Monday, November 30, 2015

Italian School Head Provokes Controversy By Canceling Christmas Concert In Favor of Winter Musical In January

With Italy's population becoming more religiously diverse, it is now facing the kind of issues regarding Christmas celebration in public schools that have been common in the United States.  Under attack from Italy's Prime Minister, the headmaster of a 1,000 pupil school in the town of Rozzano near Milan has been forced to resign after he canceled the school's traditional Christmas concert in favor of a non-religious Winter Concert in January.  AFP, The Telegraph and Deutsche Welle all reported yesterday on aspects of the story.  Before resigning, Marco Parma, headmaster of the Garofani comprehensive school whose student body is 20% non-Christian, said:
Last year we had a Christmas concert and some parents insisted on having carols. The Muslim children didn't sing, they just stood there, absolutely rigid.  It is not nice watching a child not singing or, worse, being called down from the stage by their parents.
The school's teachers backed the headmaster, but Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was incensed, saying:
Discussion and dialogue does not mean to say we can drown our identity for the sake of a vague and insipid form of political correctness. Italians, both non-religious and Christians, will never give up Christmas.
The head of Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League went further, arguing that "canceling traditions is a favor for terrorists."

Recent Articles and Books of Interest

From SSRN:
Recent Books:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Belgian Court Sentences French Comedian For Anti-Semitic Remarks

Last Wednesday, a Belgian court sentenced French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala to prison for two months, and imposed a fine equivalent to $9,500 (US) on him for his anti-Semitic remarks during a comedy show in Belgium in 2012.  According to The Forward:
Judges said that the remarks, made in front of an audience of 1,100 people in the town of Herstal, were clearly calls to hatred and violence. By calling on Christians and Muslims to unite to kill Jews, he had incited genocide.
He was also ordered to pay for the entire text of the judgment against him to be printed in two leading French-language Belgian newspapers.
Dieudonne has prior convictions in France.  Earlier this month the European Court of Human Rights refused to reverse Dieudonne's conviction in France for Holocaust denial stemming from a different performance. (See prior posting.)

On Retrial Saudi Court Sentences Poet To Death For Apostasy

The Star Daily Standard yesterday reported on a Nov. 17 judgment by a Saudi Arabian court that sentenced Palestinian artist Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy, apparently concluding he was spreading atheism.  In his original trial, he was sentenced to 800 lashes and four years in prison on charges that his 2008 Arabic poetry book “Instructions Within” was insulting to God and religion. Also on the basis of photos in his phone, he was charged with illicit relations with women. Prosecutors appealed, seeking a harsher sentence, and the appeals court remanded for a new trial.  At that trial he was sentenced to death. According to the Daily Standard report:
While judges in the initial trial also accepted Fayadh’s repentance for anything deemed offensive or insulting to religion in his book of poetry, judges in the retrial questioned whether repentance can nullify a proscribed punishment in a case involving “hadd”, which in Islam are specific crimes such as apostasy for which punishment is considered fixed. They also wrote that Fayadh’s repentance could only be accepted by the divine, and therefor they could not consider it when weighing the verdict.
It is likely the case will be appealed again.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Woods v. McClure, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 158973 (ED TX, Nov. 24, 2015), a Texas federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159291, Sept. 30, 2015) and dismissed a Rastafarian inmate's complaint that he was not permitted to properly celebrate the Rastafarian holy day, the birthday of Haile Selassie.

In Trapp v. Roden, (MA Sup. Jud. Ct., Nov. 23, 2015), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the closure of a Wampanoag Tribal sweat lodge at a Massachusetts prison facility, purportedly because of health concerns over the smoke it produced, violated RLUIPA as well as a 2003 settlement agreement. MassLive reports on the decision.

PennLive reports that on Tuesday, a Middle District of Pennsylvania federal district court judge, in a case on remand from the 3rd Circuit ordered the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to comply with a June settlement agreement that requires Camp Hill prison authorities to allow Christian inmates 30 minutes of fellowship and group prayer in the dining hall on Christmas after the mainline Christmas dinner has been served and other prisoners have left.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

African American Clergy Squabble Publicly Over Planned Endorsements of Donald Trump

As reported by Clutch, the Donald Trump campaign has been widely advertising a meeting on Monday between Trump and a group of well-known Black pastors. The meeting will be televised and streamed online live from the Trump Towers. Apparently a Trump campaign press release said that 100 African American religious leaders will appear with Trump on Monday to endorse him.  On Friday, a group of 114 other Black religious leaders and scholars published an Open Letter in Ebony strongly criticizing those who plan to meet with Trump, saying in part:
[A]s people of God, you know that our theology shapes our politics, and politics are a great indicator of our theology. What theology do you believe Mr. Trump possesses when his politics are so clearly anti-Black? He routinely engages in the kind of rhetoric that brings out the worst sorts of white racist aggression, not only toward Black people, but also toward Mexican-Americans and Muslim-Americans, too. Surely, we can agree that this kind of unloving and violent language does not reflect the politics of the Christ we profess?
In response to all of this, several of the clergy who plan to attend the Monday meeting made it clear that they have not committed to endorsing Trump.  According to the Daily Beast today, Bishop Clarence McClendon whose name leads the list of those advertised as planning to attend, said in a Facebook post:
I am not officially endorsing ANY candidate and when I do you will NOT need to hear it from pulpitting courtjesters who suffer from intellectual and spiritual myopia.
It is not clear that the 100 religious leaders who it was said will endorse Trump Monday are the same ones who are attending the advertised meeting.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Challenge To Gun Store's "Muslim Free Zone" Dismissed For Lack of Imminent Injury

In CAIR Florida, Inc. v. Teotwawki Investments, LLC, (SD FL, Nov. 24, 2015), a Florida federal district court dismissed a religious discrimination suit brought by a Muslim advocacy organization against a gun store and firing range whose owner announced (through a YouTube video) that it was implementing a "Muslim Free Zone."  The suit alleged that the declaration by Florida Gun Supply violates Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation. (See prior posting.) The court held however that the announcement -- which was seen on national television-- did not threaten imminent harm.  The court agreed with defendant's contention that:
[T]here are no facts demonstrating that Plaintiff was (or will be) unlawfully discriminated against. There are no facts demonstrating that Plaintiff has attempted to purchase a firearm from Defendant and was denied on the basis of its religion or has attempted to attend a gun safety class and was denied on the basis of its religion or attempted to do anything at Defendant’s retail gun store and was denied on the basis of religion. And there are no allegations that Plaintiff will attempt to do any such activities at Defendant’s retail gun store in the future and be unlawfully denied on the basis of religion. Thus, Plaintiff has not alleged facts to demonstrate actual present harm or a significant possibility of future harm as required by Article III.
American Freedom Law Center, which represented defendants, issued a press release announcing the decision. Its press release described the announcement by Florida Gun Supply as a "refusal to equip Islamic terrorists." WND reports on the decision.

