Monday, April 30, 2007

Regulation of Islamic Banking Considered In Canada and UK

The Canadian law firm of of Strikeman Elliott has posted a newsletter titled Islamic Financial Services: Overview and Prospects for the Canadian Marketplace. It says that Canada's Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions has indicated that it is considering regulatory issues relating to the offering of Sharia-compliant financial products in Canada. Around the world, demand has grown for this type of financial alternative as oil wealth has increased and non-Muslim investors seek out ethical investments. In Britain, the Financial Services Authority has authorized both a Sharia-compliant retail bank and a Sharia-compliant investment bank. In April 2006, Britain's FSA issued a Consultation Paper on rules relating to Sharia-compliant Home Purchase Plans.

Obama's Faith and His Religious Mentor Featured In NYT Article

Today's New York Times carries a long front-page article on Senator Barack Obama's religious faith and the shaping influence of Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. on that faith. While Obama has been shaped by the theology he learned at Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ, he is now attempting to distance himself from Wright's assertions about white racism and some of Wright's criticisms of U.S. policy. Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope", took its title from one of Wright's sermons.

Church Sued After Member Is Injured In Ecstatic Prayer

In a Michigan state court, a jury trial begins today in an unusual negligence suit against Lansing's Mount Hope Assemblies of God Church and its pastor, Dave Williams. Last Friday's Lansing State Journal explains that church member Judith Dadd alleges she suffered a concussion and scalp lacerations, headaches, depression, fatigue and memory loss, all from a fall she took in 2002 while praying at the church. She says she answered a call to the altar, where it is common for members to collapse to the floor when they "are overcome by the Spirit of the Lord". Church ushers are supposed to be trained to catch those who fall, but no one caught her this time. Dadd is also suing Pastor Williams for defamation because of statements he made about her and her lawsuit at a church leadership rally and in a letter to some members of the congregation. [Thanks to Brian D. Wassom for the lead.]

Newsweek Features Articles On Religion In the Military During Wartime

Much of this week's issue of Newsweek is devoted to its cover theme, "God & War". Articles include: How Chaplains, Soldiers Keep Faith During War; Chaplains: The Calm in the Chaos; One Flag, Many Faiths; and God, War and the Presidency. The website also links to a podcast in which Army Chaplain Roger Benimoff discusses Religion in a Time of War. Benimoff, and his struggle to keep his faith in light of his experiences in Iraq, are the subject of the magazine's main story. It focuses on voluminous e-mails and a hand printed journal kept by Benimoff during his two tours of duty in Iraq. Here is an excerpt from the article:
[Benimoff's] experience ... is a tale of a devout young man who begins his time in Iraq brimming with faith and a sense of devotion that carries him into a second tour.... A mixture of adrenaline and devotion keeps Benimoff focused in the theater of war. Yet over time, his spiritual foundation is shaken by the carnage. The demons surface in full once he finds more time for reflection. After joining Walter Reed last June, Benimoff was plagued by questions.... For a brief period early this year, he came to "hate" God, and wanted nothing to do with religion.
And here is a more general summary from the article of soldiers' religious practices:
Many American soldiers in Iraq wear crosses; some carry a pocket-size, camouflage New Testament with an index that lists topics such as Fear, Loneliness and Duty. U.S. troops have conducted baptisms in the Tigris. They often huddle in prayer before they go on patrol. Not everyone is comfortable with this. About 80 percent of soldiers polled in a 2006 Military Times survey said they felt free to practice their religion within the military. But the same poll found that 36 percent of troops found themselves at official gatherings at least once a month that were supposed to be secular but started with a prayer.

10 Most Important Evangelicals For Republican Primary Named

Religion News Service on Saturday published its nominations for the evangelical Christian religious leaders who will be most important to Republican candidates in the 2008 presidential primaries.

Its top ten are: (1) Tony Perkins (Family Research Council); (2) James Dobson (Focus on the Family); (3) Michael Farris (Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College); (4) Richard Land (Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission); (5) Pam Olsen (Florida Prayer Network); (6) Rod Parsley (Reformation Ohio and Center for Moral Clarity); (7) Steve Scheffler (Iowa Christian Alliance); (8) Tamara Scott (Concerned Women For America); (9) Jay Sekulow (American Center for Law and Justice); and (10) Don Wildmon (American Family Association). [Thanks to Mainstream Baptist for the lead.]

Recent Scholarly Articles On Law and Religion

From SSRN:
Rev. John J. Coughlin, O.F.M., Canon Law, (Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 07-27, April 23, 2007).

Mohammad Fadel, Public Reason as a Strategy for Principled Reconciliation: The Case of Islamic Law and International Human Rights, (University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 981777 , April 2007).

Mark William Osler, Aseret Had'Varim in Tension: The Ten Commandments and the Bill of Rights, (July 15, 2007).

From Bepress:
Samuel Asher Blaustein, "Honor Thy Father and Mother": Children’s Obligations to Honor & Support Parents - A Comparative Analysis of Jewish and American Secular Law, (April 2007).

From Global Jurist:
Faiz Ahmed, Shari'a, Custom, and Statutory Law: Comparing State Approaches to Islamic Jurisprudence, Tribal Autonomy, and Legal Development in Afghanistan and Pakistan, (Vol. 7, Issue 1, 2007).

From SmartCILP:
Symposium: Disentangling Church and State: Have the Courts Done Enough?, Foreword by Tom Lininger; articles by Erwin Chemerinsky, Clark B. Lombardi, Steven K. Green, Kelly W.G. Clark, Kristian Spencer Roggendorf, student Peter B. Janci, Rev. Charles F. Hinkle and Mark David Hall. 85 Oregon Law Review 351-614 (2006).

Divorced Couple Battles In Courts Over Son's Religious Circumcision

An AP story carried widely yesterday reports on a divorced Oregon couple who are battling in the courts over whether their 12-year old son will have a religious circumcision. After the couple divorced, the father converted to Judaism. The mother originally had custody of their son, but the boy's custody was subsequently transferred to the father. The boy then decided that he would like to follow his father's example and also convert to Judaism, knowing that circumcision would be part of the conversion. Both the trial and appellate courts have ruled that the father, as custodial parent, has the right to decide if the child will have elective surgery. The mother has appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, arguing against the circumcision. She claims that their son really does not want to undergo the procedure, but is afraid to defy his father.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

NYT Magazine Story On Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

Today's New York Times Magazine features a story by James Traub on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Titled Islam Democrats?, the story concludes that "the Muslim Brotherhood, for all its rhetorical support of Hamas, could well be precisely the kind of moderate Islamic body that the administration says it seeks. And as with Islamist parties in Turkey and Morocco, the experience of practical politics has made the brotherhood more pragmatic, less doctrinaire."

