying federal income tax would place a substantial burden on her free exercise of religion.

Rifqa Bary Remains In Foster Care, Agrees to Counseling

The Columbus Dispatch reported yesterday that a sort of detente has been reached in the case of Rifqa Bary, the 17-year old who fled her home in Ohio after converting from Islam to Christianity. She fled to a pastor in Florida, claiming her father had threatened to kill her because of the conversion. Florida courts eventually returned her to Ohio. At a court hearing in Columbus (OH) on Tuesday, both sides agreed that Rifqa would remain in a foster home where she is now living in temporary custody of Franklin County (OH) Children Services. Rifqa and her parents will go through counseling. If they are not reconciled, when Rifqa turns 18 in August when will be considered an adult and will be free to live wherever she wishes. Also in the court hearing, Rifqa admitted she was unruly in running a way from home, but the court will impose no sanctions on her. During the hearing, Rifqa, carrying a wooden cross and wearing a rhinestone crucifix necklace, clung to her attorney, Angela Lloyd. (See prior related posting.)

Japan's Supreme Court Says City's Gift of Site For Shrine Is Unconstitutional

Japan's Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the city of Sunagawa violated the Japanese Constitution when it allowed city-owned land to be used without charge as a site for a Shinto shrine. Article 20 of the Constitution bans religious organizations from receiving any privileges from the State and bars the government from engaging in religious activity. According to today's Japan Times , the Supreme Court's Grand Bench wrote: "It is inevitable that the general public would believe the local government supports a specific religion if it provides specific benefits to it." The Court remanded the case to the Sapporo High Court for it to fashion a remedy other than removal of the shrine.

Hundreds Killed In Muslim-Christian Violence In Nigeria

Reports from the Nigerian city of Jos say that between 200 and 400 people were killed and over 4,000 were injured in three days of violence between Muslims and Christians that began January 17. The Kyiv Post reports that most of the violence took place in the city's poor neighborhoods. There are conflicting reports on what started the violence. Next reports that the Plateau state government has imposed a 24-hour curfew and that the federal government has ordered the deployment of troops to the area.

Visa Bans for Two Muslim Scholars Lifted

Reuters reported yesterday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signed orders ending the bans on granting visas to two Muslim scholars--Prof. Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University and Prof. Adam Habib of Johannesburg University. Originally government officials gave no reason for revoking Ramadan's visa, but later said it was based on a provision of the Patriot Act that allows exclusion of individuals who have supported terrorism. Ramadan is also banned from some Arab countries for his criticism of their failure to support the Palestinians. The ACLU issued a press release praising Secretary Clinton's actions.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Free Exercise Claim Growing Out of Auto Search Dismissed

In Turner v. Craig, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3356 (ND CA, Jan. 14, 2010), plaintiff alleged that he was arrested after a traffic stop by defendant police officers. Officers searched his vehicle and took a bottle of "blessing oil" that defendant uses for religious purposes from the car's glove box. Plaintiff claimed this violated his free exercise rights. The court dismissed the claim with leave to amend, indicating that plaintiff needed to set out some description of his religious practices and allege that defendants acted with the object or purpose of suppressing his religion. Various other claims growing out of the same incident-- including illegal search and false arrest allegations-- were also dismissed with leave to amend.

Vatican Issues Guidelines For Scheduled Mideast Synod

The Vatican yesterday released a document titled Guidelines for Mideast Synod. The synod, scheduled for Oct. 10-24, is expected to attract some 150 bishops, mostly from Eastern rite churches. Haaretz reports that there are some 17 million Christians in the Middle East from Iran to Egypt. Many Christians have fled, but many others (primarily from Philippines, India and Pakistan) have arrived in Arab lands in recent years to work in domestic or manual labor. Here are some excerpts from the lengthy Guidelines:

18. Political conflicts in the region have a direct influence on the lives of Christians, both as citizens and as Christians. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories makes daily life difficult with regard to freedom of movement, the economy and religious life (access to the Holy Places is dependent on military permission which is granted to some and denied to others on security grounds). Moreover, certain Christian fundamentalist theologies use Sacred Scripture to justify Israel's occupation of Palestine, making the position of Christian Arabs even more sensitive.

19. In Iraq, the war has unleashed evil forces within the country, religious confessions and political movements, making all Iraqis victims. However, because Christians represent the smallest and weakest part of Iraqi communities, they are among the principal victims, with world politics taking no notice.

