Monday, October 31, 2011

Cert. Denied In Utah Highway Patrol Memorial Cross Cases, Over Thomas Dissent

Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in Utah Highway Patrol Association v. American Atheists, Inc,. (Docket No. 10-1276), and a companion case Davenport v. American Atheists, Inc., (Docket No. 10-1267) (cert. denied 10/31/2011).  Justice Thomas wrote a 19-page dissent to the denial of cert. (Full text of order and Thomas, J's dissent at pg. 38 of Order List). In the case, a 3-judge panel of the 10th Circuit held that the Utah violated the Establishment Clause when it permitted the Utah Highway Patrol Association to put up crosses on public land as memorials to Highway Patrol members who were killed in the line of duty. (See prior posting.)  The full 10th Circuit denied en banc review by a 5-4 vote. (See prior posting.) In his dissent to the denial of cert., Justice Thomas wrote:
Today the Court rejects an opportunity to provide clarity to an Establishment Clause jurisprudence in shambles..... Because our jurisprudence has confounded the lower courts and rendered the constitutionality of displays of religious imagery on government property anyone’s guess, I would grant certiorari.....
Even if the Court does not share my view that the Establishment Clause restrains only the Federal Government, and that, even if incorporated, the Clause only prohibits “‘actual legal coercion,’” ..., the Court should be deeply troubled by what its Establishment Clause jurisprudence has wrought.

Israeli Court Dismisses Indictment Against Priest In Encounter With Yeshiva Student

Today's Jerusalem Post reports that an Israeli Magistrate's Court last week dismissed an indictment against a Greek Orthodox priest who punched a Jewish yeshiva student in the face after the student spat on the ground toward the priest as he passed. The incident took place in Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter. The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court invoked a provision calling for dismissal of an indictment if it "contravenes the essence of the principles of justice and fairness."  Judge Dov Pollock in his ruling said that the dismissal came after evidence that for years police have not acted to stop daily incidents of members of the ultra-Orthodox community spitting at members of the Christian clergy. The spitting is a criminal offense, and the court said it is intolerable that a Christian should be demeaned because of his faith.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Monument To Jewish Chaplains Dedicated At Arlington National Cemetery

The Washington Post reports on last week's dedication at Arlington National Cemetery of a monument to 14 Jewish military chaplains who died while serving in the U.S. military. The monument was placed on Chaplains' Hill where monuments for Catholic and Protestant chaplains already stand. The cost of the new monument was funded privately. (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Servicemembers Sue To Challenge DOMA and Obtain Equal Spousal Benefits

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network announced last week that it had filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a number of plaintiffs seeking the same benefits for same-sex spouses of current and former service members as is provided to opposite-sex spouses.  The complaint (full text) in McLaughlin v. United States, (D MA, filed 10/27/2011), asks the court to rule that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional as applied to military spousal benefits, and that the definition of "spouse" in federal statutes relating to military benefits is likewise unconstitutional. The complaint invokes the equal protection clause,the 10th Amendment's  principles of federalism, the fundamental right to marry, and the bill of attainder clause. Thursday's Christian Post reported on the case. [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases-- Summaries Are Back

Note to readers: Last week I experimented with a new format for my weekly review of prisoner free exercise cases-- a format that did not include a fact summary for the cases.  In response I received many more e-mails than I expected from readers who make significant use of the summaries. So I am re-instituting the summaries when the number of recent prisoner cases permit me to do so with a reasonable expenditure of time. Thanks to all who communicated with me.

In Ryidu-x v. Wolfe, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123543 (D MD, Oct. 25, 2011), a Maryland federal district court permitted an inmate to move ahead with claims that he was improperly denied commissary, purchasing, and mail privileges, and access to records because of  his use of his legally recognized changed Islamic name.

In Hughes v. El Dorado Correctional Facility, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124014 (D KS, Oct. 26, 2011), a Kansas federal district court concluded that an inmate's religious exercise was not substantially burdened when, on a single occasion, a corrections officer interrupted his praying to deliver his food tray.

In Lee v. Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123705 (ND MS, Oct. 25, 2011), a Mississippi federal district court held that no free exercise violation was shown in a single instance in which a prison guard interfered with an inmate's ability to save food from one of his meals to eat in the evening after his fast ended.

In Birkes v. Mills, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123742 (D OR, Oct. 25, 2011), an Oregon federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 123949, Sept. 28, 2011) and dismissed an inmate's complaint that he was not permitted to receive a copy of "The White Man's Bible" that he had ordered through the mail. Among other things, the court found that plaintiff's  White supremacist "Creativity" beliefs do not qualify as a religion. Alternatively it found that his rights were not violated even if it is a religion.

In Warner v. Patterson, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124367 (D UT, Oct. 27, 2011), an Odinist (or Asatru) inmate alleged that prison authorities failed to accommodate his religious practices in a number of ways.  The court dismissed all plaintiff's claims except for his claim that denial of fast-boxes was motivated by purposeful discrimination against the Asatru religion.

In Trimble v. Allen, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124447 (MD AL, Oct. 26, 2011), an Alabama federal district court denied a preliminary injunction to plaintiff who was seeking to use tobacco in his religious ceremonies in prison.

In Versatile v. Johnson, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124541 (ED VA, Oct. 26, 2011), a Virginia federal district court rejected an inmate's claim under RLUIPA that he was impeded in exercising his Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE) religion when prison officials banned NGE texts. It also rejected his complaints regarding processing of his request to have NGE recognized as a religion. Among other things, the court found that NGE is not a religion for purposes of RLUIPA.  UPDATE: The magistrate's recommendations in the case are at 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126336, June 22, 2011.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

White House Responds To Popular Petitions From Its "We the People" Website

As previously reported, a number of the petitions posted on the "We the People" section of the White House website relate to issues of religion and government. The White House promised to respond to any petition that gained 5000 signatures in 30 days. Now responses have been posted to several petitions. Responding to the call to eliminate "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency, the White House Director of faith-based partnerships, Joshua DuBois, said:
A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation - context matters.
That's why President Obama supports the use of the words "under God' in our Pledge of Allegiance and "In God we Trust' on our currency. These phrases represent the important role religion plays in American public life, while we continue to recognize and protect the rights of secular Americans.
In another posting, the White House refused to comment on a petition calling for "an investigation into allegations of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct in the case of Sholom Rubashkin," the convicted Orthodox Jewish former vice president of the kosher meat processing firm, Agriprocesors, in Postville, Iowa.  The White House said that:
The Department [of Justice] ... has mechanisms in place to investigate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, including through its Office of Professional Responsibility. With respect to judicial ethics matters, the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 vests primary responsibility for investigating and adjudicating claims of judicial misconduct with the Judicial Branch.
[Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.] 

