Monday, November 18, 2019

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN: (Non-U.S. Law):
New Report:

Sunday, November 17, 2019

House Holds Hearings On Human Rights Issues In India's Jammu and Kashmir

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held hearings on Jammu and Kashmir in Context. The Committee sets out the context:
The Indian government’s decision to change the legal status of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, announced in August and effective as of October 31, 2019, has attracted intense attention due to persistent reports of human rights violations, including a crackdown on freedom of expression; the arbitrary “preventive” detention of hundreds of politicians, lawyers, journalists, and other civil society figures and related fears of enforced disappearance; and the use of excessive force against protesters. The increased militarization of the security presence in the region and the economic and social consequences of the central government’s actions, including continuing restrictions on internet and phones, have also provoked widespread concern. In addition, militants have targeted migrant workers from outsider Kashmir, and have threatened businesses to maintain a protest shutdown.
A video of the two and one-half hour hearing along with transcripts of witness' prepared statements and material submitted for the record are all available at the Commission's website. These include testimony from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom focusing on religious freedom for minorities in India.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Planned Parenthood Wins Suit Against Activists Who Released Secret Manipulated Videos

Newsweek reports that a federal district court jury in San Francisco has awarded nearly $2 million in punitive and compensatory damages to Planned Parenthood:
Planned Parenthood won a lawsuit worth $2 million Friday, after a jury found that an anti-abortion group had broken multiple laws by secretly recording and releasing manipulatively edited video footage of doctors and staff.
The Center for Medical Progress and its founder David Daleiden were found guilty of fraud, trespassing and illegal secret recording.... Planned Parenthood says that clandestinely recorded video footage was manipulated and edited to make it appear as though they were attempting to profit off of fetal tissue donations, something they deny has ever taken place.
The videos were taken between 2013 and 2015, and apparently feature Daleiden and co-defendant Sandra Merritt pretending to be representatives of a fake company called "BioMax."

Friday, November 15, 2019

International Criminal Court Authorizes Investigation Into Persecution of Rohingya By Myanmar

Yesterday, in a 58-page decision (full text), a 3-judge Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court sitting at The Hague authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar. The Court's press release summarizes the decision:
The Chamber concluded that the Court may exercise jurisdiction over crimes when part of the criminal conduct takes place on the territory of a State Party. While Myanmar is not a State Party, Bangladesh ratified the ICC Rome statute in 2010. Upon review of the available information, the Chamber accepted that there exists a reasonable basis to believe widespread and/or systematic acts of violence may have been committed that could qualify as the crimes against humanity of deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion against the Rohingya population..... 
Noting the scale of the alleged crimes and the number of victims allegedly involved, the Chamber considered that the situation clearly reaches the gravity threshold. According to the supporting material, an estimated 600,000 to one million Rohingya were forcibly displaced from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result of the alleged coercive acts. Noting the victims' views, the Chamber agreed with the Prosecutor that there are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation into the situation would not be in the interests of justice.

Priest and His Church Sued Over Insensitive Funeral Homily

Detroit News reports on a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in a Michigan state trial court seeking damages from priest  Rev. Don LaCuesta and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan for a homily which La Cuesta delivered at the funeral of plaintiff's son last December.  At the funeral of the son, who had committed suicide, LaCuesta delivered this homily which condemned suicide, but added that God can forgive it.  The priest ignored a plea by the deceased's father during the funeral to stop.  After the funeral, the Archdiocese and the priest both issued apologies. The lawsuit alleges that plaintiff, mother of the deceased, "continues to suffer great pain of mind and body, shock, severe and permanent emotional distress … and difficulty in practicing religion through the church."

School's Challenge To Disqualification From Voucher Program Moves Ahead

In Bethel Ministries, Inc. v. Salmon(D MD, Nov. 14, 2019), a Maryland federal district court refused to dismiss a suit brought by a Christian school against state authorities claiming that the school was discriminated against on religious grounds when its eligibility to participate in the state's school voucher program (known as "BOOST") was removed. In order to participate, a school has to have a non-discrimination policy that include bans on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  As explained by the court:
Bethel does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in its statement of nondiscrimination.... In the next paragraph, the handbook says, It should be noted, however, that Bethel Christian Academy supports the biblical view of marriage defined as a covenant between one man and one woman, and that God immutably bestows gender upon each person at birth as male or female to reflect his image … faculty, staff, and student conduct is expected to align with this view....
Irrespective of any language in the handbook, however, Bethel does not consider sexual orientation in the admissions process. The court reasoned:
If, as it alleges, Bethel has not discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation in admissions, then it has plausibly alleged that Defendants infringed upon several of its constitutional rights. Namely, Bethel has presented a plausible case that the Advisory Board’s determination of ineligibility was motivated by the school’s religious affiliation.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Challenge To Religious Anti-Discrimination Waiver Dismissed For Lack of Standing

