Friday, October 24, 2014

6th Circuit Grants En Banc Rehearing To Christian Evangelists Who Preached At Arab Festival

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has voted to grant an en banc rehearing in Bible Believers v. Wayne County, (reh. granted Oct. 23, 2014). In the case, the 3-judge panel in a 2-1 decision, affirmed the district court's dismissal of civil rights claims by Christian evangelists who engaged in aggressive preaching at the 2012 Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan. Police insisted that they leave when the crowd turned hostile. (See prior posting.) Volokh Conspiracy has more on the case.

Court Rules In Kiryas Joel Voting Inspector Challenge

Photo News and Failed Messiah report on a New York state trial court decision handed down this week in Convers v. County of Orange, (Dutchess Cty. Sup. Ct., Oct. 21, 2014) (Docket). The case grows out of ongoing friction between the largely Satmar Hasidic Jewish village of Kiryas Joel and residents of the surrounding town of Monroe. Apparently after the citizens' group United Monroe complained that voters at polling places in Kiryas Joel were being bullied into voting for candidates supported by the Kiryas Joel Satmar Rebbe (the village's religious leader), the Board of Elections approved six outside voting inspectors.  However, five days before the Sept. 4 primary, the appointment of the voting inspectors was rescinded without formal explanation, and the would-be inspectors sued. The Board has variously cited cultural differences, or failure to obtain approval of the Republican voting commissioner, as the basis for the inspectors' removal.  Justice Maria Rosa this week ruled that the inspectors' removal was arbitrary and capricious, and they should be reappointed. However she did not require that they be assigned to Kiryas Joel. Justice Rosa did rule that inspectors could not be assigned on the basis of religion. Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus reacted saying that if outside inspectors are to be appointed, it should be done county-wide, rather than targeting Kiryas Joel.

Schools' Religious-Themed Snow Plow Decorations Rejected By City

For the last 5 years, the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota has sponsored a "Paint the Plows" program.  Each participating public or private school is loaned a city snow plow and students use their artistic abilities to decorate the large plow blade.  Yesterday's Sioux Falls Argus Leader, however, reported that this year the designs painted on plow blades by two Lutheran schools brought complaints from a board member of the Siouxland Freethinkers. High school students painted their blade red and inscribed it in large white letters with the words "Jesus Christ."  The elementary and middle school painted its plow blade with the words "Happy birthday Jesus."  (Similar religious expressions were used last year without complaint.) After receiving this year's complaints, the city talked with the schools about creating a different design. At least the high school has decided to just let the city paint over the plow blade.

Suit Says Schools Promoted Christian Activities

The American Humanist Association and several parents of school children filed suit this week against the Douglas County, Colorado school district and its officials over the schools' alleged endorsement of Christian religious organizations.  The complaint (full text) in  American Humanist Association, Inc. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, (D CO, filed 10/22/2014), contends that by extensively promoting Operation Christmas Child and two mission trips, the school district has violated the Establishment Clause and the Equal Access Act.  Huffington Post reports on the lawsuit.

Settlement Reached In School's Ban of Religious Valentines

Alliance Defending Freedom this week announced a settlement leading to a voluntary dismissal in J.S. v. Nazareth Area School District, (ED PA, Oct. 22, 2014). The suit challenged a Pennsylvania elementary school's refusal to allow a student to hand out Valentine cards containing a religious message. (See prior posting.) In the settlement, the school district has removed language from its policies that prohibited student expression seeking to establish the supremacy of a particular religious view or denomination. The Morning Call reporting on the settlement quotes a school board attorney who says that even under the revised policy the particular Valentine message at issue here may have not been permitted because its discussion of St. Valentine's martyrdom may have been too adult a topic.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

President Sends Diwali Greetings

Today is Diwali. Yesterday the White House posted a video and transcript of a message from President Obama sending wishes for a joyous celebration to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists celebrating this festival of lights.

Conviction of Pussy Riot Band Member Upheld By Russia's Constitutional Court

Russia's Constitutional Court yesterday issued a decision rejecting a challenge by a member of the Pussy Riot punk rock band to her 2012 conviction for disorderly conduct (hooliganism). The conviction came after a protest performance at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. (See prior posting.)  Interfax reports band member  Nadezhda Tolokonnikova argued to the Constitutional Court that  Russian Criminal Code Article 213 unconstitutionally restricts her freedom of expression, classifies violations of religious rules a violation of public order, and criminalizes actions based only on the perception of a majority of the public. The Constitutional Court concluded however that the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations calls for it to respect the internal rules of religious denominations. It also said:
If some actions are demonstratively insulting in nature and are devoid of any aesthetic or artistic value, they go beyond the limits of the lawful use of freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution,
Tolokonnikova was released from prison last year in an amnesty. (See prior posting.)