State Statutory Finding of Reliance on God Survives Constitutional Attack

In Kentucky Office of Homeland Security v. Christerson, (KY App., Oct. 28, 2011), a Kentucky state appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, rejected Establishment Clause and state constitutional challenges to legislative findings enacted as part of Kentucky's 2002 Antiterrorism Act. The findings (Sec. 39A.285) recited that "the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance on Almighty God as set forth in public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents...." A 2006 law (Sec. 39G.010) called upon the state Department of Homeland Security to include in agency training and educational materials the language regarding reliance on God.  The majority held:
The Kentucky legislature has not attempted to compel belief or participation in any form of religious exercise, nor does it seek to prefer one belief over another. A simple reference to a generic “God” acknowledges religion in a general way....
The legislation ... does not seek to advance religion, nor does it have the effect of advancing religion, but instead seeks to recognize the historical reliance on God for protection.
Judge Shake dissenting argued that the challenged statutes
go beyond merely acknowledging the historical role of religion and instead require dependence upon Almighty God to secure the Commonwealth’s safety.
Yesterday's Louisville Courier Journal reports on the decision. (See prior related posting.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Commonwealth Leaders Approve Ending Ban On Monarch Marrying A Catholic

BBC reports today that at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, the leaders of the 16 British Commonwealth countries have agreed to amending Britain's 1701 Act of Settlement to eliminate the ban on British monarch being married to a Roman Catholic. The original provision was put in place to settle the succession to the throne following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. (Background.) Explaining the change, Prime Minister David Cameron said:
Let me be clear, the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England because he or she is the head of that Church. But it is simply wrong they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so. After all, they are already quite free to marry someone of any other faith.
Some expressed disappointment that Catholics will still not be able to become king or queen.  The Commonwealth summit also approved changes giving daughters equal rights with sons to ascend the throne. Under current law, a daughter becomes queen only where there are no sons. Parliaments in Britain and the other Commonwealth nations will need to approve legislative changes before the reforms take effect.

Dismissed Teacher Loses Claims Against Catholic School

Braun v. St. Pius X Parish, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123750 (ND OK, Oct. 25, 2011), is a suit by a former 5th grade teacher at a Catholic elementary school who claimed religious and age discrimination in the non-renewal of her contract. Insofar as teacher Martha Braun claimed she was dismissed because she was an Episcopalian, the court concluded that the school is protected by the exemption in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (42 USCS § 2000e-1) that permits religious educational institutions to hire and fire on the basis of religion. In connection with the age discrimination claim, the court concluded that the ministerial exception does not protect defendant because plaintiff could not be considered a ministerial employee: "Braun did not teach religion or lead the students in prayer, and she is not Catholic." However, the court concluded that Braun's contract was not renewed because of legitimate complaints from parents about her performance, and that these were not a pretext for age discrimination.

Court Rejects Establishment Clause Challenge To Social Security Act

In Hamner v. Astrue, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123698 (SD TX, Oct. 26, 2011), a Texas federal district court  rejected plaintiff's claim that the Social Security Act violates the Establishment Clause by coercing him to participate in Christian charity or by preventing him from participating in Christian charity.

Podcast of Law and Religion Symposium Available Online

Earlier this month, the University of Alabama School of Law hosted a symposium titled Matters of Faith: Religious Experience and Legal Response. Podcasts of the entire symposium proceedings are now available online.

Cert. Petition Filed In County Commission Prayer Case

A petition for certiorari (full text) was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday seeking review in Forsyth County, North Carolina v. Joyner, (filed 11/27/2011). In the case, the 4th Circuit in a 2-1 decision held that the prayer policy of a county commission violated the Establishment Clause even though the policy was neutral on its face.  As implemented, nearly 80% of the prayers delivered mentioned Jesus, and none mentioned any other deity. (See prior posting.) The Winston-Salem Journal reports on the filing.

Mayor Caves On Water Tower Cross In Unusual Move

The mayor of Whiteville, Tennessee has found an unusual way to respond to a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation about a cross that has been displayed for the last 8 years atop the town's water tower. (See prior posting.) According to WREG-TV, Mayor James Bellar has merely removed one arm of the cross, leaving as a reminder of the issue the remaining portion of the cross.  In a letter to the Nashville lawyer representing those complaining about the cross, the mayor wrote:
This brings to close a sad chapter in the history of Whiteville that can best be described as terroristic, cowardly and shameful! The fear and terror caused our older people here is shameful. So shame on your client and your firm!
FFRF has called off plans to sue the town.

Fired Muslim Employee Sues Over Right To Accommodate Prayer Time

The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that Nathan Henderson, a Muslim former employee of the American Bottling Company, has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against the company.  Henderson was fired after he sought permission to schedule his lunch break at a time that allowed him to attend Friday Jumma prayers.

California Settles Lawsuit Filed By Sikh Prison Guard Applicant

The California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections has settled a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by a Sikh man whose application to become a prison guard was rejected because he refused to shave his beard.  AP reports that under the settlement, plaintiff Trilochan Obeori will receive $295,000 in damages and will be given a $61,000 per year job as a manager in the corrections department's Regulation and Policy Management branch. However the state is not changing its policy that requires most corrections employees to be clean shaven so they can be fitted with gas masks.

Moderate Islamic Party Wins Tunisian Election

Election officials in Tunisia yesterday confirmed that the moderate Islamist Ennahda party won this week's Parliamentary elections.  According to Reuters, Ennahda captured 90 seats in the 217-seat assembly which will draft a new constitution.  The next largest party-- the secularist Congress for the Republic-- obtained only 30 seats. Ennahada attempted to assure secularists and investors by saying that it would not impose Islamic banking, nor would it stp tourists from wearing bikinis on Tunisian beaches.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cert. Filed In Challenge To Political Activity Constraints On Non-Profits

Last week, a petition for certiorari (full text) was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Catholic Answers, Inc. v. United States, (filed 10/21/2011). In the case, the 9th Circuit (full text of opinion) dismissed as moot a Catholic organization's challenge to the constitutionality of Section 4955 of the Internal Revenue Code. That section imposes an excise tax on political expenditures made by Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations.  At issue were expenditures made by Catholic Answers on a 2004 E-letter critical of the views of Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee for President of the United States. The E-letter also criticized Kerry's taking of communion at an African Methodist Episcopal church. After excise taxes were imposed, Catholic Answers filed a complaint seeking a tax refund. The IRS then abated and returned the excise taxes. Catholic Online reviews the background of the case in an opinion piece.

President Sends Best Wishes To Those Celebrating Diwali

President Obama yesterday issued a statement (full text) sending holiday greetings to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists who are celebrating the holiday of Diwali-- the festival of lights that "symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance." Obama emphasized that Diwali is a time of celebration with dancing and food, but also a time for contemplation and prayer to remind us of our obligations to the less fortunate.

DC Human Rights Office Investigating Catholic U's Treatment of Muslim Students

In a press release last week, George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf disclosed that the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights has given Catholic University until today to respond to charges that it discriminates against Muslim students.  A complaint filed with the Office contends that Catholic University has not permitted Muslim students to form their own student organization, and has not provided designated space for Muslim students to use for their daily prayers. [Thanks to Ken Braithwaite for the lead.]

