Friday, April 28, 2017

India's Supreme Court To Hear Constitutional Challenge To Personal Status Laws

NewsClick yesterday carried a lengthy article surveying the background and importance of the Shayara Bano case which will be heard by a 5-judge panel of India's Supreme Court next month.  At issue is whether laws involving personal status which are governed in India by separate legal codes for different religious groups are subject to the fundamental rights protections of India's Constitution.  In this case, the issue is whether Muslim divorce through "Triple Talaq", a practice invoked pursuant to the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act (1937), violates women's rights to equality, life and dignity. The article summarizes in part:
In the triple talaq case the Supreme Court is confronted with this question yet again and it remains to be seen if they will decide the question or dodge it by saying that Islam itself does not recognize triple talaq and hence, there is no need to decide the larger issue of whether personal laws are amenable to constitutional checks and challenges. What is at stake is not just Muslim Personal Law but all laws governing marriage and divorce, including Hindu Law. Will the ruling party that is moving towards a Hindutva State, allow such a challenge is the question. For now the Union of India has committed itself to the challenge but may remain content with the striking down on the ground that it is un-Islamic as some groups have argued. There is a lot riding on this case, not just talaq. The issues are fundamental to constitutional gender justice for all women.

Roy Moore Announces Run For U.S. Senate Seat From Alabama

In Alabama this week, Roy Moore who has been suspended for the rest of his term as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court because of his defiance of same-sex marriage rulings (see prior posting) announced that he will formally resign from his judicial position in order to run for the United States Senate.  The Republican primary for the seat is scheduled for August (with a potential run off in September). The special election itself is scheduled for December 12.  The Senate seat initially opened up when former Senator Jeff Sessions was appointed U.S. Attorney General. According to, Moore will face several opponents in the primary, including incumbent Sen. Luther Strange who was appointed on an interim basis to Sessions' seat by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, and Dr. Randy Brinson, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama.  In his announcement, Moore said in part: "My position has always been God first, family then country. I share the vision of President Donald Trump to make America great again."

In Spain, 3 Women Face Trial On Charge of Insulting Religious Sentiments of Catholics

The Telegraph reports that in Spain, three women will be tried on charges of  insulting the religious sentiments of Catholics.  The charges grow out of the women's participation in a May Day parade in 2014 in which they carried a giant plastic vagina through the streets of Seville on a platform imitating the way in which women carry the image of the Virgin Mary in Good Friday parades.  Allegedly they also mocked Catholic prayers. The three women, part of a group calling itself "Sisterhood of the Blessed Rebellious Vagina to the Exploitation of Precariousness," were protesting discrimination against women in the workplace. An appeals court last week rejected the women's free speech defenses. While the women face the potential of fines and an 18 month prison sentence, any prison time is likely to be suspended.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Alabama Legislature Passes Protections For Faith-Based Adoption Agencies

On Tuesday, the Alabama legislature gave final passage to HB 24, the  Alabama Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act (full text).  The bill protects religiously affiliated adoption and foster care agencies that refuse to provide, facilitate or refer for placement in a manner that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs.  The protections only apply to agencies that receive no state or federal funds.  The state may not refuse to license, discriminate or take adverse action against such agencies because they act on their religious beliefs. The bill now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey who must sign it before it becomes law. reports on the legislature's action. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

USCIRF Issues 2017 Annual Report

Yesterday the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2017 Annual Report (full text).  The report reviews religious freedom concerns in numerous countries and includes recommendations to the State Department for designation under the International Religious Freedom Act of 16 countries as "countries of particular concern"-- i.e. the most egregious violators of religious freedom.  Those countries are: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan-- all already designated by the State Department-- as well as Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.  The Report explains:
USCIRF’s 2017 CPC recommendations include, for the first time, the recommendation that Russia be designated as a CPC. Based on improvements in religious freedom conditions in Egypt and Iraq, USCIRF does not recommend those two countries for CPC designation in 2017, as it had for Egypt since 2011 and for Iraq since 2008.
The addition of Russia stems in part from its use of its anti-extremism law to restrict religious liberty, most recently of Jehovah's Witnesses. The report also places 12 countries on its Tier 2 list of nations where serious religious freedom concerns exist.  This year's Report begins with this grim introduction:
The state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations. The blatant assaults have become so frightening—attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents, and wholesale destruction of places of worship—that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated. Many observers have become numb to violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

8th Circuit Rejects RFRA Defense To Heroin Distribution Charges

In United States v. Anderson, (8th Cir., April 28, 2017), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Timothy Anderson's claim that his indictment on charges of heroin distribution should have been dismissed because the decision to prosecute him violated his rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Anderson claimed that as a student of Esoteric and Mysticism studies he created a religious non-profit organization to distribute heroin to "the sick, lost, blind, lame, deaf, and dead members of Gods' Kingdom."  The court held that even if Anderson's religious beliefs were sincerely held, the government here chose the least restrictive means to achieve its compelling interest in preventing distribution of heroin to others for non-religious uses. Vox reports on the decision.