European Court Upholds French Hospital's Hijab Ban

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday, in a Chamber Judgment by a panel of 7 judges, upheld the decision of a French hospital to refuse to renew the employment contract of a Muslim social worker who insisted on wearing a headscarf (hijab). The full decision in Ebrahimian v. France, (ECHR, Nov. 26, 2015) is available in French (with a partial dissenting opinion in English). According to the Court's English press release on the decision:
[T]he Court found that the requirement of neutrality of public officials could be regarded as justified in principle: the State, as employer of the applicant in a public hospital, could consider it necessary that she refrain from expressing her religious beliefs in discharging her functions in order to guarantee equality of treatment of patients....  [T]he Court reiterated that while public officials enjoyed total freedom of conscience, they were prohibited from manifesting their religious beliefs in discharging their functions. Such a restriction derived from the principle of the secular nature of the State, and that of the neutrality of public services, principles in respect of which the Court had already approved a strict implementation where a founding principle of the State was involved.
The Court considered that the fact that the national courts had afforded greater weight to the principle of secularism-neutrality and the State’s interest than to Ms Ebrahimian’s interest in not having the expression of her religious beliefs restricted did not cause a problem with regard to the [European] Convention [on Human Rights].
A Chamber Judgment may be appealed to the ECHR Grand Chamber. The Scotsman reports on the decision.  [Thanks to Paul de Mello for the lead.]

Two Popes Impact Delicate International Decisions

Pope Francis yesterday spoke in Narobi, Kenya to a group of  United Nations officials (full text of speech) urging action at two upcoming international conferences. Focusing on COP21, the meeting beginning Nov. 30 in Paris on climate change, the Pope said in part:
In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues.  It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects....
I express my hope that COP21 will achieve a global and “transformational” agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity.
The Pope also spoke about the upcoming 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization scheduled to meet in Narobi in a few days:
It is my hope that the deliberations of the forthcoming Nairobi Conference will not be a simple balancing of conflicting interests, but a genuine service to care of our common home and the integral development of persons, especially those in greatest need.  I would especially like to echo the concern of all those groups engaged in projects of development and health care – including those religious congregations which serve the poor and those most excluded – with regard to agreements on intellectual property and access to medicines and essential health care.  Regional free trade treaties dealing with the protection of intellectual property, particularly in the areas of pharmaceutics and biotechnology, should not only maintain intact the powers already granted to States by multilateral agreements, but should also be a means for ensuring a minimum of health care and access to basic treatment for all.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Arab sources differ on the political importance of a gesture by Egypt's Coptic Pope Tawadros II who yesterday left with a delegation of bishops for Jerusalem to take part in the funeral of Archbishop Anba Abraham, the Archbishop of Jerusalem.  This is the first visit of a Coptic pope to Jerusalem since 1832.  In 1979, the previous Coptic Pope barred Copts from traveling to Jerusalem, insisting they will only enter together with Muslims. The Jerusalem Post speculates that Tawadros' trip will make it increasingly difficult to maintain the ban on other Copts making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt said that Tawadros probably got approval from Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who is maintaining close intelligence ties with Israel in the fight against ISIL in Sinai.

However, Gulf News quotes a Coptic Church spokesman who said that Tawadros' visit to Jerusalem, which the Church considers occupied territory, does not change the Church's position:
The Pope’s visit came as an exception. It is for offering condolences and nothing more.  Pope Tawadros II will not make any visits in the Holy Land, and he will return to Cairo immediately following the funeral prayers. Copts will only go to Jerusalem with their Muslim brethren.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

British Court Says Religious Education Curriculum Must Include Non-Religious Beliefs

As reported by a British Humanist Association press release, a British High Court judge in London held yesterday that non-religious views, such as humanism, must be included in British schools' Religious Education studies.  In Fox v. Secretary of State for Education, (EWHC, Nov. 25, 2015), a judge held:
The Strasbourg jurisprudence shows that the duty of impartiality and neutrality owed by the state do not require equal air-time to be given to all shades of belief or conviction. An RE [Religious Education] syllabus can quite properly reflect the relative importance of different viewpoints within the relevant society. The same would seem to follow for a region or locality. The duty might therefore be described as one of “due” impartiality..... In addition, of course, a generous latitude must be allowed to the decision-maker as to how that works out in practical terms. But the complete exclusion of any study of nonreligious beliefs ... would not in my judgment be compatible with [the European Convention on Human Rights' provisions on the right to education].

Spain's Catholic Lawyers Sue Over Art Exhibit

In Spain, the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers has filed a lawsuit seeking to close down a controversial art exhibit which opened in Pamplona City Hall last Friday  According to yesterday's The Local, the display-- a retrospective of the works of controversial 27-year old Spanish artist Abel Azcona-- includes a work titled "Amen" which consists of 242 holy wafers spelling out "paedophilia".  Azcona's critics claim that he stole the hosts used in the display by pretending to take Holy Communion, but then pocketing the wafers.  The lawsuit alleges that Azcona committed the crimes of desecration and crimes against religious sentiment under Spain’s Penal Code. On Tuesday evening the communion wafers disappeared as critics staged a protest, and city hall says that part of the display will not be replaced.

President Issues Proclamation for Thanksgiving 2015

Last week President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation-- Thanksgiving Day 2015. It reads in part:
In the same spirit of togetherness and thanksgiving that inspired the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, we pay tribute to people of every background and belief who contribute in their own unique ways to our country's story.  Each of us brings our own traditions, cultures, and recipes to this quintessential American holiday -- whether around dinner tables, in soup kitchens, or at home cheering on our favorite sports teams -- but we are all united in appreciation of the bounty of our Nation.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Amicus Brief Filed In Appeal of Bankruptcy Stay of Jewish Religious Court Proceedings

As previously reported, in August a New York federal bankruptcy court held in the case of In re Congregation Birchos Yosef that the statutory automatic stay of proceedings against a debtor that is triggered by the filing of a petition in a bankruptcy reorganization applies to invalidate proceedings against a debtor and its principals in a Jewish religious court (beis din). That decision was appealed to the federal district court. Last week an interesting amicus brief (full text) was filed in that appeal by 3 well-known law professors and a former bankruptcy court judge urging reversal of the bankruptcy court's decision.  The 23-page brief argues in part:
given the intensely religious nature of the beis din proceeding, and the conceded inability of the beis din to enforce its rulings in any secular court, any effort by a bankruptcy tribunal to restrain the Bais Chinuch and other individuals from invoking the beis din as a parallel non-coercive forum of religious conscience violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (hereafter RFRA), and the Bankruptcy Code.
[Thanks to Max Raskin for the lead.]