Settlement Allows Religious Limits In Online Employment Ad By College

A Joint Stipulation of Dismissal has been filed in Geneva College v. Chao, (WD PA, April 26, 2007). As reported previously, the case involves a challenge to the imposition of non-discrimination requirements on religious institutions desiring to post job openings in a federally-financed Internet-based job listing service. Religiously-based Geneva College requires employees to articulate a commitment to Jesus. The agreed settlement with government officials provides that merely listing positions through the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry's listing service that was funded by federal Workforce Investment Act funds does not make Geneva College a recipient of WIA funding. The non-discrimination provisions apply only to recipients of such funds. However, were the college to become a recipient of WIA funds in the future, posting of jobs funded through WIA would be subject to the non-discrimination provisions. Alliance Defense Fund issued a release praising the settlement.

Danish Politicians Skeptical Of Run For Parliament By Muslim Woman

In Denmark, according to the AP on Friday, politicians are disturbed by the announcement that an observant Muslim woman plans to run for Parliament in 2009. Asama Abdol-Hamid wears an Islamic head scarf and refuses to shake hands with men. This has led even members of left-wing parties to question whether Abdol-Hamid shares the fundamental values of Danish society. Last year, Abdol-Hamid became the first woman to host a Danish TV show wearing a head scarf. Muslim spokesmen say the reaction to Abdol-Hamid's announcement shows the basic lack of respect for Islam in Denmark.

Recent and Upcoming Books of Interest

Harvard University Press: Yale University Press: Princeton Univerisy Press:

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lacrosse Player Loses On Religious Objection To Immunization

In Hadley v. Rush Henrietta Central School District, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30586 (WD NY, April 19, 2007), a New York federal district court dismissed free exercise and equal protection challenges brought on behalf of a high school student seeking to be excused from the requirement that he be immunized for tetanus in order to play on the lacrosse team. Harry Hadley was granted a religious waiver of the usual requirement that he receive immunizations in order to attend school. However, his Rochester area school said that the waiver did not extend to participation in extra-curricular activities. The court found that since the policy was a generally applicable neutral policy, and since there is no constitutional right to participate in extra-curricular sports, it is enough that the school had a rational safety reason to impose the immunization requirement. (See prior related posting.)

Amish Dairy Farmers Do Not Appreciate Help In Complying With ID Law

As reported previously, some Amish dairy farmers in Wisconsin have religious objections to participating in the state’s new "premise ID" law requiring them to register with the state and get an identification number for their farm. Now, according to last week's Vernon Broadcaster, it turns out that a number of Vernon County Amish farmers were assigned ID numbers without their knowledge. The creamery that buys milk from many of the Amish farms thought it could be helpful by giving the state information so ID numbers could be assigned. The creamery board thought that assigning ID numbers secretly would avoid religious conflicts for the farmers. But many of the farmers found out that they had been given IDs and now want to know how to get rid of them. Apparently the only way is to sell off all livestock, apply for a revocation, and then repurchase the animals. Meanwhile, discussions are proceeding on other possible solutions.

NJ Court Rejects Hindu Temple's Zoning Challenge

In Hindu Temple & Cultural Society v. Town of Bridgewater, (NJ Super., April 25, 2007), a New Jersey trial court upheld the Bridgewater Township Zoning Board of Adjustment's denial of certain requested zoning variances for a Hindu Temple that wanted to expand its cultural center and build an apartment-style building to house priests. The court decided that the Board's denial of the variances was not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable and so did not violate New Jersey's Municipal Land Use Law. The court also rejected claims that bias against Hindus affected the Board’s decision. However claims under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act remain to be adjudicated in the case. Friday’s Bridgewater Courier News reported on the judge’s decision.

Turkish Army Threatens to Act To Protect Secularism

On Friday in Turkey, the ruling Justice and Development Party's candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, failed to win a first-ballot victory in the Parliamentary balloting for president because of a boycott by opposition legislators. Gul's party has Islamist roots. Secularists, including the military, fear that Gul's election will undermine Turkey’s secular tradition. (Associated Press). In a statement issued Saturday, the Turkish Army threatened to act to defend the country's traditional separation of state and religion, decrying attempts to redefine the Turkey's fundamental values. BBC News carries a background piece on secularism in Turkey.

South Carolina Bill Would Suggest Acceptable Governmental Prayers

In the South Carolina legislature last Thursday, a subcommittee approved and referred to the full Senate Judiciary Committee S. 638, the South Carolina Public Prayer and Invocation Act. The State reports that the bill is intended to give guidance to state and local governmental bodies on constitutionally permissible ways to open their sessions with prayer. It provides for voluntary invocations (1) by members of a council or board on a regular and objective rotating basis; (2) by a chaplain elected by the board or commission; or (3) by individuals chosen on an objective and rotating basis from "a wide pool of the religious leaders serving established religious congregations in the local community". The bill sets out language that must be included in invitations to clergy where this option is chosen. Letters to them must say that while the individual can pray according to the dictates or his conscience, the prayer cannot proselytize, or advance or disparage any particular religion.

Title VII Accommodation May Respect Union Agreement

Earlier this week, carried an article discussing the interaction between collective bargaining agreements and an employer's obligation under Title VII of the 1964 Civil rights Act to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practices. The article focuses on the decision last month in Stolley v. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., (5th Cir. Mar. 28, 2007). In it, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that an employer need not deviate from the terms of a collective bargaining agreement in order to accommodate an employee who refuses to work on his Sabbath. [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for the lead.]

Friday, April 27, 2007

City's Honoring Dalai Lama Challenged On Church-State Grounds

In Madison, Wisconsin, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to a decision by a city-county committee to permit the Tibetan flag to fly over City Hall during the May 2-4 visit to the city of the Dalai Lama. Racine's Journal Times today quotes Dan Barker, co-president of the group, who said: "To use the seat of our municipal government to honor a religious leader we think crosses the line of state-church separation. If the pope comes to Madison, are we going to put up the flag of Vatican City?"

Does Canadian Zoning Decision Improperly Impose Definition of A Church?