20. In Lebanon, Christians are deeply divided at a political and confessional level, without a commonly acceptable plan of action. In Egypt, the rise of political Islam, on the one hand, and the disengagement of Christians from civil society on the other, lead to intolerance, inequality and injustice in their lives. Moreover, this Islamisation also penetrates families through the media and school.... In many countries, authoritarianism or dictatorships force the population - Christians included - to bear everything in silence....

22. In the Middle East, freedom of religion customarily means freedom of worship and not freedom of conscience, i.e., the freedom to change one's religion for belief in another. Generally speaking, religion in the Middle East is a social and even a national choice, and not an individual one. To change religion is perceived as betraying a society, culture and nation, founded largely on a religious tradition.

23. Conversion is seen as the fruit of a proselytism with personal interests attached and not arising from authentic religious conviction. Oftentimes, the conversion of Jews and Muslims is forbidden by State laws. Christians, though also subjected to pressure and opposition from families and tribes - even if less severely - remain free to change their religion. Many times, the conversion of Christians results not from religious conviction but personal interests or under pressure from Muslim proselytism, particularly to be relieved from obligations related to family difficulties.

British Equality Commission Opens Consultation on Equality Guides

Last week, Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission opened its consultation on drafts of three guides under Britain's Equality Bill. The Bill is in its final stages of Parliamentary passage. The three proposed guides are: (1) Employment; (2) Equal Pay; and (3) Services, Public Functions and Associations. (Links to full texts and questionnaires.) The draft guides have extensive examples of the ban on religious discrimination, and also deal with various exemptions for religious organizations. The consultations close on April 2.

British Proposal Would Permit Religious Same-Sex Commitment Ceremonies

Ekklesia reported yesterday on a proposal to create more options in Britain for same-sex commitment ceremonies. The proposal is now before the House of Lords. Currently under Britain's Civil Partnership Act 2004, same-sex commitment ceremonies can only be conducted by civil registrars. The proposed amendment to the pending Equality Bill would also give legal recognition to same-sex commitment ceremonies performed by churches or religious organizations if they wish to be able to do so.

UPDATE: The House of Lords passed the amendment by a vote of 95-21 on March 2. London Times.

Cert. Denied In Kindergarten Bible Reading Ban

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in Busch v. Marple Union School District, (Docket No. 09-315, 1/19/2010). (Order List.) In the case, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a Pennsylvania elementary school's restriction that barred a kindergartner's mother from reading aloud from the Bible as part of a "show and tell" activity in her son's classroom. (See prior posting.) The Christian Science Monitor reports on the Supreme Court's refusal to grant review. The school involved is in suburban Philadelphia.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

NY Prison Chaplain Administrator Charges Discrimination

Askew v. New York State, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3297 (ND NY, Jan. 15, 2010), involves discrimination charges by a Protestant Ministerial Program Coordinator (MPC) employed by the New York Department of Correctional Services. Glorya Askew is the only female and only African-American Protestant MPC. She claims her supervisors, particularly Mark Leonard, discriminated against her in favor of the Catholic MPC in assigning duties, offering job opportunities and speaking appearances and in relocating her from New York City to Albany. She also alleges Leonard told her that "[she] should never have gotten [the MPC] position because [she is] black and a woman." Leonard asked the inspector general's office to investigate Askew, and its report charges that Askew misrepresented outside employment and submitted false travel and time records. Askew says the charges are false. The court refused defendants' motions to dismiss many of Askew's Title VII, equal protection and free exercise of religion claims.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
Other Articles:

Military Contractor Secretly Placing Biblical References On Rifle Sights

In an investigative report yesterday, ABC News revealed one of the more unusual examples of religion intruding in the military. A Michigan company, Trijicon, has a $660 million contract to supply up to 800,000 high-powered rifle sights to the Marine Corps, and additional sights to the Army. It urns out that the company has been added coded references to New Testament verses at the end of the serial number on each rifle sight. For example, serial numbers end with "2COR4:6" (Second Corinthians 4:6) or "JN8:12" (John 8:12). The company says it has been adding the references for years. The practice was begun by the company's founder, Glyn Bindon, a devout Christian from South Africa. The company's website makes reference to the goodness of Americans based on Biblical standards. The military was unaware of the company's practice. The Biblical references were in the same type size and font as the rest of the serial number on the sight.

Tom Munson, Trijicon's director of sales and marketing said there is nothing wrong with the inscriptions and that the issue was raised by a group that is "not Christian." Apparently the practice was called to the military' attention by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. MMRF's founder, Mikey Weinstein, says members of his group that currently serve in the military have complained about the inscriptions, saying that commanders have referred to the weapons with these sights as "spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ." Interfaith Alliance issued a statement calling on the Defense Department to conduct an immediate investigation and to take appropriate action if Trijicon broke any laws.