Groups Say Texas Refusal To Accept Syrian Immigrants Infringes Religious Liberty of Resettlement Agencies

In an article yesterday, the New Republic reports that a number of faith-based refugee resettlement groups in Texas believe that the state's Health and Human Services Commission is infringing their religious liberty.  In a Nov. 19 letter, the Commission's Executive Commissioner told resettlement agencies that they should discontinue immediately any plans they have to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas.  This follows a Nov. 16 letter (full text) from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to President Obama telling the President that Texas will not accept any Syrian refugees out of fear that they could be terrorists. Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact/Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, criticizes the Governor's position, saying:
Religious freedom is now the rhetorical currency of the right, but it’s turning out to be in implementation that what’s politically expedient for the right is not affirmative of religious freedom.

Obama Criticizes Growing Anti-Muslim Sentiment In United States

At his White House press conference yesterday (full text) with President Hollande of France, President Obama again criticized the anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States that has surfaced in the wake of ISIL's attacks in Paris, saying:
... [A]nother part of defeating terrorists like ISIL, is upholding the rights and freedoms that define our two great republics.  That includes freedom of religion.  That includes equality before the law.  There have been times in our history, in moments of fear, when we have failed to uphold our highest ideals, and it has been to our lasting regret.  We must uphold our ideals now.  Each of us, all of us, must show that America is strengthened by people of every faith and every background.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Russian Court Says Scientology Does Not Qualify As A Religious Organization

In Russia, the Moscow City Court yesterday in affirming a lower court decision backed the Ministry of Justice's efforts to close down the Church of Scientology.  According to AFP, the court ruled that since the Church has registered its name as a trademark in the United States, it cannot call itself a religious organization. The Church says it will appeal to Russia's Supreme Court.

Kim Davis' Case Continues to Defy Finality

The controversy surrounding Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk Kim Davis' refusal to issue marriage license to same-sex couples is not over.  As previously reported, after being released from custody on contempt charges, Davis allowed others in her office to issue licenses, but only with revised wording. On Nov. 13, outgoing Governor Steven Beshear filed a response (full text) with the federal district court that had held Davis in contempt stating that:
those altered licenses are not fully consistent with Kentucky statute, but such deviations do not render the marriages ineffective.  Thus, the Third-Party Defendants have and will continue  to  recognize  as  valid  those  marriages  solemnized  pursuant  to  the  altered licenses for purposes of the governmental rights, benefits, and responsibilities conveyed by the Executive Branch agencies over which Governor Beshear exercises supervisory control.
This led the ACLU to file a motion (full text) on Nov. 20 urging to court to require licenses to be issued in their original unaltered form, stating:
As Governor Beshear has now recognized, Davis’ actions have created considerable uncertainty regarding the legality of the altered marriage licenses.  They impose significant and ongoing harm on Rowan County couples who are legally eligible to marry but now face doubt and fear that a marriage solemnized pursuant to an altered marriage license could be held invalid at some unknown time in the future. And Davis’ actions effectively brand the altered licenses with a stamp of animus against gay people. This Court can and should eliminate the uncertainty and harm by enforcing its prior orders....
Meanwhile, accordidng to the Nov. 6 International Business Times, Republican Kentucky Gov.-elect Matt Bevin says that when he is sworn in on Dec. 8, he will issue an executive order removing county clerks' names from state marriage licenses, hoping that this will resolve the problem.

Localities Adjusting Nativity Displays To Avoid Constitutional Problems

As the Christmas season approaches, cities and counties that traditionally placed Nativity Scenes on government property are now responding to constitutional challenges to them. Either in response to demand letters or to actual litigation, one of two types of responses is typical: (1) transfer the nativity scene to private ownership and display of  on private property; or (2) surrounding the nativity scene with numerous secular displays.

In Wadena, Minnesota, the nativity display previously placed in a public park was sold to the Wadena Ministerial Association for $25 and will be placed on a lawn across from the town's hospital.  Forum News Service reported yesterday that a town resident is also inviting others to display nativity scenes, attempting to break the record for the most creches displayed in one area.

In Franklin County, Indiana, the county avoided losing a lawsuit (see prior posting) by adopting an ordinance allowing county resident to erect their own displays on the courthouse lawn alongside the nativity scene. AP reported yesterday that the county has approved 9 displays, including one of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson huddled around a manger holding the Bill of Rights.

UPDATE: Fox19 reports that the banner put up by Freedom From Religion Foundation proclaiming "There are no gods, no angels, no heaven or hell" was stolen from the Franklin County Courthouse grounds over the Dec. 5 weekend.

Major British Theater Chains Reject Church of England Ad

The three largest movie chains in Britain-- Odeon, Cineworld and Vue-- all have policies against accepting political or religious advertising. Invoking these provisions, the theater chains have refused a 60 second advertisement produced by the Church of England promoting its website.  According to Sunday's Guardian, the ad which the Church wanted to run before the showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (to be released Dec. 18) depicts each line of the Lord's Prayer being said by a different person, beginning with the Archbishop of Cantebury. The Church complained that this refusal chills free speech, and the Church's position has attracted some unexpected backers, including atheist (but free speech advocate) Richard Dawkins. [Thanks to Seth Tillman for the lead.]

Monday, November 23, 2015

Israel's Rabbinical High Court To Consider Retroactive Conversion Revocation Case

Times of Israel and Haaretz report on an appeal filed last week with Israel's Rabbinical High Court seeking reversal of a lower religious court's decision handed down in 2012 that retroactively invalidated a Christian woman's 1983 conversion to Judaism. The lower court's action was taken because the woman was not living the Orthodox Jewish life-style she had promised to lead at the time of her conversion. The appeal is being pursued by the woman's daughter because it calls into question her and her young daughter's religious status. It is expected that the High Court will reverse the invalidation because it usually refuses to retroactively invalidate conversions.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In In re Pima County Mental Health No. MH64461112, 2015 Ariz. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1364 (AZ App., Nov. 10, 2015), an Arizona appeals court rejected appellant's claim that because she was receiving treatment in accordance with the tenets of Scientology the trial court should not have ordered her to continue to receive court-ordered mental health treatment.

In Schlemm v. Wall, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155714 (WD WI, Nov. 18, 2015). a Wisconsin federal district court refused to allow a Native American inmate to amend his complaint to add a claim for damages, and ordered the case to proceed only as to declaratory and injunctive relief under RLUIPA as to plaintiff's complaint regarding venison for use during the Navajo Tribe Ghost Feast and wearing a multi-colored headband while praying in his cell and during group religious ceremonies.

In Brown v. Major, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155632 (D SC, Nov. 18, 2015), a South Carolina federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155804, Oct. 30, 2015) and dismissed a Muslim inmate's complaint that he was denied a Kosher diet, the opportunity to pray in common areas, and a Quran.