A decision by Vancouver, British Columbia's Planning Department has raised an interesting church-state issue, according to Canadian Christianity yesterday. The city says that the Tenth Avenue Christian Missionary Alliance church needs a social services permit to operate a drop-in lunch program and two programs that allow homeless to sleep overnight in the church building. A conditional permit was granted in 2005. It requires the church to keep records, report and patrol the surrounding neighborhood. The church has been operating under that permit, but now an activist, Bill Chu, is raising questions about the need for the permit. He argues that the city has essentially defined a "church" by determining that the social service activities here go beyond the normally expected uses of a church. He says that this definition is inconsistent with the fundamental nature of Christianity. Chu has called together Christian, Jewish and Sikh religious leaders in Vancouver to urge them to join in protesting the city's ruling.

House Judiciary Committee Approves Hate Crimes Bill After Rejecting Proposed Amendments

The House Judiciary Committee met yesterday to mark up H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. A major purpose of the bill is to add to the definition of hate crimes those motivated by the victim's sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. (See prior postings 1, 2.) Numerous amendments suggested in committee were defeated. Among the amendments rejected was one proposed by Indiana Representative Mike Pence providing: "Nothing in this section limits the religious freedom of any person or group under the constitution." This amendment was aimed at the concern expressed by some conservative Christians-- and said by proponents to be unfounded-- that the bill could be used to chill religiously-based criticism of gays and lesbians. Proposals to add unborn and partially born babies as protected classes under the Act also were rejected. Details of the committee's lengthy session are reported in articles by Baptist Press, the Traditional Values Coalition and LifeSiteNews. A video of the mark-up session is available on the Judiciary Committee's website.

After the Judiciary Committee's 10-hour session, the bill passed the committee by a vote of 20-14. A statement by committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. pointed out that the bill is has 137 cosponsors and is supported by more than 230 civil rights, education, religious, and civic organizations. Other provisions in the bill provide assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting violent hate crimes.

NY County Enacts "Symbolic" Ban on Racial and Religious Epithets

By a vote of 15-2, on March 20 the Rockland County, New York legislature passed a Resolution declaring "a symbolic elimination of the use of the 'N' word and all derogatory words which may be offensive to any group in Rockland County". The introductory clauses in the resolution make it clear that it is also intended to extend to words that reference various religions in a derogatory manner. (Minutes of meeting.) The resolution has become law without the signature of County Executive Scott Vanderhoef, according to a report yesterday in Newsday. In a statement issued yesterday, Vanderhoef said that education rather than regulation of speech would be a better approach to eliminating offensive words. Similar resolutions have been approved by New York City, Westchester County and Nyack.

Pakistan Bans Satirical Play About the Burqa

Pakistan's Culture Minister, Ghazi Gulab Jamal, has banned the Ajoka Theater from performing the satirical play Burqa Vaganza in other cities now that its run in Lahore has ended. The Middle East Times yesterday reported that the action was taken after Islamist members of Parliament complained that the play ridicules the burqa, traditionally worn by Muslim women. The Culture Minister said that the play ridicules Pakistan's cultural values. India's Tribune News Service describes the play as "a spoof on the clerics who run their business by fuelling the politics of 'hijab'. "

Proposed Jackson-Vanik Repeal Splits Chabad Movement

In 1975, in an attempt to pressure the Soviet Union into allowing free emigration of Soviet Jews, the U.S. Congress passed the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. It denied most-favored nation trading status to nations with non-market economies that restricted free emigration. Russia's current government would like the U.S. to repeal the law, and the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Russia has begun a campaign to encourage repeal, according to today's Forward. Chabad is the largest Jewish organization in Russia, and it has close ties with the government. However when House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos announced his support for repeal, he was besieged by rabbis from the U.S. wing of the Chabad movement that opposes repeal until the Russian government returns a Chabad library that was seized by the Soviets after World War II. Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a spokesman for the Moscow-based Federation of Jewish Communities said that American Chabad would more likely be successful in obtaining return of the library by being conciliatory toward Moscow, instead of using tactics that are perceived as blackmail. (See prior related posting.)

CT Senate Passes Rape Victim Bill Over Objections Of Catholic Conference

Despite continued objections by the Catholic Church, the Connecticut Senate on Wednesday approved by a vote of 32-3 Senate Bill 1343, the Compassionate Care For Victims of Sexual Assault bill. It would require all Connecticut hospitals to provide the Plan B emergency contraceptive to rape victims. North-Central Connecticut's Journal Inquirer reports that provisions were added to the bill in an unsuccessful attempt to gain support of Catholic hospitals. Hospitals could hire an outside physician to administer Plan B. In a letter to legislative leaders, the Connecticut Catholic Conference said that hiring someone outside of regular staff would not eliminate Catholic moral concerns where Plan B would act as an abortifacient (impeding implantation of a fertilized ovum rather than just preventing ovulation). The bill now goes to Connecticut's House of Representatives where there appear to be enough votes to also pass it. (See prior related posting.)

UPDATE: On May 2, the House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 113-36, and, according to the Hartford Courant, it is expected that Governor M. Jodi Rell will sign it. House Speaker James Amann said he is still open to a future compromise with the Catholic Church, such as legislation that would permit the hospital to rent out space, at a nominal rental, to a private provider of services for sexual assault victims.

Egyptian Court Refuses To Issue New ID Cards To Reconverted Coptics

In Egypt, a Cairo court has refused to order the Ministry of Interior to issue new identity documents to ten Coptic Christians who converted to Islam and then decided to return to their original Coptic faith. They were reconverted in a public ceremony. AKI yesterday reported that the individuals will remain identified as Muslims on their identification cards. The Interior Ministry ruled that under Islamic law, it is impossible to renounce the Muslim faith. The court said it was unable to "to see into the depths of the heart" of the petitioners.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jewish Caucus Formed In Germany's SDP-- A First Since Nazi Times

In Germany, a Jewish caucus has been set up within the country's Social Democratic Party. Haaretz today says that this is the first Jewish organization in a major German political party since the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933. The Caucus of Jewish Social Democrats was founded by Peter Feldmann, a member of Frankfurt's city council and Sergey Lagodinsky, a Berlin law professor. The new group will be active on policies regarding Israel and the Middle East, and on questions of Jewish immigration into Germany.