Paris Opera House Bans Wearing of Niqab

France's 2010 ban on wearing of the full-face veil (niqab) in public places gained new attention this month when on Oct. 3 a tourist from the Gulf States and her male companion who had purchased the most expensive seats for the opera La Traviata at Opera Bastille were ejected before the second act. They were seated directly behind the conductor.  According to an RT report this week, some of the performers said they would not continue before a faceless audience member. They claimed the woman's clothing was distracting. The couple left without trying to obtain a refund of the almost $600 they had paid for their tickets.  A day later, the Opera issued new rules in an internal memo. As subsequently reported by RT, anyone whose face is covered with a veil, mask or hood, so that only their eyes are visible, will be ejected. A hijab that only covers the hair is permitted.

New CRS Report On Expired Charitable Tax Provisions

On Oct. 17, the Congressional Research Service released a Report titled Recently Expired Charitable Tax Provisions (“Tax Extenders”): In Brief. The report discusses (1) the enhanced charitable deduction for contributions of food inventory; (2) tax-free distributions from IRA's for charitable purposes; (3) basis adjustment to stock of S corporations making charitable property contributions; and (4) special rules for contributions of capital gain real property for conservation purposes.  It also projects the cost of extending the expired provisions.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Puerto Rico Court Upholds Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

In one of the few recent victories for opponents of same-sex marriage, the federal district court for the district of Puerto Rico yesterday dismissed a challenge to the Puerto Rico law that recognizes only opposite-gender marriage.  In Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla, (D PR, Oct. 21, 2014), the court held that the Supreme Court's 1972 summary dismissal for want of  a substantial federal question in Baker v. Nelson is binding precedent. (Background.)  Baker involved an appeal of a Minnesota case that found no constitutional protection for same-sex marriage.  Reporting on the Puerto Rico decision, the Washington Post points out that the decision "puts the First Circuit back in play in the national litigation, although every state in the circuit already recognizes same-sex marriage." [Thanks to How Appealing for the lead.]

Austrian Government Proposes Dramatic Revisions In Law Governing Islamic Community

In Austria, the government presented a draft bill to Parliament earlier this month that would dramatically revise the country's 1912 Islam Law governing the status of the Muslim community.  According to AINA:
The new law would regulate at least a dozen separate issues, including relatively non-controversial matters such as Muslim holidays, Muslim cemeteries, Muslim dietary practices and the activities of Muslim clergy in hospitals, prisons and the army.
More significantly, however, the bill seeks to limit the religious and political influence of foreign governments within the Austrian Muslim community by prohibiting foreign countries--presumably Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states--from financing Islamic centers and mosques in Austria.
The legislation also seeks to prevent the growth of a parallel Islamic society in Austria by regulating mosques and requiring clerics to be trained exclusively at Austrian universities. The new law would require Muslim groups to terminate the employment of clerics who have criminal records or who are deemed to pose a threat to public safety.....
The new Islam Law also requires the Austrian Muslim community to agree on a standardized German-language translation of the Koran, the Hadiths and other Islamic religious texts. The government has argued that an official version of the texts would prevent their "misinterpretation" by Islamic extremists.

NY Top Court Hears Arguments Over Tax Exemption For Land of Pagan Group

Yesterday, the New York Court of Appeals-- the state's highest court-- heard oral arguments in Matter of Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, Inc. v McCoy.  At issue is whether a neo-Pagan group is entitled to a tax exemption for a piece of property that includes a 12-bedroom house that was formerly an inn, a caretaker's cottage, several outbuildings and an outdoor temple.  The major disagreement is over whether the property is used primarily for religious purposes, as the state intermediate appellate court held (full text of opinion), or whether it is used primarily for residential purposes as the Town of Catskill and the trial court concluded. (See prior posting.) The Albany Times-Union reports on yesterday's arguments. A webcast of the oral arguments will be posted here by the Court next week.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

British Parliament Passes Measure To Permit Women Bishops In Church of England

In Britain yesterday, the House of Commons debated and gave final Parliamentary approval to the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure  which provides for consecration of women as bishops in the Church of England and continues the provision for ordination of women as priests. The Measure will now be presented for royal assent. Law & Religion UK has an extensive report on the Measure, debate on it and remaining steps that need to be taken by the Church. The Measure also amended the Equality Act to provide that bishops will not be considered public officers. The effect of this, according to statements made during debate, is to "enabl[e] the Church to provide for those who, as a result of theological conviction, do not wish to receive episcopal oversight from a woman."