Settlement Requires 1st Amendment Training For Hawaiian Police

On Nov. 16, a Hawaii federal district court approved a settlement agreement (full text) in Goodhue v. County of  Maui. In the lawsuit, a pastor and his wife charged that their First Amendment rights were infringed when police hired to provide security prevented them from handing out religious literature on sidewalks outside the Maui Fair.  As summarized in an ACLU press release:
As part of the settlement agreement, the County of Maui has dropped its appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and, for three years, will conduct additional specialized training for current and new Maui Police Department (“MPD”) officers on upholding the 1st Amendment in public spaces. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Texas State Trooper Sues Over Religious Harassment By Co-Workers

According to the Austin Statesman, Texas state trooper Patsy Jones, assigned to work at the state Capitol, has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit alleging that her colleagues harassed her about being religious because she often reads her Bible at work.  She says that when she complained, her supervisor at the Texas Department of Public Safety suggested mediation with fellow-employees. When she declined, she was ordered to work from home for 6 months, and was then assigned to the night shift.

Suit Claims Four NY Yeshivas Deny Male Students Adequate Secular Education

The Lower Hudson Journal News reports that on Friday a class action lawsuit was filed in a New York federal district court by parents of students who attend various Orthodox Jewish schools in the East Ramapo school district and by former students of the schools claiming that the schools deny male students adequate secular coursework.  According to the report:
The claim contends that four Hasidic yeshivas in Monsey, Spring Valley and New Square do not teach English, "basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civil participants."
The lawsuit also alleges that defendants have broken the law by:
  • Failing to hire or train teachers and staff "capable" of teaching secular studies. 
  • Discriminating against boys by providing girls with more robust secular studies.
  • Failing to oversee or control yeshivas' use of tax money for their designated secular education purposes.
  • Failing to properly equip students with English and other skills necessary to obtain employment, creating generations of people who are dependent on government assistance.
The suit asks the court to order and enforce a requirement of 3 hours per day of secular studies with competent teachers, and asks for remedial courses for prior graduates of the schools.

UPDATE: Here is the full text of the complaint in Doe v. State of New York, (SD NY, filed 11/20/2015). [Thanks to Friendly Atheist for the link to the complaint.]

Friday, November 20, 2015

Candidate Ted Cruz Is Organizing A National Prayer Team To Support His Bid

Yesterday Republican Presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz announced that on Dec. 1 he will launch a national prayer team known as "A Time for Prayer." According to the announcement:
“A Time for Prayer”, led by Cruz Crew volunteers, is dedicated to a focused season of prayer on behalf of the nation, presidential candidate Ted Cruz, his family and staff, and the campaign.
Those interested in joining the National Prayer Team can visit to sign up. Members will receive weekly emails containing prayer requests and a short devotional. Each Tuesday, members will be invited to a 20-minute prayer conference call.

Trump's Call For Registration of U.S. Muslims Criticized By Democrats and Many Fellow-Republicans

The New York Times today reports that Democrats and many fellow-Republicans are criticizing Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump's remarks supportive of a system to register all Muslims in the country.  Trump said it is merely an issue of "management." Hillary Clinton called Trump's comments "shocking rhetoric." Former Gov. Jeb Bush said in response to Trump's position: "You talk about closing mosques, you talk about registering people — that’s just wrong."

Nigerian State Will Monitor Churches and Mosques To Fight Hate Preaching

Vanguard reports today that in Nigeria, the Lagos state governor's office says it will take action to combat religious intolerance:
State Commissioner for Home Affairs, Dr. Abdulhakeem Abdullateef, explained that the government would stop any religion leader who preaches hate messages that is capable of endangering people’s freedom.  According to him, "Henceforth, we’ll start to monitor mosques and churches and ensure that clerics do not engage in hate preaching."...
Let it be known to residents that henceforth, Lagos government in collaboration with Nigeria Inter- Religious Council (NIREC), will not tolerate hate preachers. These are the people who do not preach their religion but continue to spread mischief about people of other religions. We will not tolerate religious intolerance.

EEOC Releases Its 2015 Performance Report

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday released its 2015 Performance and Accountability Report. (Full text.) The lengthy report focuses on how well the agency has implemented three performance objectives in combating employment discrimination: strategic law enforcement; education and outreach; and excellent and consistent service through a diverse workforce.

Library Settles Challenge To Use of Meeting Rooms and Changes Its Rules

Library Journal reported yesterday that the Lawrence, Massachusetts pubic library has changed the rules for the use of its meeting rooms after the city settled a lawsuit (see prior posting) challenging the ban on using the rooms for political or religious advocacy. The suit was brought by Liberty Counsel whose application to use a room for a session that would include prayer, hymns and an appeal to return the country to Christian values was turned down. The revised rules exclude use of meeting rooms only for private social events or for groups soliciting business, trying to make a profit or fundraising.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Defense Authorization Act Encourages Religious Diversity In The Armed Forces

After an initial veto by President Obama of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress passed a revised version last week and on Monday sent it to the President for his signature.  It is expected the President will sign the bill. (Defense One.) The 1278-page bill (full text) contains at least 3 provision relating to religion or religious services in the military.

Section 504 permits extension of the mandatory retirement age of a chief chaplain or deputy chief of chaplains to 68. Section 898  provides that the Department of Defense may not preclude non-profit organizations from competing for contracts for religious related services at military installations.

The most important religion-related provision, however, is Section 528 which is a "sense of Congress" resolution encouraging diversity in the military. It reads:
(a) Findings-- Congress finds the following: (1) The United States military includes individuals with a variety of national, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds that have roots all over the world. (2) In addition to diverse backgrounds, members of the Armed Forces come from numerous religious traditions, including Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, non-denominational, non-practicing, and many more. (3) Members of the Armed Forces from diverse backgrounds and religious traditions have lost their lives or been injured defending the national security of the United States. (4) Diversity contributes to the strength of the Armed Forces, and service members from different backgrounds and religious traditions share the same goal of defending the United States. (5) The unity of the Armed Forces reflects the strength in diversity that makes the United States a great nation.
(b) Sense of Congress-- It is the sense of Congress that the United States should (1) continue to recognize and promote diversity in the Armed Forces; and (2) honor those from all diverse backgrounds and religious traditions who have made sacrifices in serving the United States through the Armed Forces.

County Tries To Neutralize Courthouse Drawing of Jesus By Hanging Many Other Paintings

The Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday reported that a Kentucky county judge-executive responded to a complaint about a picture of Jesus hanging in the local courthouse by inviting local artists to submit other pictures to hang along side it.  After the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Breathitt County Judge-Executive John Lester “JL” Smith in August asking him to remove the drawing of Jesus, Smith's response was to seek other artwork so that the walls now feature everything from landscapes to a portrait of Rachel Maddow to a drawing of Mr. Magoo.  An FFRF attorney argues however that this does not cure the original religious purpose for hanging the charcoal of a man kneeling before Jesus with the caption "In your place what would Jesus do."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

CORRECTION: No Injunction Issued Against California's Reproductive FACT Act; Case Still Pending

Based on an error in a report by a news service, Religion Clause incorrectly reported last week that a California federal district court had issued a preliminary injunction barring the state of California from enforcing its recently enacted Reproductive FACT Act against two religiously affiliated pregnancy counseling centers. A proposed order has been filed by plaintiffs in A Woman's Friend Pregnancy Resource Center v. Harris, but a hearing on it will not take place until Dec. 18. Thanks to Stephen Blakeman for alerting me to the error, which the news service caught two days ago.