In Maddonna v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (D SC, Nov. 13, 2019), a South Carolina federal district court dismissed for lack of standing a challenge to action by the federal government and the state that, through a waiver of anti-discrimination requirements, allowed a religiously affiliated foster care agency to place children only with evangelical Christians. The court said in part:
Plaintiff could only conceivably attempt to assert taxpayer standing as to her claims regarding the Establishment Clause. Even then, Plaintiff has not set forth any challenge to any legislative action, but has, rather, challenged discretionary executive actions and appropriations....
 Assuming without deciding that Plaintiff’s other alleged injuries - i.e. that she was denied the opportunity to volunteer and/or become a foster parent through Miracle Hill and was discriminated against in the process - has been sufficiently alleged ..., the court finds that Plaintiff has failed to establish that such injury was fairly traceable to any Defendant....  [A]t the time Plaintiff was denied the ability to volunteer with or foster through Miracle Hill in 2014, the actions of which she complains had not taken place, and, therefore, cannot conceivably have caused or even contributed to Plaintiff’s alleged harm.
The State reports on the decision.

Gambia Sues Myanmar In International Court of Justice Over Rohingya Genocide

The International Court of Justice announced this week that the Republic of Gambia has instituted proceedings against Myanmar alleging actions taken and condoned against Rohingya Muslims violated the Genocide Convention. The full text of Gambia's Nov. 11 Application Instituting Proceedings is available from the ICJ's website. Myanmar Times reports on the filing of the case.

State Must Issue "IM GOD" Vanity License Plate

In Hart v. Thomas, (ED KY, Nov. 13, 2019), a Kentucky federal district court held that a car owner's First Amendment rights were infringed when the state refused to issue him a vanity licence plate reading "IM GOD".  The court said in part:
...[A]voidance of controversy is a valid ground for restricting speech in a nonpublic forum.... However, the Transportation Cabinet has been so inconsistent in its application of § 186.174 that it has ceased to be “consistent with [Kentucky’s] legitimate government interest” in any way. If the Transportation Cabinet genuinely wants to avoid controversy on Kentucky’s highways by preventing “promotion of any specific faith, religion, or anti-religion” from appearing on vanity plates, then it should have denied “IM4GOD”, “ASKGOD”, GR8GOD”, “LUVGOD”. But it did not.... Instead, the Transportation Cabinet has approved multiple vanity plates featuring the word “god”.... This suggests that the law as applied to Mr. Hart is neither reasonable nor viewpoint neutral. To allow such plates as “IM4GOD” and “LUVGOD” but reject “IM GOD” belies viewpoint neutrality.
FFRF issued a press release announcing the decision.

11th Circuit: Christian School Can Proceed In Challenge To Pre-Game Loudspeaker Prayer Ban

In Cambridge Christian School, Inc. v. Florida High School Athletic Association, Inc., (11th Cir., Nov. 13, 2019), the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Christian school could move ahead with its complaint that its free speech and free exercise rights were infringed when it was denied permission to broadcast a joint prayer over the loudspeaker at the state championship high school football game. Both schools in the playoff were Christian schools. In its 70-page opinion, the court said in part:
As we see it, the district court was too quick to dismiss all of Cambridge Christian’s claims out of hand. Taking the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, as we must at this stage in the proceedings, the schools’ claims for relief under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses have been adequately and plausibly pled. There are too many open factual questions for us to say with confidence that the allegations cannot be proven as a matter of law. The question of whether all speech over the microphone was government speech is a heavily fact-intensive one that looks at the history of the government’s use of the medium for communicative purposes, the implication of government endorsement of messages carried over that medium, and the degree of government control over those messages.... [B]ased on this limited record, we find it plausible that the multitude of messages delivered over the loudspeaker should be viewed as private, not government, speech. And while we agree with the district court that the loudspeaker was a nonpublic forum, we conclude that Cambridge Christian has plausibly alleged that it was arbitrarily and haphazardly denied access to the forum in violation of the First Amendment. Likewise, we cannot say, again drawing all inferences in favor of the appellant, that in denying scommunal prayer over the loudspeaker, the FHSAA did not infringe on Cambridge Christian’s free exercise of religion.
WCTV News reports on the decision.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