North Carolina County Commission Resolution Opposes Court's Marriage Equality Ruling

On Monday night, the Columbus County, North Carolina Board of Commissioners, by a vote of 6-1, passed a resolution asking for the federal court ruling invalidating North Carolina's same-sex marriage ban to "be reviewed and reconsidered to protect the foundation that America was established on."  According to WECT News, Commissioner Ricky Bullard who sponsored the resolution said it was motivated by his religious views, commenting: "In the Bible, it always talks about Adam and Eve. I've never heard it talk about Adam and Steve."

Israeli Rabbinate To Review Religious Conversions By Criminally-Charged D.C. Rabbi

Haaretz reported yesterday the the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is reviewing the validity of conversions to Judaism performed in recent years by Washington, D.C. Orthodox Rabbi Barry Freundel who was arrested last week and charged with secretly videoing women who were undressing in the synagogue's mikveh (ritual bath). (See prior posting.) The review comes even though the U.S.-based Rabbinical Council of America already ruled yesterday "as a matter of Jewish law that conversions performed by Rabbi Freundel prior to his arrest on October 14, 2014 remain halakhically valid and prior converts remain Jewish in all respects." There has been tension in recent years more generally over whether Israel's rabbinate will recognize conversions performed elsewhere.  Since the Chief Rabbinate has final legal authority on who will be considered Jewish for purposes of marriage in Israel, a negative ruling by them could affect the status of at least four women converted by Freundel who have moved to Israel to marry.

UPDATE: Haaretz reportsthat the Chief Rabbinate in a statement published Oct. 21 said that it will raise no questions regarding the validity of past conversions by Rabbi Fruendel. This comes after strong international criticism of the Rabbinate's initial decision to possibly question some of the past conversions.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Malaysian State Says It Will Enforce Mosque Attendance Law

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) issued a statement today opposing the announced plans of the government of the Malaysian state of Kelatan to enforce a provision of a 1994 law that criminalizes the failure of Muslim men to go for Friday prayers in the local mosque three times in a row. Section 104 of Enakmen Majlis Agama Islam dan Adat Istiadat Melayu Kelantan 1994 (Enactment of Religious and Malay Customs--Kelatan 1994) imposes a fine equivalent to $305 (US) and up to one year in prison for violation of the requirement. According to LFL the law violates Malaysia's Constitution:
The provision would be in serious breach of article 5 on liberty of the person; article 8 on equal protection of the law; article 9 on prohibition on freedom of movement; and arguably article 11 on freedom of religion.
From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Carter v. Davis, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148037 (ED VA, Oct. 16, 2014), a Virginia federal district court dismissed, with leave to amend, an inmate's complaint that he was removed from the Common Fare diet which made it impossible for him to have access to kosher food.

In Mallory v. Commissary Store at GBDF, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148189 (SD CA, Oct. 16, 2014), a California federal district court dismissed with leave to amend an inmate's claim over lack of kosher hygiene or cosmetic products.

Pakistan Appeals Court Upholds Christian Woman's Death Sentence For Blasphemy

In Pakistan on Thursday, in a high-profile case a 2-judge panel of the High Court in Lahore upheld the death sentence on blasphemy charges that had been imposed in 2010 on a Christian woman, Asia Bibi.  Morning Star News and World Watch Monitor carry extensive reports on the decision. The charges against Bibi (who is also known as Aasiya Noreen) grew out of her alleged response to Muslim co-workers in a berry field who told her to convert to Islam after one of the workers insisted that Bibi had made the water she brought to them impure by touching it. An appeal to the Supreme Court is planned, but it will probably not be heard for at least three years.  Death sentences are rarely actually carried out in blasphemy cases in Pakistan, though the accused and their lawyers are often victims of vigilante violence.  Concern continues over Bibi's safety even as she is held in prison. In 2011, Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province, was assassinated by one of his own security guards who was angered by Taseer's support for a pardon for Bibi. (See prior posting.)