Forest Service Will Reconsider Permit For Jesus Statue

The Flathead Beacon reports on the Oct. 21 decision by the U.S. Forest Service to withdraw a decision handed down in August, and instead seek public comment, on reissuing a special use permit to the Knights of Columbus for a statue of Jesus that has since 1953 been located on a 25-by-25-foot piece of land in the Flathead National Forest. Protests after Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber declared the statue, located near the top of Whitefish Mountain Resort's Chair 2, an inappropriate use of public land led to the reconsideration.

House Committee Holds Hearings On U.S. Religious Liberty

The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution yesterday held hearings on "The State of Religious Liberty in the United States."  The prepared statements of witnesses are available online. The Committee heard from Bridgeport Catholic Bishop William Lori representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Colby M. May of the American Center for Law and Justice: and Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In addition a written statement was submitted by the ACLU. ABP reports on the hearing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Free Exercise Challenge To Local Option Law Dismissed Under 11th Amendment

In Ethereal Enigmatic Euphoric Movement Towards Civilized Hedonism, Ltd. v. State of Idaho, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123041 (D ID, Oct. 24, 2011), an Idaho federal district court dismissed on 11th Amendment immunity grounds a suit claiming that a city's use of a state local option law to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages violates plaintiff's free exercise rights, among others.  The complaint alleged that:
Plaintiff is an organization comprised of individuals who believe that the "consumption of distilled spirits is both [a] moral obligation and sacred right." ... It further alleges that, using Idaho's local-option law, the City of Preston enacted a prohibition on the sale of liquor by the drink, and that this prohibition violates the rights of Plaintiff's members to freely exercise their religion and discriminates against them because of their religious beliefs.... Apparently, Plaintiff holds its services on the premises of the Owl Club, a local beer and wine saloon operating in Preston, which does not sell distilled spirits pursuant to the city's prohibition.

Suit Challenges Ban On Distribution of Religious Literature In Schools

Alliance Defense Fund announced Monday that it had filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of "Kids for Christ" against the Owasso, Oklahoma Public Schools challenging school policy that bars religious groups from distributing flyers in the schools, as well as posting signs and making announcement of their events. The school policy provides that: "No literature will be distributed that contains primarily religious, objectionable, or political overtones which may be beneficial to any particular group or business at the expense of others."  The complaint (full text) in Owasso Kids for Christ v. Owasso Public Schools, (D OK, filed 10/24/2011), alleges that the policy violates the group's free speech and free exercise rights, as well as the due process, equal protection and Establishment clauses of the constitution.

NY Town Clerk Challenged In Election Over Marriage License Arrangement

AP reported yesterday that in Ledyard, New York, town clerk Rose Marie Belforti is being challenged in November's election by write-in candidate Ed Easter because of the way that Belforti is handling the issuance of marriage licenses.  Belforti decided that her Christian beliefs precluded her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, so she appointed a deputy clerk to handle marriage licenses for all couples.  Easter says that Belforti is being paid $12,000 per year for her part-time position, and the people should not be asked to pay another person to perform Belforti's duties.  Belforti says it is about accommodating her religious beliefs.

Florida Appeals Court Affirms Use of Sharia Law To Determine Whether Arbitration Is Enforceable

UPI reported yesterday that a Florida state appeals court has affirmed without opinion a decision of a state trial court that Islamic law can be used in deciding whether to enforce an arbitration award between a mosque and certain trustees of the mosque who had been removed from office. The trial court limited use of Sharia law to the question of whether Islamic dispute resolution procedures have been followed in the arbitration.. (See prior posting.)

Church Can Replace School Building-- Planning Board Had No Basis To Refuse Permission

Yesterday's Albany Times Union reports that a state trial court judge has overruled the Albany Planning Board's refusal to allow a Mormon church to tear down a former Catholic middle school building.  The court held that the Planning Board's conclusion that the building is vital to the fabric of the neighborhood lacks a rational basis. The LDS Church wants to replace the school building with a smaller chapel that provides more parking. In basing its decision on a lack of evidence supporting the Planning Board's conclusion, the court avoided ruling on the church's claims under RLUIPA.

UPDATE: Here is the full opinion in Matter of Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Sts. v City of Albany, (NY Sup. Ct. Greene Co., Oct. 20, 2011).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Israel, Group Complains About Ban of Single Women From Mikvehs

In Israel, community Religious Councils, under the jurisdiction of the government Religious Services Ministry, operate mikvehs (ritual baths) in various towns and cities.  YNet News reports today that the Religious Action Center (an organization of the Reform Jewish movement) has complained to the Religious Services Ministry about the policy in many communities that bars unmarried women from using the mikveh. The ban is intended to avoid giving halachic (Jewish religious law) authorization for single women to have sexual relations.  According to the Religious Action Center, the ban violates the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services, and Entry into Public Places Law, as well as freedom of religion and conscience and the right to human dignity. The Religious Affairs Ministry says it is looking into the matter.

Human Rights Group Condemns Rape and Forced Conversion In Pakistan

The Asian Human Rights Commission today issued a news release condemning the growing number of instances in Pakistan in which women from minority religious groups (Hindus and Christians) are raped and forced to covert to Islam:
The forced conversion to Islam of women from religious minority groups through rape and abduction has reached an alarming stage which challenges interfaith harmony due to the total collapse of the rule of law and biased attitude of the judicial officers. It appears today that no one, from the judiciary to the police and even the government has the courage to stand up to the threats from Muslim fundamentalist groups. The situation is worse with the police who always side with the Islamic groups and treat minority groups as lowly life forms.
The dark side of the forced conversion to Islam is not restricted only to the religious Muslim groups but also involves the criminal elements who are engage in rape and abduction and then justify their heinous crimes by forcing the victims to convert to Islam. The Muslim fundamentalists are happy to offer these criminals shelter and use the excuse that they are providing a great service to their sacred cause of increasing the population of Muslims.

High School ROTC Member May Not Wear Hijab In Uniform

Fox News reported last week on the case of a 14-year old Muslim high school girl in Brentwood, Tennessee who has quit her high school's Junior ROTC program because she was not permitted to wear a headscarf (hijab) while in uniform in the Homecoming parade. The school says it must follow Army regulations which do not permit religious garb that is exposed or covers the uniform. [Thanks to God and Country blog for the lead.]

Zoning Challenge Dismissed On Younger Abstention Grounds

In Salman v. City of Phoenix, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122387 (D AZ, Oct. 20, 2011), an Arizona federal district court dismissed on Younger v. Harris abstention grounds a challenge to the building code and zoning laws that prevented plaintiffs from using their home and a building on their property for weekly Bible study and prayer sessions with 40 to 50 family and friends.  The city claimed that religious activity within a residence is considered "Church use" and requires the appropriate permits. Pending state court proceedings charging plaintiffs with building code violations, and appeals of other building code and zoning convictions, precluded federal court jurisdiciton over plaintiff's RLUIPA, free exercise, equal protection and other claims.