Yeltsin's Funeral and Church-State Relations In Russia Today

In Russia yesterday, a traditional Orthodox Christian funeral service was held for the country's former president, Boris Yeltsin. The service, attended by dignitaries from around the world, was held in Christ the Savior Cathedral-- a church reconstructed with Yeltsin's approval while he was president. (New York Times). However, according to Interfax today, two Russian human rights groups and a Moscow group representing atheists protested the funeral as a violation of Russia's constitution. They said that Yeltsin should have been buried primarily with a civil ceremony, arguing that the exclusively Orthodox ecclesiastical ritual violated the rights of those holding other religious convictions. The press secretary for the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate dismissed the complaint, saying: "When God wishes to punish somebody, He deprives them of their senses."

Meanwhile, Forum 18 today published a broad overview of the state of religious freedom in Russia. The detailed report is worth reading in full. Forum 18 summarizes its findings as follows:

Senior Russian state representatives ... continue to project an image of supporting "traditional religions" such as the Russian Orthodox Church.... But this does not translate into day-to-day decision making, as religious affairs are a low national priority. Decisions are normally made at a low level, so the religious freedom situation varies even between towns. One exception is support by senior state representatives for religious leaders who endorse them.... Legal discrimination is rare.... and where it exists does not completely halt religious activity. So-called "telephone law" and blocking some foreign religious workers have been the main sources of religious freedom violations. Acquiring or retaining worship buildings is a major problem.... Widening the legal definition of terrorism and extremism is a particularly concern for Muslims.

Anti-SLAPP Motion Not Available In Suit Challenging Free Exercise of Religion

California's anti-SLAPP statute (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16) is designed to protect individuals who speak out on public issues from having their voices chilled through costly legal challenges. The law permits a special motion to strike a complaint in a frivolous suit arising from an act "in furtherance of the person's right of petition or free speech ... in connection with a public issue". In Castillo v. Pacheco, (CA Ct. App. 2d Dist, April 25, 2007), a California appellate court, in a case of first impression, held that the anti-SLAPP law does not apply to a suit arising from an act of a person in furtherance of the person's right of free exercise of religion.

In the case, plaintiffs, the Castillos, had sued their neighbors, the Pachecos, alleging they were committing a nuisance by lighting large ceremonial outdoor open fires in their backyard. The Pachecos said that the fire was the core element of a religious Native American sweat lodge ritual, and filed an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss the nuisance suit. Dismissing the motion, the court rejected "the Pachecos' attempt attempt to conflate the right of free speech and the right of free exercise of religion for purposes of application of the anti-SLAPP statute."

Judge Sets Low Bond For Defendant Who Knows His Bible

Should a defendant's knowledge of religious texts be relevant to his treatment in the criminal justice system? Yesterday's Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer reported that in Hamilton County's Municipal Court, Judge John Burlew released on low bond a defendant accused of using a stolen credit card. Defendant Eric Hine's attorney argued that his client was a churchgoer who is employed full time. The judge, skeptical of the claim, asked Hine to recite the 23rd Psalm. After Hine got the first verse right, the judge told him that he would let him out of jail if he could recite the entire psalm. Hine did, and Judge Burlew kept his word, releasing Hine on a $10,000 unsecured appearance bond.

UPDATE: WCPO reports that Eric Hine was back in jail on Friday on different charges. Meanwhile Judge John Burlew defended his actions as merely testing whether Hine's attorney was being accurate when he told the judge that Hine was a Christian.

High Priestess' Grave Robbing Conviction Reversed On Evidentiary Grounds

In State of New Jersey v. Miraballes, (NJ App Div, April 25, 2007), a New Jersey appellate court ordered a new trial for Miriam Miraballes who had been sentenced to prison for recruiting others to steal human remains for her from several cemeteries in Newark. She planned to use the remains in rituals associated with the religion known as Palo Mayombe. Miraballes was alleged to be a "high priestess of the religion. The court found that a lengthy hypothetical question asked of an expert witness was improper. Secondly, it found improper a question that led the expert witness to opine that "a high ... priestess will not testify to the truth of their true involvement in the religion and what the religion really is." The court said that this "put defendant in a position where before she ever testified - which she did not - she was labeled as untruthful." Am New York yesterday reporting on the court's decision said that the prosecution will appeal to the state's supreme court.

Audio of Sekulow-Weinstein Debate At AF Academy Available

On Tuesday, the U.S. Air Force Academy hosted a debate between Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation who is leading the opposition to proselytizing in the military, and Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice who supports the right of military chaplains to pray in Jesus' name. The debate was described by the Colorado Springs Gazette as surprisingly cordial. KRCC Colorado Springs has posted an audio recording of the entire debate. [Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the lead.]

NC County Commission Adopts Group's Model Policy To Permit Opening Prayer

On Monday, the Transylvania County, North Carolina, Board of County Commissioners-- responding to a challenge by the ACLU-- unanimously agreed to continue to open board meetings with a prayer. It adopted a 5-page "model policy" drafted by the Alliance Defense Fund. (ADF Release). The Model Policy sets out the legal rationale for the resolution and then calls for an opening prayer (not listed as an agenda item for the meeting) to be offered voluntarily on a rotating basis by Board members. No guidelines on prayer content will be issued. Each Board member may pray according to the dictates of his or her own conscience. Presumably this permits prayers to contain sectarian references. However "the Board shall request by the language of this policy that no prayer should proselytize or advance any faith, or disparage the religious faith or non-religious views of others."

Finally, the resolution provides that it "shall not be ... construed ... to affiliate the Board with, nor express the Board’s preference for, any faith or religious denomination. Rather, this policy is intended to ... express the Board’s respect for the diversity of religious denominations and faiths represented and practiced among the citizens of the County..."

Via Rail Will Allow Sikhs To Carry Kirpans; Sikh Wins Suit Against Bally

VIA Rail, which operates Canada’s passenger rail service, has reached a settlement with a Sikh student who had been removed from a passenger train for wearing a kirpan (Sikh ceremonial dagger). CBC News reported yesterday that the settlement, obtained through the Canadian Human Rights Commission, includes a refund of the fare paid by the student. More broadly, it involves a change in VIA Rail policy-- already implemented in January-- that allows Sikhs to wear ceremonial daggers on board trains. Student Balpreet Singh said: "I'd have been happier if [Via Rail] had just spoken to me, tried to understand the situation and resolve it...."