India's Supreme Court Refuses To Order Constitution Amended To Clarify Status of Sikhs

India's Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a lawsuit asking it to order the government to amend India's Constitution to eliminate a provision in Explanation II to Article 25 that says the reference in the Constitution to the power to legislate regarding Hindu religious institutions should be construed to also include Sikh, Jain and Buddhist institutions. Sikhs want it made clear that Sikhism is a separate religion. Calcutta's Telegraph reports that the court held it lacks the power to direct Parliament to amend the provision. Eight years ago a Constitution review committee recommended the change, but Parliament has never acted on it. Sikhs say that because their marriages are governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, they face problems when the migrate abroad. They declare their religion as Sikh, but foreign authorities are confused because they present Hindu marriage certificates.

Ohio High Schoolers Fight Removal of God From School Mission Statement

In Uniontown, Ohio, the school board last month voted to change the school's mission statement to temporarily remove "belief in God" from the school district's mission statement after a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. (See prior posting.) Fox 8 News Cleveland yesterday reported on efforts of two high school students, Mackenzie Muchalk and Alex Looney, who are fighting the school board's move. They are selling T-shirts that read: "We value a belief in God" on the front and, on the back, "They can take his name out of our mission statement but they can NEVER take Him out of our hearts." They want the audience at next month's school board meeting to attend wearing the T-shirts. Muchalk says: "We just want to stand up to who we think of as bullies." FFRF retorts that it is the Christians in the community who are the "bullies."

Lawsuit Asks Court To Uphold Removal of Church Directors

In Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court last week, the pastor of a local church filed suit asking the court to uphold a vote last November by the church's board of directors removing two elders. Today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Pastor Roy Aiken Jr. asked the court to uphold a 3-2 board vote to expel Frank Ring and William Grassel from the Christian Fellowship Center of Greensburg's board of directors. The lawsuit says both men violated the church's bylaws by being combative and quarrelsome, contentious and argumentative, and failing to regularly attend church functions. The lawsuit also charges that Grassel did not speak in tongues, a requirement for board membership under the church's bylaws. Both men continued to attend board meetings, and last week, they enlisted the support of one other board member to expel Lewis Gainfort from the board. Gainfort had been one of the votes in November in favor of expelling Ring and Grassel. At last week's meeting, the same three also voted to issue an $18,450 check to Ring's construction company.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Obama Speaks At D.C. Church About Dr. King's Legacy

Yesterday, President Barack Obama spoke at Washington, D.C.'s Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in remarks that the White House Blog captioned "Martin Luther King and the Challenges of a New Age." (Full text; Excerpts and video of full remarks.) The Church, founded by freed slaves after the Civil War was the site of a 1956 speech by Dr. King titled "The Challenges of a New Age." As part of his extensive remarks in advance of Martin Luther King Day, President Obama talked about religious faith:
Even as Dr. King stood in this church, a victory in the past and uncertainty in the future, he trusted God. He trusted that God would make a way. A way for prayers to be answered. A way for our union to be perfected. A way for the arc of the moral universe, no matter how long, to slowly bend towards truth and bend towards freedom, to bend towards justice. He had faith that God would make a way out of no way....

There are times when it feels like all these efforts are for naught, and change is so painfully slow in coming, and I have to confront my own doubts. But let me tell you -- during those times it's faith that keeps me calm. ... It's faith that gives me peace. The same faith that leads a single mother to work two jobs to put a roof over her head when she has doubts. The same faith that keeps an unemployed father to keep on submitting job applications even after he's been rejected a hundred times. The same faith that says to a teacher even if the first nine children she's teaching she can't reach, that that 10th one she's going to be able to reach. The same faith that breaks the silence of an earthquake's wake with the sound of prayers and hymns sung by a Haitian community. A faith in things not seen, in better days ahead, in Him who holds the future in the hollow of His hand. A faith that lets us mount up on wings like eagles; lets us run and not be weary; lets us walk and not faint.

So let us hold fast to that faith, as Joshua held fast to the faith of his fathers, and together, we shall overcome the challenges of a new age.... Together, we shall seize the promise of this moment. Together, we shall make a way through winter, and we're going to welcome the spring. Through God all things are possible.