Libya Assures World It Will Be Moderate Muslim Country

Attempting to calm fears raised in the West after his statement that Libya would look to Islamic law as its main source of legislation, (see prior posting), Libyan National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said yesterday: "I would like to assure the international community that we as Libyans are moderate Muslims." AP reports that meanwhile a London-based spokesman for the National Transitional Council said that Libya would not become a theocracy. It will be a civic and democratic state. At the daily U.S. State Department press briefing yesterday (full text), Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said:
I think we’ve seen various Islamic-based democracies wrestle with the issue of establishing rule of law within an appropriate cultural context. But the number one thing is that universal human rights, rights for women, rights for minorities, right to due process, right to transparency be fully respected.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Herman Cain's Church Affiliation Explored

Today's Atlanta Journal Constitution profiles Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain's home church in Atlanta. The article is captioned Church's Pride in Cain Outweighs Differences.  Cain has been a member of the Antioch Baptist Church North for more than 30 years. The article reports:
For church members, Cain’s run for office is a point of pride — chagrin, too. He’s on a national stage, taking aim at President Barack Obama, who overwhelmingly carried the African-American vote in the 2008 election and still enjoys an 85 percent approval rating among blacks.

Post-Revolutionary Libyan Leader Endorses Islam-Based Constitution

In a ceremony in Benghazi, Libya yesterday, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the chairman of the Transitional National Council, declared that Libya's revolution has now ended, as he endorsed Islamic goals. According to the New York Times, Abdel-Jalil said: "We are an Islamic country. We take the Islamic religion as the core of our new government. The constitution will be based on our Islamic religion." He promised to create Islamic banks in the new Libya.

Recent Articles and Film of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:
New Film:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hertz Fires Muslim Employees For Refusing To Clock Out For Prayers

AP reported Friday that Hertz, the rental car company, is firing 26 Somali Muslim employees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport because they refuse to clock out for their daily prayer breaks. The Teamsters local union that represents the workers says that the company agreed during negotiations last year that the employees would not need to clock out. Hertz says that the failure of many employees to return promptly after their prayers had created an unfair work environment.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases and Note on New Format

Note to readers: Today my weekly compilation of prisoner free exercise cases appears in an abbreviated format which I plan to use in the future.  The prior format which included summaries had begun to consume far too much of my time for what I perceive the value of the summaries to be. If readers disagree with this assessment of the value of the prior format, please let me know by e-mail.

Here are recent decisions in which federal or state prisoners seek relief-- usually asserting free exercise and/or RLUIPA claims-- regarding conditions of confinement or other issues they perceive to infringe their religious exercise.  These cases often involve access to religious diets, materials or services while incarcerated:

Williams v. Sibbett, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 21103 (10th Cir., Oct. 18, 2011)

Jackson v. Goord, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117539 (WD NY, Oct. 11, 2011)

McKissick v. Owens, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118237 (MD GA, Oct. 13, 2011)

Somie v. GEO Group, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118546 (ED NC, Oct. 12, 2011)

Rupe v. Cate, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118414 (ED CA, Oct. 11, 2011)

Fitch v. City of Leitchfield, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118696 (WD KY, Oct. 11, 2011)

Cooper v. Evans, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117991 (SD IL, Aug. 3, 2011), adopted by 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114891 (Oct. 5, 2011)

McKenzie v. Ellis, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118373 (S.D. Cal. July 18, 2011), adopted by 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112222, (Sept. 29, 2011)

Turner-Bey v. Maynard, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118883 (D MD, Oct. 13, 2011).

Walton v. Sing, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119798 (ED CA, Oct. 17, 2011).

McChesney v. Hogan, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119690 (ND NY, Aug. 2, 2011), accepted in part and rejected in part by 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112525 (Sept. 30, 2011).

Egyptian Court Sentences Facebook Poster To 3 Years For Insulting Islam

AFP reports that in Egypt yesterday, a court sentenced Ayman Yusef Mansur to 3 years in prison at hard labor for Facebook postings that "intentionally insulted the dignity of the Islamic religion and attacked it with insults and ridicule."

Default Judgments Totaling $3M Entered Against Former Priest

According to the Boston Globe, yesterday a Massachusetts state trial court awarded two clergy sex abuse victims damages of $2 million and $1 million respectively after former Catholic priest John Dority failed to appear in court or respond to a lawsuit filed against him.  The 70-year old Dority, now a registered sex offender living in Connecticut, earlier told reporters that he did not respond to the lawsuit because he could not afford an attorney. He has admitted molesting the two victims and says he is very sorry.

Is Washington Anti-Discrimination Exemption for Religious Organizations Constitutional?

In Donelson v. Providence Health Services, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119194 (ED WA, Oct. 14, 2011), a former employee of a Catholic sponsored skilled nursing facility sued claiming she was wrongfully terminated because of an injury. In response to plaintiff's claim under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, the nursing facility invoked the exemption in the statute for non-profit religious organizations.  Plaintiff argued that insofar as that statutory exemption allowed sectarian organizations to discriminate on grounds other than religion, it violates Sec. 11 of the Washington Constitution "because it grants religious organizations broad license to discriminate on grounds such as disability, gender, and race, thereby improperly favoring religion over non-religion." In response, the federal court asked to parties to file briefs on whether the federal court should certify the question to the Washington Supreme Court.

8th Circuit Enjoins Nebraska Funeral Picketing Law

In Phelps-Roper v. Troutman, (8th Cir., Oct. 20, 2011), a 3-judge panel of the 8th Circuit held that the district court should have granted a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the Nebraska Funeral Picketing Law against members of the Westboro Baptist Church-- a group that pickets military funerals, among other places, protesting tolerance of homosexuality in the United States.  The court was bound by a 2008 decision by the 8th Circuit which enjoined enforcement of a similar statute on free speech grounds. However in separate opinions the judges questioned the correctness of that 2008 precedent. The Columbia Daily Tribune reports on the decision.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bus Line In New York Hasidic Neighborhoods Segregates Sexes

The New York World reported earlier this week on an unusual arrangement for bus service in Brooklyn, New York on a line that runs between the Hasidic Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park.  A private company pays the city to allow it to provide public bus service on the route, and the company in turn collects fares from passengers. The buses-- at the behest of a board of consulting rabbis-- require men to sit an the front and women to sit in the back in order to prevent physical contact between members of the opposite sex.  The city Department of Transportation however says that the bus line-- as a public service-- is subject to anti-discrimination laws, and it is asking the company about the situation. [Thanks to Jean Dudley via Religionlaw for the lead.]