Kasich Would Create Agency To Promote Judeo-Christian Values To Counter ISIS

In a speech at the National Press Club yesterday, Ohio Governor John Kasich, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, told his audience that if elected he would set up an agency with a mandate to promote Judeo-Christian values around the world.  According to the Huffington Post, Kasich says the agency would promote human rights, democracy and the freedom of speech, religion and association as a counter to the message of Islamic militants. Kasich would distribute the information to countries in the Middle East, and to China, Iran and Russia as part of the "battle of ideas" with ISIS.

Facebook Is Immune From Suit For Removing Sikh Group's Page In India

In Sikhs For Justice ("SFJ"), Inc. v. Facebook, Inc., (ND CA, Nov. 13, 2015), a California federal district court dismissed a lawsuit by a Sikh human rights group that objected to Facebook's blocking of access in India to the group's Facebook page.  The suit alleges that Facebook discriminated in violation of the public accommodation provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act when it collaborated with the government of India in retaliating against SFJ for its online campaign complaining about the treatment of Sikhs and promoting an independent Sikh state. (See prior posting.) The court held that Sec. 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes Facebook from liability.  That section immunizes interactive computer services from liability as a publisher of content posted by third parties.  The court agreed with Facebook that the lawsuit "is entirely based on Defendant’s blocking of the SFJ Page in India, which is publisher conduct immunized by the CDA." Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.

U.S. Catholic Bishops Debate Voters' Guide In Light of Pope Francis' Priorities

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops report that among the actions taken yesterday at their Fall General Assembly was the adoption of a new introductory note to and limited revision of their quadrennial statement on political responsibility, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship." According to Religion News Service yesterday, the debate on revision of this voters' guide highlighted the split between those bishops who want to echo the priorities of Pope Francis and those who support more traditional priorities. San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, objecting that revisions had not gone far enough, told the Assembly:
I believe that this document is gravely hobbled. Specifically, I think the pope is telling us that alongside the issues of abortion and euthanasia — which are central aspects of our commitment to transform this world — poverty and the degradation of the Earth are also central.  But this document keeps to the structure of the worldview of 2007. It does not put those there.

India's Supreme Court Orders Crematorium Moved To Save Taj Mahal From Pollution Damage

In India yesterday, the country's Supreme Court ordered an over 200-year old crematorium near the Taj Mahal to either close down or be replaced by an electric crematorium.  According to the Times of India, smoke from the wooden funeral pyres burning 500 feet away from the Taj Mahal are causing deterioration of the Taj Mahal's marble dome and minarets. The white marble dome is now yellow with pollution from the 25 cremations every day.  Pro-Hindu political parties and religious groups oppose moving the crematorium.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

New Muslim Political Party Launched In Australia

In Australia yesterday, a Sydney businessman launched a new political party, the Australian Muslim Party.  According to 9News, the new party hopes to run candidates for the Senate in all states and territories next year.  Businessman Diaa Mohamed, founder of the new party, says that  it is important that the Muslim community have a political voice.  The party was formed in part in response to the recent creation of six anti-Islamic parties.  Non-Muslims are welcome to join the party.

Organization Launches 13th Annual "Friend or Foe Christmas" Campaign

Liberty Counsel announced yesterday that it is launching its 13th annual Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign.  It says the purpose of the campaign is "to make sure Christmas is not censored in public places."  As part of the campaign, Liberty Counsel publishes its Naughty or Nice list of retailers, praising those who use "Christmas" in their products and ads, while panning those which instead use the more generic term "Holiday." The campaign also seeks to encourage governmental organizations to embrace Christmas, saying: "public officials in schools and county offices are often cowering to grinch-like atheist organizations threatening lawsuits."

Republican Candidates Express Concerns About Muslims In U.S. After Paris Terrorism

The New York Times reported yesterday on statements by Republican presidential candidates reflecting a growing suspicion of Muslims after the recent terrorism in Paris:
[Donald] Trump, who said last month that he would be open to shutting down mosques as part of the fight against Islamic State militants, reiterated on Monday that the idea should be “studied.”
“I would hate it do it but it’s something that you’re going to have to strongly consider because some of the ideas and some of the hatred, the absolute hatred, is coming from these areas”....
Ben Carson ... called on Congress to defund its program to give safe passage to Syrian refugees. The retired neurosurgeon also suggested....  “I believe that we need to put a lot more pressure on the clerics, the imams, to make a very distinct line between what ISIS, ISIL, the radical Islamic jihadists are doing, and what traditional Islam is about”....
Jeb Bush ... also expressed concern about refugees from the Middle East entering the United States and said ... Christians and Muslims who are fleeing Syria should be treated differently. “We should focus our efforts as it relates to refugees for the Christians that are being slaughtered,” Mr. Bush said.
At a news conference, President Obama particularly criticized suggestions that there should be a religious test for which refugees will be admitted.

Monday, November 16, 2015

FBI Releases 2014 Hate Crime Statistics

The FBI this morning released its report on Hate Crime Statistics 2014.  The report shows 5,479 criminal incidents motivated by bias toward race, gender, gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. This is down from 5,928 in 2013.  A further breakdown of the data shows that 17.1% of the single-bias incidents were motivated by religious bias.  18.7% were based on bias toward sexual orientation, and 48.3% reflected racial bias. Of the 1,140 victims of hate crimes motivated by religious bias, 56.8% were motivated by anti-Jewish bias, while 16.1% were motivated by anti-Muslim bias. 6.1% of the incidents were anti-Catholic; 2.5% were anti-Protestant; and 1.2% were anti-Atheist/Agnostic.  11% of the incidents were based on bias against other religions. [Thanks to Michael Lieberman for the lead.]

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From elsewhere:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Wolcott v. Board of Rabbis, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151861 (ED CA, Nov. 6, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing an inmate's complaint that he was not permitted by Jewish chaplains to convert to Judaism because he was serving a life sentence.

In Womack v. Perry, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152588 (ED CA, Nov.10, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend an inmate's general complaint that the warden has denied inmates in C-yard Friday services for the past 8 months.

In Atkinson v. MacKinnon, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153033 (WD WI, Nov. 12, 2015), a Wisconsin federal district court allowed a Muslim inmate to move ahead with his complaint that retaliatory action (reducing his prison job grade and hours) was taken when he complained of religious harassment.  The court held that plaintiff had no more administrative remedies because the warden had promised to investigate his claim.

In Spears v. Curcillo, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153320 (MD PA, Nov. 12, 2015), a Pennsylvania federal district court permitted an inmate to move ahead with his complaint that his Bible was confiscated when he was moved into the Restricted Housing Unit.

In Holcomb v. Quinn, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153572 (D SC, Nov. 12, 2015), a South Carolina federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153789, Oct. 21, 2015), and dismissed without prejudice an inmate's complaint that the free exercise rights of a 3A Qabalah group were infringed when a corrections officer required them to remove the strings they wore on their left wrists.