New Kentucky Law Authorizes Bible Courses In Schools

On April 11, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed HB 128 (full text) which requires the Kentucky State Board of Education to create courses on the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the New Testament, and on both. The law provides that the purposes of these courses are to teach students the biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives required to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

China Bans Islamic Names For Uighur Children

The New York Times reported yesterday that China has taken further steps to "curb religious fervor" among Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang.  It has banned parents from giving their children names that can be seen as encouraging Islamic extremism.  According to Radio Free Asia last week:
Islam, Quran, Mecca, Jihad, Imam, Saddam, Hajj, and Medina are among dozens of baby names banned under ruling Chinese Communist Party's "Naming Rules For Ethnic Minorities," an official confirmed on Thursday.
An employee who answered the phone at a police station in the regional capital Urumqi confirmed that "overly religious" names are banned, and that any babies registered with such names would be barred from the "hukou" household registration system that gives access to health care and education.

Trump Justice Department Wants Further Extension In Remanded Contraceptive Mandate Cases

Last May the U.S. Supreme Court remanded to the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and D. C. Circuits a group of cases brought by religious non-profit institutions challenging the contraceptive mandate coverage accommodation worked out by the Obama administration.  The Supreme Court, apparently split evenly on the case, urged the parties to work out a compromise. (See prior posting.)  In a letter (full text) sent to the Catholic Leadership Conference by the Trump Campaign last October, Trump said that, if elected: "I will make absolutely certain religious orders like The Little Sisters of Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs." However on Monday in a Status Report (full text) filed with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Justice Department asked for the cases to be held in abeyance for another 60 days, arguing:
the new Administration has been in place for only a few months. The regulations at issue here are jointly administered by three Departments—the Department of Health & Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the Department of the Treasury—and are the subject of numerous other lawsuits being handled by the Department of Justice. The nominee to be Secretary of Labor has not yet been confirmed, and numerous subcabinet positions at the Departments have not yet been filled. The issues presented by the Supreme Court’s remand order are complex; for example, the original accommodation took more than a year to develop with input from interested parties.
NBC News reports on developments.

Indiana Legislature Passes Law Protecting Student Religious Expression In Schools

After final passage, yesterday the Indiana legislature sent HB 1024 (full text) to Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature.  The bill authorizes public high schools to offer an elective course surveying religions of the world. The course must include historical, cultural and literary study, and must be "neutral, objective and balanced."  In a separate section, the Act prohibits public schools from discriminating against a student or the student's parent on the basis of religious viewpoint or religious expression. It provides that students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments, which are to be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance.

The Act provides that public school students may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expressions before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that students may engage in nonreligious activities or expression. They may wear wear clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display religious messages or religious symbols in the same manner and to the same extent that other types of clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display messages or symbols are permitted.Religious groups are to be given the same access to school facilities as other non-curricular groups. Liberty Counsel issued a press release announcing the passage of the legislation.

Suit Says Indiana Charter School Act Violates Establishment Clause

Indiana's Charter School Act names, among the institutions that may authorize public charter schools, some 30 non-profit colleges and universities-- public, private and religious. Charter schools they authorize must be non-sectarian and non-religious.  Yesterday a non-profit advocacy organization supporting public schools filed suit against Indiana education officials contending that the Charter School Act violates the Establishment Clause as well as the no-aid cause of Indiana's constitution. The complaint (full text) in Indiana Coalition for Public Education v. McCormick, (SD IN, filed 4/25/2017) focuses on the authorization of a charter for Seven Oaks Classical School by Grace College and Seminary, an evangelical Christian college. It contends that the Act violates the Establishment Clause by delegating government power to authorize charter schools to a religious institution and by authorizing payment of public funds as an administrative fee to that religious institution. Indiana Lawyer reports on the lawsuit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Presidential Proclamations On Yom HaShoah and Meds Yeghern

Yesterday, which was Yom HaShoah, President Trump signed a Proclamation (full text):
ask[ing]  the people of the United States to observe the Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust, April 23 through April 30, 2017, and the solemn anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps, with appropriate study, prayers and commemoration, and to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution by internalizing the lessons of this atrocity so that it is never repeated.
The text of the Proclamation has been posted on Trump's Facebook page, but has not yet appeared on the White House website.