Revised Plan To Transfer Land To Catholic School Still Violates Establishment Clause

In Wirtz v. City of South Bend, Indiana, (ND IN, Oct. 19, 2011), and Indiana federal district court rejected a revised plan by South Bend to transfer land for use by a Catholic high school for construction of athletic facilities.  Last month the court held that the proposed transfer violates the Establishment Clause. (See prior posting.) In this decision, the court likewise rejected a new plan that called for sale of the land to the highest bidder, but with discretion to reject the high bid in favor of a lower one that promises to use the land to promote development of St. Joseph High School. The court said: "given the recent history of the City’s acquisition and attempt to convey the parcel here at issue, the City can’t do so with its stated criteria for selecting among bidders without sending a message of endorsement of the Catholic faith."  A press release from Americans United announced the decision. [Thanks to Don Byrd for the lead.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Republican Debate Includes Role of Religion In Choosing Nominee

Last night's Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas sponsored by CNN included a lengthy discussion of the role of religion in choosing a candidate, in light of statements earlier this month by Rev. Robert Jeffress that Christians should not vote for Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon. (See prior posting.). Last night's debate was moderated by Anderson Cooper.  Here is an excerpt from the full Part 3 transcript:
COOPER: Should voters pay attention to a candidate's religion? SANTORUM: I think they should pay attention to the candidate's values, what the candidate stands for....
SANTORUM: That's what is at play. And the person's faith -- and you look at that faith and what the faith teaches with respect to morals and values that are reflected in that person's belief structure. So that's -- those are important things.

I -- I'm a Catholic. Catholic has social teachings. Catholic has teachings as to what's right and what's wrong. And those are legitimate things for voters to look at, to say if you're a faithful Catholic, which I try to be -- fall short all the time, but I try to be -- and -- and it's a legitimate thing to look at as to what the tenets and teachings of that faith are with respect to how you live your life and -- and how you would govern this country.

With respect to what is the road to salvation, that's a whole different story. That's not applicable to what -- what the role is of being the president or a senator or any other job....
 COOPER: Speaker Gingrich, you agree with that?
GINGRICH: Well, I think if the question is, does faith matter? Absolutely. How can you have a country which is founded on truths which begins we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights? How can you have the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which says religion, morality and knowledge being important, education matters. That's the order: religion, morality and knowledge.

Now, I happen to think that none of us should rush in judgment of others in the way in which they approach God. And I think that all of us up here I believe would agree....
But I think all of us would also agree that there's a very central part of your faith in how you approach public life. And I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments, because then I'd wonder, where's your judgment -- how can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don't pray?...
Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to God is between you and God. But the notion that you're endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America.

COOPER: Governor Perry, Mitt Romney asked you to repudiate the comments of that pastor who introduced you on that stage. He didn't make the comments on the stage; he made them afterward in an interview. Will you repudiate those comments? ROMNEY: Well, our faith -- I can no more remove my faith than I can that I'm the son of a tenant farmer. I mean, the issue, are we going to be individuals who stand by our faith? I have said I didn't agree with that individual's statement. And our founding fathers truly understood and had an understanding of -- of freedom of religion.

And this country is based on, as -- as Newt talked about, these values that are so important as we go forward. And the idea that we should not have our freedom of -- of religion to be taken away by any means, but we also are a country that is free to express our opinions. That individual expressed an opinion. I didn't agree with it, Mitt, and I said so. But the fact is, Americans understand faith. And what they've lost faith in is the current resident of the White House....
ROMNEY: You know, with -- with regards to the disparaging comments about my faith, I've heard worse, so I'm not going to lose sleep over that....
What I actually found was most troubling in what the reverend said in the introduction was he said, in choosing our nominee, we should inspect his religion. And someone who is a good moral person is not someone who we should select; instead, we should choose someone who subscribes to our religious belief.

That -- that idea that we should choose people based upon their religion for public office is what I find to be most troubling, because the founders of this country went to great length to make sure -- and even put it in the Constitution -- that we would not choose people who represent us in government based upon their religion, that this would be a nation that recognized and respected other faiths, where there's a plurality of faiths, where there was tolerance for other people and faiths. That's bedrock principle.

And it was that principle, Governor, that I wanted you to be able to, no, no, that's wrong, Reverend Jeffress. Instead of saying as you did, "Boy, that introduction knocked the ball out of the park," I'd have said, "Reverend Jeffress, you got that wrong. We should select people not based upon their faith." Even though -- and I don't suggest you distance yourself from your faith any more than I would. But the concept that we select people based on the church or the synagogue they go to, I think, is a very dangerous and -- and enormous departure from the principles of our -- of our Constitution.

Court Says Counseling By Nun Is Not Privileged

According to the Parsippany, NJ Daily Record, and the Newark Star-Record,  a New Jersey state judge yesterday ruled that a nun who counseled a murder suspect can be called to testify against the suspect at trial. Sister Catherine Morrisett is a nun who is trained in therapy, but she is not a licensed psychologist. While she has a doctorate in ministry, she is not authorized by the Church to hear confessions or offer the sacrament of absolution. Therefore none of the traditional privileges against testifying apply to her.

Anti-Church Party Gets Surprising 3rd Place Win In Poland

Last Sunday in Parliamentary elections, Poland re-elected Prime Minister Donald Tusk who, according to AP, is holding coalition talks with the small Polish People's Party. The surprise, however, was the third-place showing of a new party, Palikot Movement (Movement of Support), which received 10% of the vote. According to CNS, the Palikot Movement campaigned against Catholic Church involvement in the Polish government:
The movement's leader, millionaire businessman Janusz Palikot, accused the church of "taking sides in politics," and said religious symbols had been "used disgracefully for political struggles."
He added that Poland needed "defending against Catholicism, not Catholicism against Poland," and said his first moves would include securing the removal of a cross from the Sejm, Poland's lower legislative chamber.
Poland's Catholic bishops reacted angrily to calls for religion to be less present in public life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Smith v. Marshall, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 20619 (9th Cir., Oct. 11, 2011), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a prison's restrictions on third-party purchases of prayer oil did not substantially burden an inmate's ability to practice his religion.

In Davis v. Thaler, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116912 (SD TX, Oct. 6, 2011), a Texas federal district court rejected claims of a Christian Nazarite prisoner that his rights under the 1st Amendment and RLUIPA were violated by requiring him to cut his hair and beard.

In Jones v. Petty, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111368 (MD GA, Sept. 29, 2011), a Georgia federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116716, Sept. 6, 2011) and allowed a Muslim inmate to proceed with his claim for nominal damages because of interference with his use of a prayer rug and with his non-pork diet.

In Goodson v. Maggi, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82702 (WD PA, July 27, 2011), a Pennsylvania federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116853, July 6, 2011) and dismissed an inmate's complaint that while in the Special Housing Unit he was denied religious meetings, including ones with a Catholic representative, and no church services were available to him.

In Smith v. Thomas, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117482 (ED VA, Oct. 12, 2011), a Virginia federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations and rejected an inmate's complaint that he was denied the opportunity to receive religious materials from the chaplain's cart or office while he was in administrative segregation.