Meanwhile, in Fresno, California, a consent decree approved last week orders Bally Total Fitness to pay "Devin" Singh Dhaliwal, a Sikh, $24,000 in damages. The health club must also provide its Fresno managers with training in equal opportunity hiring practices. According to the Associated Press, in a job interview Dhaliwal was asked where his parents were born, what his religion is, and whether he is a Muslim.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Irish Labour Court Rules Against Employees' Push For Catholic Holidays Off

Ireland's Labour Court has ruled that under Irish law, businesses are only required to give employees time off for the nine public holidays set out in the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. Today's Irish Independent reports that workers at the Lisavaird Co-op in Clonakilty, west Cork, lost their attempt to get time off for four Catholic holy days-- Epiphany, the Assumption of Our Lady, All Saints and the Immaculate Conception. In the past the co-op has closed on those days, but management now wants to open and is willing to compensate its 70 workers for their added time. Workers say the time off is "sacrosanct", but the Labour Court has recommended that staff agree to the holy days being normal working days in the future with four days' annual leave to compensate them.

NYU Report Charges US Is Illegally Delaying Naturalization of Muslims

New York University's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice today issued a 63-page report charging that the U.S. government is illegally delaying the naturalization applications of thousands of Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants by profiling them and subjecting them to indefinite security checks. (Press Release). Much of the delay is caused by the government's name check process. The report concludes that relying on names and national origins as proxies for security risk is both over- and under-inclusive, does not yield timely or accurate information, diverts law enforcement resources, and legitimizes prejudice of the general public.

The full report, titled Americans on Hold: Profiling, Citizenship, and the "War on Terror" , as well as a 12-page summary briefing paper, and a one-page summary in Arabic are available online. Podcasts of interviews relating to the reports are also available (Segment 1; 2; 4; 5; 6.)

Things Get Complicated In Nashville's Attempt to Reschedule Election Runoff

Nashville's City Paper today reports that things are becoming much more complicated for Davidson County Tennessee's Election Commission that is trying to reschedule Nashville's runoff primary election in September to avoid a conflict with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. (See prior postings 1, 2.) The dispute began when two Jewish voters filed suit in federal court seeking a schedule change. Three days after the election commission agreed to reschedule the runoff, the Department of Law of Metro Nashville & Davidson County filed a petition to intervene in the lawsuit-- purportedly on behalf of Elections Administrator Ray Barrett-- to argue that the rescheduling is illegal. It says that the Metro Charter prescribes the original date that was set for the runoff. Now elections administrator Barrett has requested that the court issue a temporary restraining order to force Metro Legal Department to drop its attempt to intervene in his name. Part of the issue is whether Barrett is a state or county employee. State law set up his position, but the county pays his salary. Metro's law department claims that the county could be faced with heavy costs if a rescheduled runoff is later challenged and a new election is required to be conducted.

En Banc 5th Circuit Finds TX Bible Monument Case Moot; But Injunction Retained

The dispute over the display of a Bible in a monument on the grounds of the Harris County (TX) court house is now moot. In an en banc decision in Staley v. Harris County, Texas, (5th Cir., April 24, 2007), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that it would not reach the merits of the Establishment Clause challenge because, just days before oral argument in the case, the county placed the monument in storage to permit renovation of the court house grounds. However (over the dissent of 2 judges) the court left the district court judgment in place. The district court had found an Establishment Clause violation and had ordered the county to remove the monument. That determination had been upheld by a 3-judge panel of the 5th Circuit. The 5th Circuit's en banc opinion also decided that plaintiff was entitled to an award of attorneys' fees. According to today's Houston Chronicle, fees at the trial level were assessed at $40,000, and plaintiff's appellate fees have reached $200,000.

Three of the 16 judges on the en banc panel dissented arguing that the case should be remanded for fact finding on whether it could reasonably be expected that the county would reinstall the monument in the future.

Americans United, the group that had filed the lawsuit originally, issued a release applauding the court's decision to leave the injunction in place. Reporting on the decision, today's Houston Chronicle says that Harris County will likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Postal Unit Violates Establishment Clause By Displaying Religious Material

In Cooper v. United States Postal Service, (D CT, April 18, 2007), a Connecticut federal district court held that a contract postal unit (CPU)-- a private business that has contracted with the U.S. Postal Service to provide postal services to the public-- violates the Establishment Clause when it posts religious displays that proselytize or advance religion. Some 5,200 CPUs operate nationwide in locations such as and colleges, grocery stores, and pharmacies. Several are operated by groups with religious affiliations. The court held that the CPU contract with Sincerely Yours, Inc.-- a non-profit set up by Full Gospel Interdenominational Church-- does not violate the Establishment Clause. However SYI's religious displays in its CPU in Manchester, New Hampshire do. In addition to discussing the Establishment Clause, the court's decision contains an extensive discussion of the "state action" doctrine, concluding that the "SYI CPU is so entwined with the Postal Service that its conduct may be deemed state action." A report in yesterday's Boston Globe discusses the court's decision.

British Agency Issues Guides For Wearing Niqab In Court

Britain's Judicial Studies Board has recently published an update to its Equal Treatment Bench Book including "Guidance On the Wearing of the Full Veil, or Niqab, In Court". Here are excerpts:

[F]or Muslim women who do choose to wear the niqab, it is an important element of their religious and cultural identity. To force a choice between that identity (or cultural acceptability), and the woman’s involvement in the criminal, civil justice, or tribunal system (as a witness, party, member of court staff or legal office-holder) may well have a significant impact on that woman’s sense of dignity and would likely serve to exclude and marginalise further women with limited visibility in courts and tribunals....

The primary question that needs to be asked by any judicial office holder before coming to a decision is: What is the significance of seeing this woman’s face to the judicial task that I have to fulfil?

The guidelines go on to discuss the varying considerations when a woman seeking to wear the niqab is a judge, a juror, a victim or complainant, a witness or defendant, or an advocate. Articles in The and the Associated Press yesterday discussed the Board's new guidelines.

Pressure Continues In Thailand For Buddhism As State Religion

In Thailand, pressure continues for drafters of the country's new Constitution to include in it a provision making Buddhism the nation's official religion. (See prior posting.) A march today by 500 saffron-robed monks-- along with nine elephants-- and a demonstration by 1400 people outside of Parliament pressed the demand, according to a report by Reuters. Thailand's Council for National Security-- the group that instituted last September's coup-- apparently is willing to accede to these demands, even though the Council's chairman is a Muslim.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Russia's Yeltsin Remembered For Mixed Legacy On Religious Freedom

Boris Yeltsin, first president of post-Soviet Russia, who died Monday left a mixed legacy on freedom of religion according to Christianity Today. Yeltsin initially lifted some restrictions on churches and laid the groundwork for the Orthodox Church to re-emerge as an important institution. (New York Times 1997 article.) However, the same law that aided the Orthodox Church-- the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations-- has been criticized as discriminatory against newer religious groups. Only religious communities categorized as "religious organizations", instead of "religious groups", can enjoy full rights. (1997 Human Rights News.)