5th Circuit Upholds Stay of Execution For Buddhist Inmate

In Murphy v. Collier, (5th Cir., Nov. 12, 2019), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a stay of execution granted last week by a Texas federal district court in the case of a Buddhist inmate who challenges the access he will have to his religious adviser prior to his execution. The district court granted a stay to allow it time to explore factual concerns about the balance between the inmate's religious rights and the prison’s valid concerns for security. (See prior posting.) Christian and Muslim inmates have access to chaplains until the moment they enter the execution chamber.  Members of other religions have access to their outside clergy only until 5:00 p.m.on the day of execution. In his majority opinion for the 5th Circuit, Judge Dennis wrote in part:
We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting Murphy’s stay. We agree with the district court’s implicit finding that Murphy has a strong likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that the TDCJ policy violates his rights by allowing inmates who share the same faith as TDCJ-employed clergy greater access to a spiritual advisor in the death house.
Judge Elrod dissented, saying in part:
Because I believe Murphy did not demonstrate that he is likely to succeed on his brand-new, untimely, and unexhausted claim regarding the TDCJ’s pre-execution holding-area protocol, I would hold that the district court abused its discretion in granting Murphy’s motion for stay of execution.
CNN reports on the decision.

Village Sues Church Over Its Homeless Shelter

RNS reports that the affluent Chicago suburb of Village of Orland Park has filed suit against Hope Covenant Church seeking to close down its homeless shelter== the first in the village in over 30 years.  According to RNS:
With temperatures dipping down near the single digits, the seasonal shelter has housed between 15 and 50 people one night every week, including a toddler and local public high school students.
The overnight shelter, the result of a partnership with Illinois’ Beds Plus community organization, is open every Tuesday until April — unless a lawsuit by The Village of Orland Park succeeds in closing it down.
Last week, Village attorneys filed a lawsuit against the church, arguing that the shelter “constitutes an ongoing threat to public health and safety.” The lawsuit cited 28 health and safety code violations caused by the church using the building, which was intended solely for religious services, as an overnight shelter.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

FBI Releases 2018 Hate Crime Statistics

Today the FBI released its 2018 Hate Crime Statistics. In 2018, 7,120 hate crime incidents were reported to the FBI by law enforcement authorities. These involved 8,496 offenses,  That was down from 7,175 incidents in 2017. Of 7,036 single-bias incidents, 20.2% (1,550 offenses) were motivated by religious bias.  57.8% of the religiously motivated incidents were anti-Jewish.  The next largest group of religiously motivated hate crimes were 14.5% which were anti-Muslim. 4.1% were anti-Sikh. 3.8% were anti-Catholic. Following release of the data, the ADL issued a press release saying in part:
It is unacceptable that Jews and Jewish institutions continue to be at the center of religion-based hate crime attacks.... We strongly urge Congress to immediately pass the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality (NO HATE) Act.

Switzerland's Rejection of Asylum Claim By Christian Convert Violates Human Rights Convention

In A.A. v. Switzerland, (ECHR, Nov. 5, 2019) (full text of decision in French), the European Court of Human Rights held that Switzerland had violated Art. 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in its rejection of a claim for asylum by an Afghan national of Hazara ethnicity who was a Muslim convert to Christianity. As summarized by the Court's press release:
The Court noted that according to many international documents on the situation in Afghanistan, Afghans who had become Christians or who were suspected of conversion would be exposed to a risk of persecution by various groups. It could take the form of State persecution and result in the death penalty.
The Court noted that, while the authenticity of the applicant’s conversion in Switzerland had been accepted by the Federal Administrative Court, it had not carried out a sufficient assessment of the risks that could be personally faced by the applicant if he were returned to Afghanistan. The Court found in particular that the file did not contain any evidence that the applicant had been questioned about the everyday practice of his Christian faith since his baptism in  Switzerland and how he could, if returned, continue to practise it in Afghanistan, in particular in Kabul, where he had never lived and where he said that he would be unable to rebuild his future life.

Japan's New Emperor To Celebrate Enthronement Rite of Night With Goddess

According to WION, this Thursday brings the last major enthronement rite for Japan's new Emperor Naruhito-- spending the night with the sun goddess from whom some believe the Emperor is descended. This ceremony, known as the Daijosai has led to a suit by a group of 300 people who claim that the millions of dollars spent by the government on the ceremony violates the separation of church and state.