Yesterday the President also signed a Proclamation (full text) marking Armenian Remembrance Day. As pointed out by Hurriyet, consistent with past practice the Proclamation uses the Armenian term Meds Yeghern (Great Calamity) and avoids referring to the atrocities as a "genocide."

UPDATE: And here is the full text of President Trump's speech on Tuesday at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum National Days of Remembrance.

Israel Appoints First Woman As Judge On Muslim Religious Court

Haaretz reports that Israel has for the first time in the country's history appointed a woman to serve as a judge (qadi) in a Muslim religious court.  Government appointed religious courts in Israel have jurisdiction over personal status matters, particularly marriage and divorce.  The appointment of Hana Khatib, a family lawyer, was confirmed unanimously today by Israel's Judicial Appointments Committee.

UPDATE: Haaretz (4/27) has an interesting background piece on the appointment.

Pakistan Paper Surveys Mob Violence Following Blasphemy Accusations

Pakistan's Express Tribune today surveys Pakistan's growing problem of mob violence following accusations of blasphemy.  There have been two such incidents in the past 11 days.  According to the paper:
Between 1947 – the year of Pakistan’s creation – and 1985, only 14 cases of blasphemy were registered by law enforcement agencies. In 1986, the military regime of General Ziaul Haq made blasphemy a capital offence and broadened its classification. Since that year, over 4,000 such cases have been registered....
On March 7, 2017, an Islamabad High Court judge ... went on a diatribe against online ‘blasphemy’, declaring it a form of terrorism and demanding that the government initiate a crackdown immediately. Following this, the Pakistan Interior Minister ... condemned online ‘blasphemers’ and ordered that action be taken against them. Since then, four people have been arrested on charges of blasphemy and Facebook has managed to shut down 85% of the pages deemed blasphemous.
These developments have also encouraged certain televangelists and social media activists who have embarked on a campaign to identify individuals they deem to be offending religious sensitivities.
The lynch mobs of today have not occurred in isolation. They are no natural expressions or consequences of the Islamic faith but a direct consequence of politicians and other national institutions weaponising religion and utilising it as a political tool – a tool that recruits militants for proxy warfare in Afghanistan and Indian-occupied Kashmir and brings in conservative votes during elections.

Female Teenage Boxer Gets Religious Dress Accommodation

According to yesterday's Rochester MN Post-Bulletin, USA Boxing, the organization that oversees amateur boxing in the United States, has granted a religious accommodation to a Muslim teenager.  Amaiya Zafar will be permitted to wear a hijab and cover her arms and legs in her first sanctioned competition.

Pew Study: Global Hostility To Religion Grew In 2015

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released its annual study (full text) of global restrictions on religion. The 79-page report covers the year 2015 and concludes:
Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years....
The share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions – i.e., laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices – ticked up from 24% in 2014 to 25% in 2015. Meanwhile, the percentage of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities – i.e., acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society – increased in 2015, from 23% to 27%.  Both of these increases follow two years of declines in the percentage of countries with high levels of restrictions on religion by these measures.
When looking at overall levels of restrictions in 2015 – whether resulting from government policies and actions or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations or social groups – the new study finds that 40% of countries had high or very high levels of restrictions, up from 34% in 2014.

Court Says Disaffiliated Church's Property Belongs To Local Congregation, Not PCUSA

In Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area v. Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church, Inc., (MN Ct. App., April 24, 2017), a Minnesota state appeals court held that it was proper to apply the "neutral principles of law"approach, rather than applying the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, to decide ownership of property of a congregation which had disaffiliated from the Presbyterian Church USA.  Affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that the property belongs to the local congregation despite the trust clause in PCUSA's Book of Order.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Criminal Complaints Filed Against JCC Bomb Threat Perpetrator

The Department of Justice announced that on Friday criminal complaints were filed against Michael Kadar, a dual American-Israeli citizen living in Israel, who allegedly telephoned bomb threats to Jewish institutions around the U.S. earlier this year. According to the Criminal Complaint filed in federal district court in Florida:
Beginning on January 4, 2017, and continuing until March 7, 2017, an individual, later identified as KADAR, made at least 245 threatening telephone calls involving bomb threats and active shooter threats. A significant portion of the threats targeted Jewish community centers ("JCCs"), and other historically Jewish institutions such as Jewish schools and Anti-Defamation League offices.
A Criminal Complaint was also filed against Kadar in a Georgia federal district court charging him with making a series of "swatting" calls to public schools and residences in Athens, Georgia.  The Forward reports on developments. [Thanks to Michael Lieberman for the lead.]