In Iscaro v. Unknown Party #1, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116997 (WD MI, Oct. 11, 2011), a Michigan federal district court rejected an inmate's claim that his rights were violated when he was denied clergy visits with two specified individuals.

In Williams v. Dart, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116993 (ND IL, Oct. 11, 2011), an Illinois federal district court rejected an inmate's claim that he was able to attend only one communal Muslim service and was not provided a proper religious diet during his four-months in the Cook County Jail.

Limits On Travel For Religious Purposes Pending Trial OK'd By Vermont High Court

In State of Vermont v. Johnson, (VT Sup. Ct., Sept. 21, 2011), the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the conditions imposed by a trial court in releasing Janette Johnson pending her trial for aggravated domestic assault with a deadly weapon.  The conditions include not leaving Bennington County, except for church services in Cambridge, New York. Johnson unsuccessfully sought a modification so that she could also travel around New York and New England with her liturgical dance group. The court rejected the claim that this limitation violates Johnson's free exercise of religion.

Suit Claims Public School Discriminated Against Student Because of His Muslim Religion

Yesterday's New York Post reports on an "incendiary" lawsuit filed in federal district court in Brooklyn claiming that a Brooklyn public school refused to promote 5th grader Abedin Kajoshaj to the 6th grade because of his Muslim religion.  The boy claims he had the grades to move on in PS 180, the SEEALL Academy in Borough Park, but he was ordered to repeat 5th grade. He says this is part of a pattern of discrimination against him based on his religious faith. The suit seeks damages of at least $600,000.

Nondisclosure of Factional Fighting Leads Court To Vacate Approval of Satmar Property Transfer

In Matter of Congregation Yetev Lev D'Satmar Inc. v Congregation Machneh Rav Tov, (NY Sup Ct Ulster Co., Sept. 27, 2011), a New York trial court vacated an order it had entered last December approving transfer of 8 parcels of property by a Satmar (Hasidic Jewish) religious organization. New York's Religious Corporation Law requires court approval for such real estate transfers.  However, in applying for the court order, those purporting to represent the selling congregation failed to inform the court or the state Attorney General's office of a long-running battle among two factions over which has authority to control the Satmar congregation's board of directors, and thus which faction had authority to initially authorize the property transfer. The court said: "The initial application by the petitioner is the quintessence of non-disclosure, bordering on a fraudulent application before this Court." (See prior related posting.) [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for the lead.]

Monday, October 17, 2011

Israel's High Court Again Orders End To Sex Segregated Streets For Sukkot Celebration

Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post report on an order issued Sunday by Israel's High Court of Justice in a clash between women's rights organizations and residents of the extremely traditional Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim.  A little known tradition of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is the Simchat Beit Hashoeivah (Water Drawing Ceremony), a celebration recalling the the water libation ceremony festivities that took place in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem when it was standing.  In Temple times, women were separated from men to watch this celebration. (Background.) In recent years, residents of Mea Shearim, copying the Temple practice, have erected canvass partitions on neighborhood streets, using private security personnel to make sure that women use separate streets during the celebration period. Last year, two women who are members of Jerusalem's city council obtained an order from the High Court to end the segregated streets. However this year police nevertheless gave permission for the barriers to be put up again, though limited them to 26 meters in length. The High Court on Sunday did not order the barriers removed immediately, but ruled that this is the last year that police may permit them. [Thanks to Joel Katz (Relig. & State in Israel) for the lead.]

Recent Articles of Interest

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10 Commandments Suit Begins With Skirmishes Over Allowing "John Doe" Plaintiffs

As previously reported, the ACLU of Virginia last month filed suit in federal district court on behalf of a high school student and the student's parent challenging the posting of a Ten Commandments display in Giles County, Virginia's Narrows High School. Now, in preliminary skirmishing in the case, lawyers representing the school board have filed an objection to plaintiffs in the lawsuit being identified only as Doe 1 and Doe 2.  The Roanoke Times reported last week that the school board contends it needs to know the identity of plaintiff so it can determine whether the student in fact attends Narrows High School and whether he or she regularly passes by the Ten Commandments display. Plaintiffs' lawyers say that the pseudonyms are necessary to prevent harassment of the plaintiffs.

Kazakh President Signs Restrictive New Religion Law

Forum 18 reported last week that Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has signed two new laws on freedom of religion or belief. According to Forum 18:
The Law on Religious Activity and Religious Associations" among other restrictions imposes a complex tiered registration system, bans unregistered religious activity, imposes compulsory religious censorship and requires both central and local government approval to build or open new places of worship. All religious communities will be required to re-register or face liquidation through the courts....
(See prior related posting.)

Church Sues New Jersy City Over Zoning Delay

According to North Jersey's The Record, last week the Harlem-based Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ filed a civil rights lawsuit against Hackensack, New Jersey and 5 city officials over a lengthy delay in approving the church's use of a former school as a school for its clergy.  The complaint in the federal lawsuit claims that the zoning delays were due to antagonistic views of city officials toward the church's teachings and ethnic discrimination against the church's largely Latin American, African American and Native American membership.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Kyles v. Mathy, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115551 (CD IL, Oct. 6, 2011), an Illinois federal district court rejected an inmate's claim that his rights were violated when there was a 39 day delay in his beginning to receive his religious vegan diet.

In Guy v. Mims, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115771 (ED CA, Oct. 6, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend an inmate's complaints regarding denial of a kosher diet and surrendering his yarmulke.

In Jupiter v. Johnson, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110743 (MD PA, Sept. 28, 2011), a Pennsylvania federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115406, April 26, 2011) and dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies plaintiff's complaint that he was denied a halal vegetarian diet consistent with his Nation of Islam beliefs.

In Johnson v. Hafiz, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115945 (D MD, Oct. 7, 2011), a Maryland federal district court dismissed a complaint by an incarcerated psychiatric patient that his property, including his prayer book, were temporarily taken from him when he was placed in seclusion.

In Ashley v. Oliver, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115852 (ED TX, Oct. 6, 2011), a Texas federal magistrate judge   dismissed a claim by a Native American prisoner seeking to participate in Native American religious ceremonies, such as the Indian war dance and buffalo dance. The court, among other things, relied on mootness and qualified immunity as the basis for its decision.

In Lolley v. Louisiana Correctional Services, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112023 (SD AL, Sept. 29, 2011), an Alabama federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116283, Sept. 9, 2011) and dismissed all but one claim brought by a Native American inmate of a prison housing hiim under contract with the state. His claims regarding desecration of religious items, deprivation of herbs, lack of sweat lodge, and worship services were dismissed. He was permitted to move ahead with his claim regarding lack of ceremonial grounds.

In Bellamy v. Eagleton, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112086 (D SC, Sept. 29, 2011), a South Carolina federal district court adopted in part and rejected in part a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116210, July 21, 2011) and dismissed a claim for injunctive relief, but not a claim for monetary relief, in a suit in which an inmate claimed he was denied access to Buddhist religious books while in solitary confinement for 6 months.