NY Appeals Court Says Breakaway Church Property Belongs to Prebyterian Church USA

In Presbytery of Hudson River of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) v Trustees of First Presbyterian Church & Congregation of Ridgeberry, (NY App. Div., Jan. 12, 2010), a New York state appellate court, reversing the trial court, held that property of a break-away congregation is held in trust by the Presbytery for the Presbyterian Church (USA). It said in part:
the Book Of Order, a component of the constitution of PCUSA, contains language specifying that all property held by a particular church is held in trust for the national denomination. The neutral principles approach requires the courts to "look to the constitution of the general church concerning the ownership and control of church property" .... [D]efendants, in opposition to the plaintiffs' motion, failed to demonstrate that PCUSA is not hierarchical, or that cases involving hierarchical religious organizations do not apply here.
[Thanks to Joseph Landau for the lead.]

Pope's Visit To Rome Synagogue Focuses Debate On Pius XII's Actions In WW II

Pope Benedict XVI yesterday visited Rome's Great Synagogue amidst continuing controversy over whether Pope Pius XII did enough during World War II to save Italian Jews. (London Times.) Reuters reports that Riccardo Pacifici, president of Rome’s Jewish community and grandson of Genoa's Chief Rabbi who died in Auschwitz, directly confronted the Pope on the issue. After expressing gratitude to the convent that sheltered his father and uncle, Pacifici said:
In Italy and other parts of Europe, many religious people risked their lives to save thousands of Jews from certain death, without asking anything in return. This is why the silence of Pius XII before the Shoah still hurts because something should have been done. Maybe it would not have stopped the death trains, but it would have sent a signal, a word of extreme comfort, of human solidarity towards those brothers of ours transported to the ovens of Auschwitz.
In his address at the Rome Synagogue yesterday (full text) the Pope set out the Vatican's view of its record:
The extermination of the people of the Covenant of Moses, at first announced, then systematically programmed and put into practice in Europe under the Nazi regime, on that day tragically reached as far as Rome. Unfortunately, many remained indifferent, but many, including Italian Catholics, sustained by their faith and by Christian teaching, reacted with courage, often at risk of their lives, opening their arms to assist the Jewish fugitives who were being hunted down, and earning perennial gratitude. The Apostolic See itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way.
Last December, Pope Benedict issued a decree moving Pius XII closer to beatification, a move that sparked anger among some Jewish groups. (AP, 12/23/2009). Israel on Sunday asked Pope Benedict to open the Vatican archives to researchers to clarify Pope Pius XII's actions. (Reuters).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

RLDS Church Wins Trademark Infringement Claims

In Community of Christ Copyright Corp. v. Devon Park Restoration Branch of Jesus Christ's Church, (WD MO, Jan. 14, 2010), a Missouri federal district court issued a permanent injunction protecting a church, now commonly known as Community of Christ, from various trademark violations. The church has registered several trademark and service mark variations of the name it previously used more widely, "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." The court concluded defendants had infringed the protected marks and enjoined defendants from using the name in various forms and from committing any acts likely to cause the public to believe they are connected to plaintiffs. The court had previously issued a preliminary injunction in the case. (See prior posting.)

Pope Seeks Civil Recognition of Catholic Church In Turkey

Ekklesia yesterday reported on Pope Benedict XVI's remarks (full text) earlier this month on receiving Turkey's new ambassador to the Holy See. The Pope urged Turkey to grant "civil juridical recognition" to the Church in Turkey in order to help it enjoy full religious freedom.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Lopez v. White, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2701 (ND WV, Jan. 14, 2009), a West Virginia federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123205, June 29, 2009) and rejected free exercise complaints by an inmate who claimed that he was segregated before All Saints' Day communion based on false disciplinary charges and that he was not allowed to participate in readings during Catholic chapel services.

In Blackwell v. Madison Parish Correctional Center, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2515 (Jan. 13, 2009), a federal district court accepted a magistrate's recommendations (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123042, Dec. 4, 2009) and dismissed as frivolous free exercise and RLUIPA charges by an inmate who complained that the correctional facility did not offer Jehovah's Witness religious services.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

DoD Report on Ft. Hood Shooting Includes Recommendations on Religion In Military

The Department of Defense yesterday released an 86-page report Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood. The study was ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates after the November killing of 13 and wounding of 43 at Ft. Hood by Army Major Nidal Hasan. Among the Report's numerous Findings (supplemented by Discussion and Recommendations) are three that impact religion in the military:
Finding 2.3: DoD standards for denying requests for recognition as an ecclesiastical endorser of chaplains may be inadequate.... This limited authority to deny requests for designation as ecclesiastical endorsers could allow undue improper influence by individuals with a propensity toward violence.....