Court Orders Minister To Return Church Keys, Mercedes and Stay Away From Church Premises

On Thursday, an Alabama state trial court issued a preliminary injunction ordering Rev. Juan McFarland to turn over his church keys to the deacons and trustees of Montgomery's Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church that he led for 24 years. He was also ordered to return the Mercedes furnished to him by the church and to stay away from the church. AP reports that lay laders of the church filed the lawsuit against McFarland after the congregation voted in a contentious meeting to fire the minister, but he refused to leave.  He continued preaching, changed the church locks, took control of its bank accounts and attempted to fire longtime church officials.  The congregation's action was triggered by a series of sermons McFarland delivered in August and September in which he confessed to having sex with married church members in the church building, not telling his sex partners that he has AIDS, and using illegal drugs. He said God commanded him to make the publc confession.  A court  hearing on a permanent injunction is scheduled for Dec. 1.

Nigerian Court Upholds Ban On Head Scarves In Public Schools

According to AFP, in Nigeria on Friday a judge on the High Court in Lagos upheld the Lagos State government's ban on wearing of the hijab (Muslim head scarf) in public schools. In upholding the ban introduced last year, the court said in part:
The ban on the use of hijab in public schools in Lagos is not a breach of the applicants' fundamental rights to religion because Nigeria as a secular state does not adopt any religion as a state religion.
Removing the ban on the hijab will be tantamount to promoting a particular religion against the others and this may lead to social tensions.
The  Muslim Students Society of Nigeria which brought the challenge says it will appeal.

Black Separatist Religious Group Wins Right To Demonstrate Outide of Mall

In Liberty Place Retail Associates, L.P., v. Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, (PA Super. Ct., Oct. 14, 2014),  a 3-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed a trial court's denial of a permanent injunction to prevent a Hebrew Israelite religious organization from holding demonstrations on a public sidewalk outside a Philadelphia Center City shopping mall. At issue are hate-filled Black-separatist demonstrations held on a weekly basis. The court rejected the shopping mall's trespass and private nuisance claims. Philadelphia Daily News reports on the decision.

New Acting Head of DOJ Civil Rights Division Appointed

The Justice Department announced last Wednesday that beginning tomorrow Vanita Gupta will serve as Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. She succeeds Molly Moran who will become Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General. A New York Times editorial on Friday praised the Gupta appointment and said that the President has indicated he plans to send her name to the Senate as a nominee for the position on a permanent basis. Gupta comes to the Justice Department from the ACLU where she serves as its deputy legal director and has worked actively on criminal justice reform. She is well-liked by many conservatives as well as by liberals.  Last March the U.S. Senate rejected Debo Adegbile, President Obama's previous nominee for the permanent position of Assistant Attorney General to head the Civil Rights Division. (See prior posting.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Houston Narrows Subpoenas, But Pastors Say Not Enough

The city of Houston, Texas announced yesterday that it has filed narrowed subpoenas against five pastors in a lawsuit against it challenging rejection of referendum petition signatures.  At issue is an attempt by opponents of the city's Equal Rights Ordinance to obtain its repeal.  Much of the opposition-- particularly to provisions on transgender rights-- was led by clergy. Originally the city issued broad subpoenas calling for all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to the Ordinance or issues surrounding it. (See prior posting.) The new subpoenas omit any reference to sermons, but still seek information from 5 pastors who were leaders in the referendum petition drive on the petition gathering process. According to Mayor Annise Parker:
This is not about what they may be preaching from the pulpit.  It is about proving that the petition gathering process organized by these pastors did not meet the requirements of the City Charter.  This information is critical to proving the city’s contention that the petition was ineligible for placement on the ballot and that the organizers knew this.
Alliance Defending Freedom (representing the pastors) still objects to the narrowed subpoenas, stating in a press release:
The city of Houston still doesn’t get it. It thinks that by changing nothing in its subpoenas other than to remove the word ‘sermons’ that it has solved the problem. That solves nothing. Even though the pastors are not parties in this lawsuit, the subpoenas still demand from them 17 different categories of information – information that encompasses speeches made by the pastors and private communications with their church members. As we have stated many times, the problem is the subpoenas themselves; they must be rescinded entirely. The city must respect the First Amendment and abandon its illegitimate mission to invade the private communications of pastors for the purpose of strong-arming them into silence in a lawsuit that concerns nothing more than the authenticity of citizen petitions.