UPDATE: In Israel today, Kadar was charged in a Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court with various other crimes, including an attempt to extort a U.S. Senator, Ernesto Lopez. (Haaretz).

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Legal Issues and Islam):

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Jenkins v. Campose, (9th Cir., April 21, 2017), the 9th Circuit, reversing the ditrict court in part, held that defendants failed to show that a prohibition on wudhu in one of the prison restrooms is rationally related to a legitimate and neutral governmental objective.

In Nevels v. Chapman, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59530 (ED AR, April 19, 2017), an Arkansas federal district court adopted a magistrate 's recommendation (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59620, March 28, 2017) and dismissed an inmate's complaint that on one occasion his lunch tray contained pork which he will not eat for religious reasons

In Goddard v. Alexakos, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57951 (ED KY, April 17, 2017), a Kentucky federal district court allowed an inmate to proceed with his complaint that authorities do not permit The Way (a non-Protestant Christian group) to hold separate worship services.

In Wright v. Hauffman, 2017 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 285 (PA Commw., April 21, 2017), a Pennsylvania appellate court reversed the dismissal of an inmate's claim that Nation of Islam group religious services were not available.

In Hill v. Skrah, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57279 (D OR, April 11, 2017), an Oregon federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57430, March 14, 2017) and dismissed on qualified immunity grounds an inmate's complaint that he was not given kosher meals.

In Smith v. Wildermuth, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57318 (ND NY, April 14, 2017), a New York federal district court permitted a Muslim inmate to move ahead with his retaliation claim (but not his free exercise claim) stemming from his refusal to interrupt his prayer to respond to a corrections officer.

3 Indicted In Detroit On Charges of Female Genital Mutilation

On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan announced the arrest of a Detroit physician and his wife on charges of violating the federal ban on female genital mutilation. (Full text of criminal complaint.) Fakhruddin Attar and his wife Farida were charged with conspiring with Dr. Jumana Nagarwala who was arrested earlier this month in Detroit and ordered detained on pending trial. (Press release and criminal complaint in Nagarwala case.) As reported yesterday in a background article in the Detroit Free Press:
All three defendants  belong to a small, Indian-Muslim community known as the Dawoodi Bohra, whose members say genital cutting is a deeply entrenched social and cultural norm, with some women viewing it as normal as having a period. Celebration parties are held after the cuttings, and the women and girls are supposed to keep it a secret. One of the key reasons for the procedure, victims say, is to curb a woman's sexuality.
According to an earlier Detroit Free Press report:
Nagarwala has claimed through her lawyer that she did not engage in any actual cutting, but rather that she removed a membrane from the genital area using a "scraper" and gave it to the parents to bury in the ground as part of a religious custom within  the Dawoodi Bohra community.
On Friday, Anjuman-e-Najmi Detroit, an umbrella organization for the Dawoodi Bohra community in Detroit, issued a statement reading in part:
The Dawoodi Bohras do not support the violation of any U.S. law, local, state or federal.  We offer our assistance to the investigating authorities. Any violation of U.S. law is counter to instructions to our community members.  It does not reflect the everyday lives of the Dawoodi Bohras in America.
Apparently these are the first defendants charged under 18 USC 116 prohibiting female genital mutilation.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pence In Jakarta Praises Moderate Islam

Vice President Mike Pence's comments at his press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia on Thursday led Haaretz to run an article titled Pence's Visit to Indonesia Another Strike in Internal White House Battle Over Islam.  In his remarks to the press (full text), Pence said in part:
As the second and third largest democracies in the world, our two countries share many common values -- including freedom, the rule of law, human rights, and religious diversity.
 The United States is proud to partner with Indonesia to promote and protect these values, the birthright of all people....
Later today I’m greatly humbled to have the privilege to visit Indonesia’s national mosque, where I’ll have the opportunity to speak with leaders of many faiths.
And, Mr. President, I’m very much looking forward to that visit and that honor.  
 As the largest majority Muslim country, Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam, frankly, is an inspiration to the world.  And we commend you and your people. 
In your nation, as in mine, religion unifies -- it doesn’t divide.  It gives us hope for a brighter future, and we are all grateful for the great inspiration that Indonesia provides for the world.