Suit Challenges Pricing Of Indiana's "In God We Trust" Plates

The ACLU has filed suit against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles challenging the state's practice of selling its "In God We Trust" license plates at the same prices as standard plates instead of charging the $15 administrative fee that must be paid for other specialty plates. (See prior posting.) Yesterday's report from the Associated Press says that plaintiff Mark E. Studler on whose behalf the ACLU brought the suit paid the administrative fee when he purchased specialty environmental plates. ACLU attorney Ken Falk says that waiver of the fee amounts to promotion of the religious-themed plate by the state. However Rep. Woody Burton who sponsored the legislation creating the plate says that no added fee is charged because these plates are stock items that do not generate financial support for any particular group. [Thanks to Joshua Claybourn for the lead.]

UPDATE: April 29th's Indy Star carries an interview with BMV Commissioner Ron Stiver on Inidana's controversial license plates. He says that BMV is not promoting one plate over any of the other 75 available designs.

Preacher Loses Challenge To Miami University's Speech Policy

In Gilles v. Hodge, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29369 (SD OH, April 20, 2007), an Ohio federal district court rejected a free speech and free exercise challenge by a Christian preacher who was not permitted to speak at Miami University's Academic Quad. The state University requires sponsorship by a student organization of any speaker on campus. James Gilles, who regularly preaches at universities, was told by campus security that he could only speak on city sidewalks or streets outside of campus. The court held that the University's speech policy is content-neutral and reasonable in light of the purpose served by the limited public forum that the University has created on campus. The court also rejected claims that the University's speech policy is overbroad and vague, and that plaintiff was discriminated against. (See prior related posting.)

Cert. Denied In Case Interpreting "Ministerial Exception" To Title VII

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in Petruska v. Gannon University, Case No. 06-985 (Order List). At issue was the 3rd Circuit's holding that the "ministerial exception' to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act can shield religious institutions not just from suits claiming religious discrimination, but also from those claiming discrimination on a ground other than religious belief. (See prior posting.) The AP yesterday reported on the case. [Thanks to Donald C. Clark, Jr. for the lead.]

Jail Permits On-Site Baptisms After Threat of Suit

A Liberty Counsel press release says that its threat to file a free exercise and RLUIPA suit caused New Mexico's Curry County Detention Center to permit baptism of prisoners at the jail. A Christian ministry is now allowed to use a mobile portable baptismal tank-- furnished by the ministry-- to baptize inmates. The ministry will also pay any additional security costs involved. Liberty Counsel's founder Matthew Staver said: "Rather than throwing up roadblocks to Christian faith and worship, prisons should welcome the positive changes that the Christian conversion brings..." [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Gideons In Court In Florida As Defendants and Plaintiffs

In Key Largo, Florida, both a criminal and a civil proceeding are under way in connection with the attempt of members of the Gideons to hand out Bibles on the sidewalk outside of Key Largo schools. Originally arrested in January, charges against Anthony Mirto and Ernest Simpson were dismissed, but now they are being re-charged under a rarely-invoked statute that prohibits individuals from being within 500 feet of a school without legitimate business. (FL Stats. Sec. 810.0975, School Safety Zones.) One News Now reported last week that defendants have filed motions to dismiss.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Defense Fund has filed a civil suit on behalf of another Key Largo member of the Gideons challenging the constitutionality of applying the school safety zone statute to prevent Bibles from being distributed. (Press release.) The suit (full text of complaint) claims speech, due process, equal protection and free exercise violations, as well as a violation of Florida's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Another NYPD Police Officer Loses Case Challenging His Placement In AA Program

A previous posting discussed three cases in which a New York federal district court dismissed complaints by New York City police officers that the Establishment Clause was violated when they were forced into an Alcoholics Anonymous program. Now another opinion released on the same day, and reaching the same result, has become available. It holds that plaintiff alleged only that the AA program was "religious based," but did not indicate whether he was forced to pray or acknowledge God, or whether there were any references to God at all in the program. The case, Herlihy v. City of New York, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29231 (EDNY, March 30, 2007), also rejects plaintiff's claim that his speech rights were infringed when city officials retaliated against him for criticizing the NYPD order that he seek substance abuse therapy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Settlement Says Wiccan Pentacle Can Now Be On Markers In National Cemeteries

Wiccan service personnel who are buried in national cemeteries will now be able to have a symbol of their faith-- the Pentacle-- placed on their grave markers. A settlement agreement was filed today in a Wisconsin federal district court in a suit filed by the widows of two servicemen last November. (See prior posting.) In the settlement in Circle Sanctuary v. Nicholson, the federal government agrees to add the Pentacle to the list of 38 already approved symbols representing many other religious faiths. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, representing the widows in the lawsuit, says in a release hailing the agreement that the lengthy delay in recognizing the Pentacle seems to have been motivated by bias against Wiccans. The AP reports that the government agreed to settle when it became clear that new rules being drafted by the VA would lead to the Wiccan symbol being favorably considered. Under the settlement, the VA will also pay $225,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the full text of the settlement agreement. The Washington Post on Tuesday quotes AU executive director Barry Lynn as suggesting that the VA's resistance on this issue was due in part to its interpretation of remarks made in 1999 by then-Texas Governor George W Bush critical of Wicca. [Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the leads.]

Baltimore Schools Pressed To Close For Muslim Holidays

Today's Baltimore Sun reports on the decade-long attempt by Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, to get Baltimore County schools to close for two major Islamic holidays. He argues that if schools are closed on Yom Kippur and Christmas, they also should be closed on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Attorney Rochelle S. Eisenberg says that state law only allows schools to close for a religious holiday if there are also "secular reasons." So if so many teachers would be absent on a holiday that classes could not be covered, schools could shut down.

Church of England To Crack Down On Bogus Marriages

In order to gain British citizenship, foreign nationals sometimes enter a "marriage of convenience". To prevent this, Britain requires that any non-British, non-EU citizen obtain a certificate of approval to marry. However, marriages performed by the Church of England are exempt from this requirement, and a growing number of immigrants have been seeking marriage by the Church. Now, according to Christian Today, the Church of England is creating new guidelines to prevent its exemption from being used for bogus weddings.