Suit Claims Hospital's Mistake About Patient's Religion Led To Withholding Treatment

Courthouse News Service reports on a lawsuit filed last month (Oct. 13)  in a Tennessee state trial court alleging that a hospital's mistake about a patient's religious beliefs led to the patient's death.  Merle Piper was diagnosed with kidney failure, but for a number of days was denied potentially life-saving treatment because his medical chart incorrectly stated that he was a Jehovah's Witness.  Doctors though that meant he objected to such treatment.  The lawsuit against Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville, Tenn., two doctors and other John Doe defendants seeks damages for wrongful death and medical malpractice.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

New Mexico Supreme Court Invalidates State Textbook Loans To Private School Students

In Moses v. Skandera, (NM Sup. Ct., Nov. 12, 2015), the New Mexico Supreme Court in a unanimous opinion upheld a state constitutional challenge to the New Mexico Instructional Material Law.  That statute allows the state to lend secular textbooks to private and parochial school students.  New Mexico's Constitution, Art. XII, Sec. 3 (a Blaine amendment provision) provides in part:
no ... funds appropriated, levied or collected for educational purposes, shall be used for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.
Reversing the state court of appeal (see prior posting), the state Supreme Court held that this constitutional provision is more restrictive that the state or federal Establishment Clause and bars textbook loans:
Private schools benefit because they do not have to buy instructional materials with money they obtain by tuition or donations and they can divert such money to other uses in their schools. Consistent with the rules of statutory construction and the majority of jurisdictions interpreting similar state constitutional provisions, the IML violates Article XII, Section 3 because it provides support to private schools
Albuquerque Journal reports on the decision.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Supreme Court Grants Review Of Texas Restrictions On Abortion Clinics

The U.S. Supreme Court today granted certiorari in the Texas abortion law case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, (Docket No. 15-274, cert. granted 11/13/2015). (Order List.) Links to the 5th Circuit's opinion in the case, the petition for certiorari, the reply brief and amicus briefs are available at SCOTUSblog. According to USA Today:
The justices will decide whether tough new restrictions placed on abortion clinics and doctors in Texas constitute an "undue burden" on women seeking legal abortions and should be struck down.
The restrictions -- forcing doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and requiring clinics to meet standards for outpatient surgery centers -- threaten to leave the state with only 10 clinics clustered in four population centers and along the Mexican border. 

Indiana Agrees To Narrow Interpretation of Sex Offender Restriction, Alleviating Religious Freedom Issue

AP reported yesterday that the ACLU of Indiana has agreed to a judge's dismissal of a lawsuit it filed (see prior posting) challenging restrictions on serious sex offenders after the state agreed to an interpretation of the law that essentially resolves the problem.  Indiana Code § 35-42-4-14 bars serious sex offenders from entering "school property," and the ACLU feared that this had the effect of prohibiting these offenders from attending worship services in churches, mosques or synagogues located on the same property as parochial schools. However now the state agrees that the ban only applies to worship services when they are held in a building owned by a private school (or leased by it).  It does not apply to worship services in the church, mosque or synagogue's own building.

Suit Charges Fatal Religious Harassment of Christian Student In Mississippi

A civil rights suit filed in a Mississippi federal district court last week claims that the failure of school officials to respond adequately to the severe religious bullying of a 12-year old Christian student led to the student's death.  The complaint (full text) in Malone v. Moss Point School District, (SD MS, filed 11/6/2015), alleges that 7th-grade student Lorel Ka'heim Malone was "bullied, teased, and harassed about his size, clothing, looks, and above all, his religious beliefs and practices." His middle-school classmates bullied him over his handing out of religious crosses, pictures of angels, and his slogan against bullying "be a hero, take a stand." The school responded to complaints about the bullying only by transferring Lorel to another math class, but did nothing to punish the students who were guilty of the bullying. In March 2014, Lorel died as the result of heart problems stemming from a physical attack by the same students who had been bullying him. The suit alleges that school officials' deliberate indifference violated Lorel's rights under the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. The (Biloxi, Miss.) Sun Herald reported on the lawsuit.

As Indian Prime Minister Visits Britain, Religious Minorities' Rights Are Raised

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, head of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party) began an important 3-day formal visit to Britain yesterday. However his visit has been dogged by concerns on at least two fronts regarding the rights of religious minorities in India. According to The Guardian:
In the last few months, mobs of fanatics, some linked to his party, the BJP, have lynched Muslims for eating, carrying or possessing beef, or on mere suspicion of having done so.... Most of all, however, critics say it was Modi himself who spawned the narrative of beef as a critical issue during elections last year by warning of a “pink revolution” (a widespread slaughter of cows) if his party didn’t win.
Meanwhile, Sikhs have a different concern, and have enlisted Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in their cause. According to an NSO Press Release"
The office for the leader of the Labour Party has said Jeremy Corbyn will be taking up the issue of the 1984 Sikh genocide with the Indian premier during his visit to Britain this week.... [P]rior to Mr Modi’s landslide victory, he and his party had placed the blame for the killings of Sikhs on the then Congress government. Furthermore, following appointment to office Mr Modi’s Home Minister described the killings as “genocide”.... [However, according to a Sikh leader in the UK] ... "Mr Modi has done nothing to bring identified Congress leaders who urged gangs of hooligans, to kill, murder and burn Sikh men, women and children, to justice. They now freely roam the streets gloating of their achievements to the bewilderment of relatives of those murdered, as well as the wider Sikh community."

Arkansas County's Nativity Scene Violates Purpose Prong of Lemon Test

In American Humanist Association v. Baxter County, Arkansas, (WD AR, Nov. 12, 2015), an Arkansas federal district court held that a privately-owned nativity scene that has been erected on the Baxter County Courthouse lawn for the past 40 years violates the Establishment Clause, despite changes made in recent years to attempt to avoid this conclusion.  The display has long been accompanied by a Christmas tree, and in recent years by Santa Claus and reindeer figures. In 2014, the county leased the land on which the display sits for $1 to the Chamber of Commerce for the specific purpose of erecting a nativity display. It also added a sign with a disclaimer saying that the county is saluting liberty, and the display is owned and erected by private citizens.  The court held that whatever the relevance of these details under the Lemon test on whether the display has the effect of promoting religion, these details are irrelevant when the purpose of the display is predominately religious. The court said in part:
The record leaves no room for doubt that, as the owner of the creche stated during his deposition, "[o]bviously the purpose of it was to celebrate Christmas." ... [Also] there is no dispute that in December 2013, Judge Pendergrass [the County CEO] denied at least two separate requests to install a banner near the creche stating "Happy Solstice."
The court in its judgment entered a declaratory judgment and injunction, and awarded $1 in nominal damages, against the county and its CEO in his official capacity. It held that the county CEO in his personal capacity had qualified immunity from a damage claim.  The court's injunction provides that  defendants must either
(1) refrain from placing any religiously sectarian seasonal display on the courthouse grounds, or (2) create a public forum on the courthouse grounds for a seasonal display open to persons of all faiths as well as of no faith at all, without discrimination on the basis of viewpoint.
Ozarks First reports on the decision.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Maine's AG Sues To Enjoin Anti-Abortion Protester