In Hickman-Bey v. Shabazz, (TX App., Oct. 6, 2011), a Texas appeals court dismissed an inmate's claim against a Muslim prison chaplain and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Plaintiff claimed the chaplain wrongfully prevented him from attending Islamic services and programs.

In Kingsley Lajohn Wright v. Medical Mental Prison Reform Group, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116469 (CD CA, Oct. 6, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with leave to amend, an inmate's generalized complaint that "he is 'a very religious man,' but 'was denied the right to religion'."

In Rodriguez v. Schwarzenegger, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116481 (ED CA, Oct. 4, 2011), a California federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed against certain defendants on his claim that he was prevented from practicing his Native American religion by restrictions on his access to tobacco .

In Bonnell v. Burnett, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112323 (ED MI, Sept. 29, 2011), a Michigan federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116555, Aug. 10, 2011) and denied plaintiff summary judgment on his claim that he should be entitled to a kosher diet. The court concluded that questions of fact remained about the sincerity of plaintiff's religious beliefs.

Suit Against Charter School Over Accommodating Family's Religious Practice Proceeds

In Meadows v. Lesh, (WD NY, Oct. 6, 2011), a parent sued a charter school for religious discrimination alleging that the school principal undercut the request by the mother of a school child that the charter school respect their "familial religious practice" of fasting from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. by excusing the child from the cafeteria during lunch. Apparently the fasting was in observance of Lent. Initially the complaint was dismissed for failure to allege that the charter school was acting under color of state law. (See prior posting.) Now, considering an amended complaint, the New York federal district court allowed the suit to proceed in part, holding that it is unable to conclude as a matter of law that a charter school is not a state actor. The court also found that plaintiff has adequately pleaded the sincerity of her religious beliefs and has adequately set out an equal protection claim. However plaintiff had not alleged an official custom or policy as would be required to hold the governmental entity liable. The court allowed the pro se plaintiff to file a second amended complaint to cure this defect. Finally the court rejected a qualified immunity defense at this point.

9th Circuit Denies En Banc Review of Mt. Soledad Case, Over Dissents

Last January, the 9th Circuit held that the now federally-owned Mt. Soledad Memorial featuring a 43-foot high cross conveys a government message of endorsement of religion that violates the Establishment Clause. (See prior posting.)  On Friday, the 9th Circuit refused to rehear the case and also refused an en banc rehearing. However 5 judges, in an opinion written by Judge Bey, dissented from the denial of an en banc rehearing. In Jewish War Veterans v. City of San Diego, (9th Cir., Oct. 14, 2011), Judge Bey wrote in part:
History is important, in part because things change over time. The Spanish government of the day endorsed the Inquisition until the early years of the 19th Century. Would a reasonable observer therefore consider the edicts of King Ferdinand VII in determining whether today's Socialist government endorses the Inquisition? Of course not. 
The panel concentrated its analysis on the history of the Cross as a religious symbol. Not on how this Cross at Mt. Soledad has been used by this government, but on the cross in general....
The principal defect of the panel's decision is its concentration on facts which occurred between 1913 and 2006. The City of San Diego is no longer the owner of the property. The federal government now owns the property. Thus, the use to which the City of San Diego put the Mt. Soledad Cross from 1954 to 2006, just as the use to which the private group put the Cross from 1913 to 1954, is not relevant as to whether the present use by the government—the precise use which plaintiffs seek to enjoin—constitutes an endorsement of religion.

Article Details Romney's Role As Mormon Church Lay Leader

Today's New York Times carries a lengthy front-page article on presidential candidate Mitt Romney's active role as a lay leader in the Mormon church.  Here is an excerpt:
First as bishop of his own congregation, and later as Boston “stake president,” overseeing a region akin to a Roman Catholic diocese, he operated as clergyman, organization man and defender of the faith, guiding the church through a tumultuous period of rapid growth.
He confronted anti-Mormon sentiment and management challenges, supervising youth programs, the church’s social welfare system, missionary training and outreach to Hispanic, Portuguese and Southeast Asian converts, including Cambodian and Laotian refugees whose teenagers were joining the church in droves.
Later, when his official duties were complete, he contributed handsomely to the construction of the grand — and controversial — Boston Temple, high on a hilltop in Belmont, its steeple topped by a golden angel, just minutes from the Romney home. “Mitt’s Temple,” some local residents called it derisively. 
Some Mormons, like Mr. Clark, found Mr. Romney thoughtful and compassionate; one mother recalled his kindness to her dying son. Others, including a group of Mormon feminists demanding a greater role for women, found him condescending, doctrinaire or just plain bossy.

Sudan Leader Says Country Will Adopt Islamic Constitution

According to Reuters, in a speech last Wednesday Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir told students that Sudan will move ahead with its plans to adopt an Islamic constitution now that South Sudan with its largely non-Muslim population has gained independence.  Bashir said: "Ninety eight percent of the people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this. The official religion will be Islam and Islamic law the main source (of the constitution)."  The move carries out promises made last December by Bashir. (See prior posting.)

Egyptian Military Rulers Issue Anti-Discrimination Decree

AP reported yesterday that Egypt's transitional military government has issued a decree prohibiting all forms of discrimination, including religious discrimination. The move comes in the wake of the killing of 26 people in violence between the military and protesters objecting to the burning of a Coptic church. (See prior posting.) Violation of the anti-discrimination ban can lead to up to 3 months in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. $17.000).

Some Scientology Zoning Challenges Survive Motion To Dismiss

Church of Scientology of Georgia, Inc. v. City of Sandy Springs, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 116945 (ND GA, Sept. 30, 2011), involves "a zoning dispute over the Church of Scientology's desire to convert a 32,053 square foot office building into a roughly 44,000 square foot Church....  The City of Sandy Springs approved the use of the subject property for a church but limited the size of the building to the existing 32,053 square feet based on a lack of sufficient on-site parking." In a lengthy opinion, the court dismissed plaintiff's RLUIPA  discrimination, equal terms and exclusion claims, as well as its equal protection and due process allegations. However the court held that triable issues of fact remain on plaintiff's First Amendment claims and its RLUIPA claim that the city's action posed a substantial burden on its religious exercise.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Suit Dropped Challenging Faith-Based DC Homeless Shelter After Revised Arrangements

In a press release on Thursday, the ACLU and Americans United announced that they are dropping a lawsuit filed in 2008 (see prior posting) challenging a proposed D.C. arrangement with a religiously-sponsored homeless shelter:
The organizations filed the lawsuit ... after D.C. officials proposed giving the Central Union Mission approximately $7 million in cash, as well as a $9 million property called the Gales School, in exchange for property worth about $4 million.... At the time, the Mission required homeless men to attend Christian religious services as a condition of getting food and shelter....
[Under new arrangements] the Mission will lease the Gales School for $1 per year... and will rebuild and maintain the Gales School at its own expense. The lease prohibits the Mission from “requir[ing] any individual seeking [the Mission’s] services to participate in religious services or religious studies as a condition to receiving any service at the Leased Premises,” though the Mission will be allowed to use the Gales School for voluntary religious activities. The ACLU and Americans United will monitor the new developments to make sure the lease arrangement meets constitutional requirements.