Australia Worries About Rush of Prison Conversions To Islam

In Australia's New South Wales, prison authorities have become suspicious of the large number of conversions to Islam in the high security Goulburn prison. In a World Today interview, New South Wales Minister for Justice John Hatzistergos confirmed that Goulburn authorities have begun isolating the Islamic converts because of concerns that they were being paid to pray, and were using prayer gatherings as a cover to plan a prison escape. Convicted murderer Bassam Hamzy has become a religious leader in the prison and has converted over a dozen high security prisoners. Objecting to the new measures, Brett Collins of Justice Action said that if the conversions had been to Christianity instead, the prisoners would probably be on their way to release.

Recent Articles on Law and Religion

From SSRN:
Stephen A. Newman, Evolution and the Holy Ghost of Scopes: Can Science Lose the Next Round?, (Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring 2007).

David R. Barnhizer, Reverse Colonization: Islam, Honor Cultures and the Confrontation Between Divine and Quasi-Secular Natural Law, (April 16, 2007, Cleveland-Marshall Legal Studies Paper No. 07-142).

From Bepress:
Mark C. Modak-Truran, Secularization, Legal Indeterminacy, and Habermas's Discourse Theory of Law, (2007).

From SmartCILP:
Martha Minow, Religion and the Burden of Proof: Posner's Economics and Pragmatism in Matzl v. Leininger, 120 Harvard Law Review 1175-1186 (2007).

Smita Narula, Book review (Reviewing Gary Jeffrey Jacobsohn, The Wheel of Law: India's Secularism in Comparative Constitutional Context), 4 International Journal of Constitutional Law 741-751 (2006).

Amit Patel, The Orthodoxy Opening Predicament: The Crumbling Wall of Separation Between Church and State, 83 University of Detroit Mercy Law Review 195-228 (2006).

Bishop Heading China's State-Backed Catholic Church Dies

The Washington Post reported Saturday on the death of the chairman of China's state-backed Catholic Church, 76-year old Bishop Fu Tieshan. Fu was known for his confrontations with the Vatican over who could appoint bishops in China. China has insisted on making its own choices instead of deferring to the Pope. (See prior posting.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

President Sets May 3 As "National Day of Prayer"

On Friday, President George W. Bush issued a Proclamation setting May 3, 2007 as a National Day of Prayer. The Proclamation asks "the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, each according to his or her own faith, for the freedoms and blessings we have received and for God's continued guidance, comfort, and protection." The annual Proclamation is required by federal statute, 36 USC Sec. 119.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder and chairman James Dobson, calls its website the "official" website for the National Day of Prayer. It includes a history of the Day. Florida Baptist Witness reported last week that author and pastor Charles Swindoll is this year's Honorary Chairman and main speaker for scheduled ceremonies at the Cannon House Office Building. It says that this year's theme is "America, Unite in Prayer," which is based on 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Texas Legislature Has Faith-Based Agenda

Today's Dallas Morning News carries a lengthy article on initiatives in this year's Texas legislature to enact laws making the expression of faith more prominent in schools and government. Religion Clause has reported on a number of these previously. The bills introduced include ones on Bible classes, prayer in public schools, marriages that are harder to dissolve, abstinence education and public religious declarations (such as adding "under God" to the Texas flag pledge). Church-state separationists say that the bill on Bible classes has been improved as it makes its way through committee. Last week the Houston Chronicle reported that as amended, the classes will be optional for school districts, and teacher training and curriculum standards have been added. [Thanks to Blog from the Capital for the lead.]

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Decisions

In Sanders v. Ryan, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29070 (D AZ, March 19, 2007), an Arizona federal district court rejected First Amendment and RLUIPA claims by a Baptist prisoner that his rights were violated when prison officials limited him to possessing 10 audiotapes at a time, insisting that he send back his old tapes before adding new ones.

In Hawk v. Alameida, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28740 (ED CA, April 17, 2007), a federal Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal of a Native American prisoner's objections to enforcement of prison grooming regulations against him. Plaintiff alleged first amendment and Equal Protection violations. Dismissal of his retaliation claim was recommended for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

In Roddy v. West Virginia, (4th Cir., April 16, 2007), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the district court's dismissal of a prisoner's free exercise claim in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's January 2007 decision in Jones v. Bock that liberalized exhaustion requirements under the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

In Muhammad/Smith v. Freyder, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27717 (ED AK, April 12, 2007), a federal Magistrate Judge dismissed a prisoner's claim that his rights under RLUIPA were violated when he was not served the same meal as other Muslim inmates were served to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast. The court found that prison authorities had a compelling interest in not serving meals catered from outside (here from Popeye's restaurant) to inmates confined to administrative segregation for violation of prison rules.

In King v. Bennett, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27702 (WD NY, March 30, 2007), a federal Magistrate Judge rejected a claim by a Sh'ia Muslim prisoner that he was denied the right to free exercise of religion by virtue of the New York Department of Corrections' policy of holding joint Friday prayer services for both Shi'a and Sunni Muslims. Prison officials said that granting plaintiff's request would pressure them to provide separate services for numerous Protestant and Jewish subgroups. That in turn would increase fiscal and administrative burdens and encourage rivalries by promoting power struggles and competition for new members and converts.

NJ Rastafarian Employee Can Proceed With Discrimination Claim

Last week, a New Jersey federal district court permitted a Camden County, NJ government employee to proceed with his religious discrimination claims under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, but dismissed his federal and state free exercise claims. Sistrunk v. Camden County Workforce Investment Board, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28854 (D NJ, April 18, 2007), involved a claim by a practicing Rastafarian that he was dismissed as a Youth Coordinator because he wears his hair in dreadlocks. The court found that issues of fact, requiring a trial, exist on whether notice had been given to the employer about plaintiff's religious beliefs and whether his termination was because of those beliefs. The free exercise claims were dismissed because the Board's dress code was found to be a neutral rule of general application.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Minneapolis College's Foot Bath Proposal Stirs Accommodation Controversy

Minnesota's Twin Cities, already the site of conflict over accommodating Muslim cab drivers and supermarket cashiers, is facing another controversy. Minneapolis Community and Technical College, concerned over the safety of Muslim students using high sinks in its bathrooms to wash their feet before prayer, proposed installing foot baths for their use. The College saw this as a non-controversial accommodation to prevent the kind of injury that occurred last year when a student slipped and hit her head. However the American Family Association sent out an "action alert" urging its members to contact their legislators to insure that the College does not use tax money "to promote Islam while censoring Christians".