Kansas Diocese Settles 30 Abuse Cases On Eve of Jury Deliberations

Last Tuesday, just as the jury was about to begin deliberations after an 11-day trial in one case, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph agreed to settle 30 claims of priest sexual abuse for $9.95 million.  The Kansas City Star reports that these are all claims filed since 2010 alleging alleging abuse by 13 current or former priests taking place 20 or more years ago.

German State's Parliament Votes To Eliminate Mention of God From Constitution; Catholics Seek Reconsideration

Religion News Service reported earlier this week that in the German state of  Schleswig-Holstein, Catholics are trying to get Parliament to reverse its vote last week to exclude the mention of God from the Preamble of the new Constituiton that Parliament is drafting. In order to obtain reconsideration of the decision that passed by a two-thirds majority, proponents must obtain 20,000 signatures.  Six other of the 16 German states have already eliminated the mention of God from their state constitutions.

Canada's Supreme Court Hears Challenge To City Council Invocations

On Oct. 14, the Supreme Court of Canada heard oral arguments in Mouvement laïque québécois v. City of Saguenay. In the case (summary), appellants claim that the opening of Saguenay, Quebec's municipal council meetings with a prayer, and the presence of Christian religious symbols in council chambers, violate the provision of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantee freedom of conscience and religion. A webcast of the full oral arguments is available from the Court's website. The Globe & Mail reports on the case.

Avalanche of Same-Sex Marriage Legal Developments

In the last several days there has been an avalanche of legal developments relating to same-sex marriages:

Alaska:  Yesterday in Parnell v. Hamby, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order denying a stay of a federal district court's decision striking down Alaska's same-sex marriage ban.

Arizona: in Majors v. Horne,(D AZ, Oct. 17, 2014) and Connolly v. Jeanes, (D AZ, Oct. 17, 2014), an Arizona federal district court in two short and substantially identical opinions struck down Arizona's ban on same-sex marriages, citing the 9th Circuit's decision earlier this month in Latta v. Otter striking down bans in Nevada and Idaho. (See prior posting.) State Attorney General Tom Horne announced he would not appeal and sent a letter to the state's 15 county clerks telling them that they may not deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Arizona Republic reports on developments.

Wyoming: In Guzzo v. Mead, (D WY, Oct. 17, 2014), a Wyoming federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against Wyoming's ban on same-sex marriage and recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.  However the court also granted a stay of its injunction until Oct. 23 to allow an appeal to the 10th Circuit or until an earlier date at which the state informs the court that it will not appeal. Governor Matt Mead's office announced that the state will file a notice with the district court that it will not appeal the decision.

Idaho: Two Christian ministers and their for-profit wedding chapel located across the street from the Kootenai County (Idaho) Clerk’s office (which issues marriage licenses) brought suit in an Idaho federal district court to enjoin the city of Coeur d'Alene from enforcing its anti-discrimination ordinance against them. The 63-page complaint (full text) in Knapp v. City of Coeur d'Alene, (D ID, filed Oct. 17, 2014) contends that the Ordinance violates plaintiffs' 1st and 14th Amendment rights as well as their rights under state law. Plaintiffs also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction.  ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

North Carolina: In North Carolina, the general counsel of the state's Administrative Office of the Courts on Oct. 14 issued a memo (full text) to judges and magistrates stating that magistrates must perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples who present a license in the same way they do for opposite-sex couples. Refusal to do so could lead to suspension, removal or even criminal charges. In response, on Thursday Rockingham County Magistrate Judge John Kallam who has religious objections to performing same-sex marriages resigned.  Alamance County Judge Jim Roberson, who originally suggested that Magistrates with religious objections be excused from performing same-sex ceremonies, issued a statement yesterday saying that magistrates in his county are required to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples. (Qnotes.)  Time Warner Cable News reported on developments.

Federal Government: On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the federal government will now recognize same-sex marriages performed in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin for purposes of extending federal benefits. The action came after the Supreme Court refused review of Circuit Court decisions affecting those states. Apparently (though there is some slight ambiguity in DOJ's announcement) the federal government will also recognize same-sex marriages performed in Nevada and Idaho after the Supreme Court refused to stay the 9th Circuit's decision as to those states. (See prior posting.)