Maine's Attorney General has recently filed a civil suit against an anti-abortion protester, seeking to enjoin him from coming within 50 feet of Portland's Planned Parenthood clinic and seeking to impose a $5000 civil penalty on him.  The complaint (full text) in State of Maine v. Ingalls, (Super Ct., filed 10/30/2015), alleges that Brian Ingalls, a regular protester, violated provisions of Maine law that prohibit interfering with constitutional rights as well as a provision barring intentional interference with the delivery of health services by making noise that can be heard within the building of a health care provider.  Ingalls was arrested after he ignored police warnings and continued to yell toward Planned Parenthood's second floor examination and counseling rooms about murdering babies, aborted babies' blood, and Jesus. The Portland Press-Herald says that this is the first suit of its kind to be filed in the state.

In England, Couple Sentenced To Prison In Faith Healing Death of Their Daughter

In England yesterday, a court in Nottingham sentenced Brian and Precious Kandare to nine and one-half and eight years respectively in the faith healing death of their 8-month old daughter.  According to the Wolverhampton Express & Star,  the couple were members of the Apostolistic Church of God.  The husband was a pastor in the church.  Despite some nursing training on the part of the mother, the couple believed that evil spirits were causing their infant daughter not to thrive.  Instead of seeking medical help, they relied on ritual and prayer in accordance with the church's teaching. They ignored advice to give their daughter vitamin supplements, missed appointments for health check ups, and took the daughter to a faith healer as her condition worsened.  The daughter died of severe malnutrition.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

European Court Rejects Appeal of Conviction For Comedy Performance Promoting Holocaust Denial

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday held inadmissible (i.e. dismissed at a preliminary stage as incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights) the appeal of a conviction by a French court of a comedian charged with publicly directing insults at a person or group of persons on account of their origin or of belonging, or not belonging, to a given ethnic community, nation, race or religion.  M'Bala v. France, (ECHR, Nov. 10, 2015) (full text of decision in French) (Press Release in English) involves a comedian who at the end of a show in Paris invited a well-known Holocaust denier onto stage to receive a "prize for unfrequentability and insolence." According to the Court's press release:
The prize, which took the form of a three-branched candlestick with an apple on each branch, was awarded to him by an actor wearing what was described as a “garment of light” – a pair of striped pyjamas with a stitched-on yellow star bearing the word “Jew” – who thus played the part of a Jewish deportee in a concentration camp....
In the Court’s view, this was not a performance which, even if satirical or provocative, fell within the protection of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on human rights, but was in reality, in the circumstances of the case, a demonstration of hatred and anti-Semitism and support for Holocaust denial. Disguised as an artistic production, it was in fact as dangerous as a head-on and sudden attack, and provided a platform for an ideology which ran counter to the values of the European Convention.
Times of Israel reports on the decision.  [Thanks to Paul de Mello for the lead.]

Day Care Teachers Tell EEOC Their Firing Over Treatment of Transgender Child Was Religious Discrimination

At a news conference yesterday, high-profile Houston, Texas attorney Andy Taylor said that he has filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC on behalf of the manager of a day care center who says she was fired because of her treatment of a 6-year old transgender child, and on behalf of her co-worker who was also fired.  As reported by KPRC News and the Houston Chronicle, Christian author Madeline Kirksey was fired from her Children's Lighthouse Learning Center position after she refused to comply with the instructions of the girl's male same-sex parents who said that the child, who had enrolled at the beginning of the year as a girl, should now be treated as a boy and called by a new masculine name.  Kirksey said that her religious beliefs made her approval of the change impossible.  She also contended that she had a duty to protect the child from possible bullying, and objected to the change being made without parents of others in the class first being informed.  At the press conference, attorney Taylor said in part:
To inflict upon a little 6-year-old girl the heavy decision of her sexual identity is nothing short of child abuse..... Can you only imagine the reaction of a couple of dozen 6-year-olds when they learn that Sally is all of a sudden Johnny? They may think this is a cruel game of opposite day. And are we going to have little girls running into boys' restrooms and little boys running into girls restrooms?
A spokesman for the Learning Center said that Kirksey and her co-worker were fired for other reasons and that their attorneys are misrepresenting the facts of the case.

Scientology Cannot Get Dismissal of Harassment Suit Under Texas Anti-SLAPP Statute

In Sloat v. Rathbun, (TX App., Nov. 6, 2015), a Texas appellate court held that the Church of Scientology and its officials cannot invoke the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) to obtain dismissal of a lawsuit against them alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and tortious interference with contract. TCPA is designed to allow rapid dismissal of unmeritorious lawsuits challenging individuals' exercise of their rights of speech, petition or association.  Here plaintiff, the wife of a former high ranking Scientology official who spoke out against Scientology, claims that the Scientology defendants subjected her to relentless abuse, harassment and surveillance.  The court held that defendants have not shown that the alleged activities relate to the exercise of free speech or the rights of association or petition:
[With one exception]  the Scientology Defendants do not directly address the specific conduct Rathbun complains of, which includes following her while she went to and from work, shopping, out to dinner with friends, and walking her dog. Nor do they explain how alleged visits to Rathbun’s family members, friends, and coworkers during which they allegedly gave warnings about Rathbun’s personal safety while married to Marty Rathbun, constitute conduct covered by the TCPA. Moreover, other than deny having done so, the Scientology Defendants do not address Rathbun’s allegations that they sent a sex toy to her at work and sent flowers with a “romantic” message purportedly from her to a female co-worker.
Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Texas AG Opinion OK's "In God We Trust" On Police Cars

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last week issued Opinion No. KP-0042 (Nov. 4, 2015)  concluding that a police department or sheriff's office may display the national motto, "In God We Trust," on its patrol cars without violating the Establishment Clause.  The Attorney General's Opinion says in part:
[D]isplaying "In God We Trust" on police vehicles is a passive use of a motto steeped in our nation's history that does not coerce Citizen approval or participation.
AP reported on the Opinion.

Supreme Court Denies Review Of California Donor Disclosure Law

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday denied certiorari in Center for Competitive Politics v. Harris, (Docket No. 15-152, cert. denied 11/9/2015). (Order List).  In the case, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California's requirement that in order to solicit tax deductible contributions in the state, a charity or other non-profit must file a non-public annual report that includes an unredacted IRS Form 990 Schedule B, the names and contributions of significant donors. (See prior posting.) AP reports on the Supreme Court's action.