Finding 2.7: DoD policy regarding religious accommodation lacks the clarity necessary to help commanders distinguish appropriate religious practices from those that might indicate a potential for self-radicalization....

Finding 4.9: The lack of published guidance for religious support in mass casualty incidents hampers integration of religious support to installation emergency management plans.
Today's Wall Street Journal discusses the report.

President Proclaims Today "Religious Freedom Day"

Today is Religious Freedom Day marking the anniversary of Virginia’s 1786 Statute for Religious Freedom. Yesterday President Obama issued a Proclamation (full text) officially designating the observance. It said in part:
The Virginia Statute was more than a law. It was a statement of principle, declaring freedom of religion as the natural right of all humanity -- not a privilege for any government to give or take away. Penned by Thomas Jefferson and championed in the Virginia legislature by James Madison, it barred compulsory support of any church and ensured the freedom of all people to profess their faith openly, without fear of persecution. Five years later, the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights followed the Virginia Statute's model, stating, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .".

Supreme Court Will Review Release of Names of Referendum Petition Signers

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in John Doe #1 v. Reed (Docket No. 09-599, cert. granted 1/15/2010) (Order List.) In the case, the 9th Circuit allowed release under Washington state's Public Records Law of the names of those who signed petitions seeking a referendum on the state's domestic partnership law. The court concluded that release does not violate the signers' 1st Amendment right to anonymous political speech. (See prior posting.)SCOTUS Blog here discusses the case, and here has links to the opinion below and the petitions supporting and opposing a grant of cert. [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Friday, January 15, 2010

6th Circuit Upholds Courthouse Display Including 10 Commandments

In ACLU of Kentucky v. Grayson County, Kentucky, (6th Cir., Jan. 14, 2010), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to a "Foundations of American Law and Government" display in a county courthouse. The display consisted of nine historical documents, including the Ten Commandments, along with a document explaining the historical importance of each component. The court concluded that the challengers failed to show the county Fiscal Court had a primarily religious purpose in approving the display; nor would an objective observer see the display as a state endorsement of religion. The Court focused on a prior 6th Circuit decision, Mercer County v. ACLU, (see prior posting) that upheld an identical display in another Kentucky county.

Judge Moore, dissenting, said: "The County's asserted purpose here—that the Display was posted for educational or historical reasons—is a sham and should be rejected." She also concluded that the display sent an unmistakable message of endorsing religion.

Liberty Counsel, (which represented Grayson County) urged in its press release on the decision: "Pray that the Lord continues to bless Liberty Counsel as we continue to battle the ACLU in other cases." The Lexington Herald-Leader, reporting on the decision, said that plaintiffs in the case are reviewing the decision to decide whether to file an appeal.

UPDATE: The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that on Jan. 18, just days after the decision, the Ten Commandments were reposted on the Grayson County Courthouse walls. Rev. Charles Shartzer and 200 others joined county officials for the ceremony, at which Shartzer said: "We have Christian leadership. We have leadership that is not ashamed to stand up for God, not ashamed to have this display in our courthouse."

Scientology Sues Atlanta Suburb Over Zoning Denial

The Church of Scientology yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against Sandy Springs, Georgia, challenging zoning limits the city has imposed on the Church. According to AP, Scientology wanted to add a fourth floor to an office building in the Atlanta suburb, and move the Georgia state headquarters there. Sandy Springs City Council voted to allow the Church to move into the building, but rejected the request that it be able to add an additional floor.

Appeals Court Upholds Religious Objection To Autopsy On Executed Prisoner

In Johnson v. Levy, (TN Ct. App., Jan., 14, 2010), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed a decision of the state Chancery Court (see prior posting) and rejected the request of the county Medical Examiner to conduct an autopsy on executed murderer Cecil Johnson. Johnson's wife objected to the procedure, arguing that it would violate her husband's religious beliefs.

The court held that under Tennessee's law on preservation of religious freedom (TN Code Ann. Sec. 4-1-407), the Medical Examiner is required to establish by clear and convincing evidence under the specific facts of the case that performing an autopsy is essential to further a compelling governmental interest. While there is a compelling interest to conduct some kind of investigation as to every inmate who is executed in order to assure against cruel and unusual punishment, where a religious objection is raised to an autopsy, that may be part of the investigation only if the compelling interest standard is met. Religious objections might be overruled when the execution was not without incident, the prisoner did not react to the drugs as expected, and there is a need to understand why. Even then, the autopsy needs to be limited to the procedures necessary to understand what happened. UPI reported on the decision yesterday.