School Board Settles Justice Department Suit On Refusal To Accommodate Hajj Trip

The Justice Department announced on Thursday that it has entered into a consent decree with the Berkeley, Illinois Board of Education in a Title VII religious discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of Safoorah Khan, a Muslim middle school teacher who was denied an unpaid leave that she requested so she could perform the Hajj. (See prior posting.) The suit was the first growing out of a program of enhanced cooperation between the EEOC and Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Under the consent decree, which must still be approved by the court, the school district will pay $75,000 to Khan for lost back pay, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees, will develop a religious accommodation policy and will provide mandatory training on religious accommodation various personnel.

Bishop and Diocese Indicted For Delay In Reporting Sexual Offender To Authorities

The New York Times yesterday reported that a Missouri grand jury has indicted both Catholic bishop Robert W. Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on misdemeanor charges growing out of their delay in reporting evidence of a suspected sex-offender priest to authorities. Bishop Finn knew last December that a priest, Father Shawn Ratigan, might subject children to sexual abuse, discovering hundreds of pornographic photos of girls on the priest's laptop. However the photos were not turned over to police until May. During that time, Ratigan continued to attend church events at which children were present, and took lewd photos of another young girl.  This is the first time that a criminal indictment has been brought against a diocese and its leader in connection with actions of a priest in the diocese. If convicted, Finn faces a possible fine of $1000 and up to one year in jail, while the diocese faces a possible fine of up to $5000. In a statement on the diocese website, Bishop Finn denied criminal wrongdoing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents In US Released

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League released its 2010 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, detailing anti-Jewish assaults, harassment and vandalism in the U.S.  The study showed a 2.3% increase over 2009. Of the 1239 incidents reported in 2010, California accounted for 297 of them and New York for 205. Nationwide, over 70% of the incidents involved harassment. Less than 2% involved assaults.

Illinois County Imposes New Zoning Limits On Houses of Worship

According to yesterday's Chicago Tribune, the DuPage County (IL) Board has approved a zoning law amendment that will limit new houses of worship and other places of assembly in residential areas. Under the new rules, residential buildings used as places of assembly must have access on an arterial street and must use public sewer and water service, or else receive a variance from the county. The limitation came after 5 applications for new mosques in residential areas had come to the county board-- three of which have been approved.  Opponents of the change say that single-family homes have been the primary starting point for new religious congregations.

Group Asks IRS To Investigate Alleged Political Endorsement By Church

Americans United announced yesterday that it has sent a letter (full text) to the Internal Revenue Service asking it to investigate the First Baptist Church of Dallas (TX) for violating the tax code's ban on non-profits endorsing political candidates.  The church's pastor, Robert Jeffress, introduced candidate Rick Perry at the Value Voters Summit last week end. (See prior posting.) Jeffress then posted a video of the introduction and of his appearance on MSNBC on the church's website. AU says that Jeffress has not avoided church endorsement of Perry by merely placing a disclaimer on the video clips saying they do not constitute an endorsement by the church.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Israeli Civil Court Awards Large Damages To Wife Whose Husband Spurned Religious Court Order

YNet News reported yesterday on a decision by the Rishon Lezion Family Court in Israel awarding civil damages to a wife whose husband refused to comply with a rabbinical court order to give her a divorce document ("get").  The civil court awarded damages equivalent to $182,850 (US). Judge Esther Stein wrote: "refusal to divorce constitutes a violation of the values protected by the ‘Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom,’ which includes: freedom of choice, the right to self-fulfillment, the right to dignity and equal rights." [Thanks to Joel Katz (Relig. & State In Israel) for the lead.]

2 Amish Men Fined For Refusing To Use Safety Emblem

In a Kentucky state court yesterday, two more members of the Old Order Schwartzentruber Amish community were convicted of refusing to use state-required orange colored safety emblems on their horse-drawn buggies. They have religious objections to the bright colors and to trusting man-made symbols for their safety. One defendant was ordered to pay fines and costs of $341; the other defendant was ordered to pay $173. Both men indicated they would refuse to pay. Judge Deborah Hawkins Crooks gave them until January 12 to comply, or else face jail. These two men and 6 others served 3 to 5 days in jail last month for refusal to pay similar fines. (See prior posting.)

Moroccan Imams Protest Government Regulation

AP reports that some 50 imams from mosques across Morocco demonstrated in Rabat yesterday, complaining about the tight controls the government imposes on them.  Imams are given government prepared sermons that they must deliver on Fridays, without deviation from the text. The imams want to deliver their own sermons, higher salaries and want to be consulted on religious matters.  Under Morocco's constitution, the king is the final arbiter of all religious matters. This is seen as a protection against Islamic extremism.

Egyptian Court Says Islamist Group's Party Can Field Candidates

Reuters reports that yesterday an Egyptian court overturned a decision of the parties committee and permitted the Islamist group al-Gam'aa al-Islamiyya's Construction and Development Party to run candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The parties committee had rejected Construction and Development because the party wanted to introduce Islamic law and because one of its founders had been convicted of a criminal offense-- involvement in the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.  While Egyptian law bans parties based on religion, the court said that the Construction and Development Party does not restrict membership on the basis of religion and its founders included Muslims and non-Muslims.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Religious Comments of Sentencing Judge Do Not Justify Habeas Relief

In Deyton v. Keller, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110631 (WD NC, Sept. 27, 2011), a North Carolina federal district court in a habeas corpus proceeding rejected claims that a state court judge's religious comments made during a sentencing hearing violated the due process rights of defendants who plead guilt to robbing a church. However the court issued a certificate of appealablity to the 4th Circuit.  In handing down a sentence of 53 to 71 years for each defendant, the state trial judge said in part:
Gentlemen, this is just something that can't be tolerated ... there are times when you have to kind of draw the line and you have to say that there are some things that just can't be tolerated by society. I mean you can't just go in a church armed and tie people or hold them at gunpoint, threaten to kill them and rob the collection plate and rob them while they are there in the worship service and expect that the law is not going to come down just about as strongly as it can on you. There is scripture that says "Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord" but every now and then I think the judicial system has to contribute what it can.

Islamist Clashes In Tunisia

Reuters reports that in Tunisia yesterday police used teargas to disperse hundreds of Islamist demonstrators.  The demonstrators attacked police with stones, knives and batons as they protested a university's enforcement of a government ruling that bars enrolling women who wear the niqab. Earlier Islamists protested outside Nessma television, objecting to its broadcasting "Persepolis," the story of a woman growing up under strict religious rule in Iran. Demonstrators say the show denigrated Islam. The demonstrations come as the Oct. 23 elections for an assembly to draft a new constitution approach. Secularists are concerned that the Islamist Ennahda party is likely to receive the largest number of votes.

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