British Employment Tribunal: Church of England Can Refuse To License Clergy Who Have Entered Same-Sex Marriage

In Pemberton v. Inwood, (Empl. Trib., Oct. 28, 2015), a British Employment Tribunal held that the Church of England had not violated the Equality Act when it refused to grant Rev. Jeremy Pemberton an Extra Parochial Ministry License that would qualify him to be appointed as a chaplain at the Sherwood Forest Hospitals.  The license was denied because Pemberton had entered into a same-sex marriage in contravention of Church of England doctrine. The Guardian last week reported on the decision. [Thanks to Law & Religion UK for the lead.] [Corrected-- an earlier version of this post had the parties reversed.]

Court Confirms Reorganization Plan of Milwaukee Archdiocese

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that yesterday U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley confirmed the bankruptcy reorganization plan of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  The Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011 under the pressure of clergy sex abuse claims.  Yesterday's reorganization plan is summarized by the Wall Street Journal:
The terms of the settlement divide nearly 600 abuse victims into separate groups. About 350 victims will share the bulk of the $21 million settlement, and about another 100 victims will each receive $2,000, court papers show. About 120 remaining victims, who had previously settled with the archdiocese or otherwise didn't qualify for the settlement, won’t receive any monetary compensation. It also provides a total of $250,000 for victims who come forward in the future, plus $500,000 from the archdiocese’s parishes to provide therapy for victims in any group.
Over $20 million in legal fees have been run up during the protracted bankruptcy proceedings.  Fox News reprints a statement from the Archdiocese on the approval of the plan and a letter sent to Pope Francis on behalf of the first victims to publicly come forward-- deaf survivors who were abused at the St. John's School for the Deaf.

Appellant In Contraceptive Mandate Case Creates "Novena To Reverse HHS Mandate"

As previously reported, last week the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in seven cases brought by various religious non-profits challenging the Obama Administration's accommodation for non-profits that object to furnishing contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance plans. One of the plaintiffs that is pressing a challenge at the Supreme Court level is the Catholic pro-life organization Priests For Life. Yesterday the group announced that it had created a Novena to Reverse HHS Mandate (a series of nine prayers to be recited on successive days), and invited individuals, families, churches and schools to join in the prayer campaign.  Here are two excerpts from the Novenas:
At this moment, therefore, when our government has decided to force us to cooperate in evil, we pray for the grace to be faithful to you and to oppose the unjust laws and mandates that have been imposed upon us and our institutions.....
We pray, Lord, for our President and for the thousands of people who serve in his administration. We pray that you enlighten and guide them, and free them from the deception of evil.

Free Thought Group Responds To Ted Cruz's Views On Atheists

The Free Thought Equality Fund issued a press release yesterday decrying a statement made by Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz:
Senator Cruz made his remarks this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa, at the 2015 National Religious Liberties Conference, organized by Generations with Vision. When asked how important it is for the President of the United States to fear God, Cruz responded that “any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this nation.”
“By claiming that those who do not pray are not fit for office, Senator Cruz is perpetuating the prejudiced myth that humanists and atheists are not moral people,” said Bishop McNeill, manager of the Freethought Equality Fund PAC.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Michigan City Elects First Majority-Muslim City Council

Christian Science Monitor reports that Hamtramck, Michigan last week became the first U.S. city to elect a majority-Muslim city council.  Half of the 6-person city-council was up for election last Tuesday, and all 3 candidates who won were Muslim.  They join one other Muslim whose term was not up, giving Muslims four of the six council seats.  Hamtramck, a city of 22,000 in metropolitan Detroit, was historically Polish.  However now the city has a large population from Yemen (around 24%) and Bangladesh (15%) and is only 12% Polish.  It is 19% African American.  It is estimated that half of the city's population is Muslim, and it may be the first U.S. city to have a Muslim majority population. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Muslim Former Employee Sues Bed Bath & Beyond For Discrimination

The New York Daily News reports on a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by a former department manager at a Manhattan Bed Bath & Beyond store. In his state court lawsuit, Jose Alcantara alleges that he was subjected to months of harassment after he grew a beard that reflected his deepening Muslim religious faith. That faith was prompted by watching his mother-in-law dying from cancer.  He says colleagues continually referred to him as "terrorist" and the HR department, pressed by the store manager, ignored his complaints. He was ultimately fired for not showing up for work on 3 days which he says were supposed to be vacation days, but his schedule was altered to make it appear he was to work. The EEOC issued Alcantara a right to sue letter last July.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Obergefell decision):
From SSRN (Islamic law):
From SmartCILP:

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Harris v. Cabe, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148843 (ND MI, Nov. 3, 2015), a Mississippi federal district court dismissed, for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, a Muslim inmate's complaint that he was denied permission to attend religious services.

In Shabazz v. Giurbino, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149002 (ED CA, Nov. 2, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge permitted a Muslim inmate to move ahead against two defendants with his complaint that Muslims were served vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch, and a Halal meal only for dinner.  Three defendants were dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

In Dunn v. Catoe, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149146 (Nov. 3, 2015), a Texas federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149436, Oct. 16, 2015)  and permitted a Muslim inmate to proceed with his complaint about the policy that requires an outside volunteer before inmates can hold religious meetings, and his complaints over gang infiltration of religious meetings and insufficient food during Ramadan.

In Muniz-Savage v. Addison, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151202 (WD OK, Nov. 6, 2015) dismissed a suit by the daughter and by the former wife of an inmate who were denied rights to visit the inmate.  The daughter was the victim of her father's sex crimes.  Among the arguments rejected were that their free exercise rights were infringed because their religious beliefs required that the daughter receive blessings from her father.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Court Denies Preliminary Injunction In Challenge To Fayetteville Civil Rights Ordinance

In Fayetteville, Arkansas yesterday a state trial court judge refused to issue a temporary injunction to prevent the city's Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance from going into effect today. According to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, opponents of the ordinance argued that it infringes freedom of conscience and religion of those who have religious objections to the protection of homosexual and transgender rights.  The lawsuit also contends that the Ordinance was improperly approved and submitted to voters, and that it violates Arkansas' recently enacted Act 137 which prohibits cities from enacting civil rights protections "on a basis not contained in state law." (See prior posting.) Voters approved the Ordinance in a referendum this week by a 53% -47% vote.  The court concluded that plaintiffs had failed to show irreparable harm and a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims.

Muslim Woman Can Move Ahead With Suit Against Bus Driver Who Evicted Her

In Louis v. Metropolitan Transit Authority, (ED NY, Nov. 6, 2015), a New York federal district court held that a Muslim woman, Maria Louis, could proceed to trial with her retaliation and intentional discrimination claims against a bus driver who insisted that Louis-- who was wearing a burqa that covered her face-- move further back in the otherwise empty bus.  When she refused, the driver had Louis removed by the police.  Louis claims she was standing a seat length behind the driver who called her "scary" and who ordered her to leave the bus when she told him she was a Muslim and had a right to practice her religion. The driver insists that Louis was standing illegally on the white line in the front of the bus and became confrontational when he asked her to move. He says he did not know whether he was dealing with a man or woman because of the burqa. The court dismissed claims against the MTA and the city.