Now, the board of Minnesota's State Colleges and Universities says it will discuss creating uniform guidelines for cultural and religious accommodations at its next meeting. Also, state Rep. Jim Abeler plans to introduce an amendment to the House Higher Education bill to assure that college employees can display religious symbols at their desks. It will also provide for sending a legislative letter reminding college officials that accommodation should be equally available for all religious groups. Details appear in Wednesday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Westboro Baptist Bargains Away Virginia Tech Funeral Picketing For Radio Time

Plans (previously reported here) by virulently anti-gay members of the Topeka, Kansas Westboro Baptist Church to picket funerals of the Virginia Tech victims have now been called off in a deal with a radio talk show host. The blog Straight, Not Narrow reported yesterday that church spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper will get 3 hours on the air with conservative radio host Mike Gallagher in exchange for calling off the funeral demonstrations. While a posting on Gallagher’s website is somewhat apologetic about the deal, Westboro describes the deal in contractual terms on its website. The church's earlier posting announcing the picketing of the first of the student funerals had said that the Virginia Tech killings were explainable as God "punishing America for her sodomite sins and for persecuting Westboro Baptist Church for warning America of her doom". Another of its postings says "The 33 Massacred at Virginia Tech died for America's sins against WBC."

Louisville Sues Over Church's Right To Land; Issue Is Rule Against Perpetuities

Over 80 years ago, the family of S. Thruston Ballard donated two parcels of land (about 2 acres) to the city of Louisville, Kentucky for use as a park, playground or for recreation. The conveyance provided that if the land ceased to be used for these purposes, it would revert to the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky. Now the city has agreed to convey the land-- located along the Ohio River-- to developers who are building a $200 million residential and office project. The Diocese says that this agreement means that the land now belongs to the Diocese. After negotiations between the city and the Diocese broke down, the city filed a quiet title action, asking the court to declare that it has clear title to the land. The city claims that the Diocese's revisionary rights lapse long ago, and that the law does not permit the rights to continue indefinitely. Attorneys for the Diocese disagree. Apparently the dispute is over the interpretation of Kentucky's Rule Against Perpetuities. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported on the case on Thursday.

Records Subpoenaed From Congressmen In Mt. Soledad Cross Challenge

The San Diego Union-Tribune today reports that plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Congress' transfer of the Mt. Soledad cross to the federal government have issued subpoenas to three members of Congress. The subpoenas ask for records relating to communications with the executive branch, with any city government and with outside groups such as the Thomas More Law Center. Plaintiffs are seeking to prove that the purpose of Congress' taking of the memorial site from the city was to endorse religion. Reps. Duncan Hunter, Darrell Issa and Brian Bilbray have asked lawyers for the House of Representatives to review the subpoenas. Congressman Issa called the subpoena an attack on freedom of religion. Earlier this month, a federal court rejected the same plaintiffs' request to take depositions from Congressman Hunter and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. It said that subjective motivations were irrelevant and that the request of Rep. Hunter violated the Constitution's speech and debate clause.

Nashville May Not Be Able To Avoid Holiday Conflict With Election After All

It turns out that it may be illegal for Davidson County Tennessee's Election Commission to reschedule Nashville's runoff primary election in September to avoid a conflict with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. While the Election Commission voted for the change in response to a lawsuit challenging the conflict (see prior posting), now Metro Nashville & Davidson County's law department says that the change violates the city charter. Its lawyers say that the rescheduling can occur legally only if the state legislature acts to authorize it, according to an article in yesterday's Tennessean.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Supreme Court's Abortion Decision and Catholic Justices Discussed

Rick Garnett has an interesting posting this morning on PrawfsBlawg responding to an editorial cartoon in the Philadelphia Enquirer. The cartoon's subject is Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, the "partial-birth abortion" case. The cartoon shows the 5 Supreme Court justices in the majority, all of whom happen to be Catholic, sitting on the court's bench wearing mitres emblazoned with a cross. He criticizes the implication that the Justices in the majority voted as they did because of their religious affiliation instead of as "intelligent and engaged lawyers".

Was School Nurse's New Assignment Accommodation or Retaliation?

A lawsuit filed yesterday in Sandusky, Ohio poses the interesting question of the line between religious accommodation and retaliation against an employee because of her religious beliefs. Today's Lorain (OH) Morning Journal reports that public school nurse Maria T. Sulewski filed suit against the Erie County General Health District claiming that her change in job assignments was retaliation for her religious objections to participating in a presentation "supporting birth control, safe sex or related matters". Erie County Health Commissioner Peter Schade said that Sulewski's job reassignment was an accommodation so she would not have to deal with making sex-education presentations. Sulewski's attorney says that the presentations were a very small part of her former assignment, so that she could have been accommodated by merely having someone else fill in for her on those assignments.

Russian Orthodox Church Increasingly Identified With Russian Government

This morning's Washington Post reports on the growing influence of the Orthodox Church in Russia. Followers of other religions, especially Muslims, are concerned about the increasingly close relationship between the Orthodox church and government. Some public entities are adopting Orthodox symbols, and the teaching of Orthodox culture has been mandated in some schools this year. (See prior posting.) Critics say this is turning Orthodoxy into a state religion. The Church is increasingly being identified with a patriotism that favors a strong centralized state, and the military is using Orthodoxy to build esprit de corps. The Church has canonized Fyodor Ushakov, an 18th-century naval commander, and the Navy has adopted him as a patron saint.

Proponents Say Proposed Hate Crimes Law Protects Free Speech

Proponents of H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, say fears by Christians that the bill will restrict religious expression opposing homosexuality are misplaced. (See prior posting.) This was the thrust of House Judiciary Committee testimony on Tuesday by George Washington University Law Professor Frederick Lawrence, who said that the Act "is aimed at criminal acts, not expression or thoughts." To assure this, drafters have included a new provision in 18 USC Sec. 249(d):
In a prosecution for an offense under this section, evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense. However, nothing in this section affects the rules of evidence governing impeachment of a witness.
The inclusion of this provision led to endorsement of the bill by the ACLU. Additional information on H.R. 1592 is collected at the website [Thanks to Michael Lieberman for the lead.]

2d Circuit Hears Oral Arguments In Muslim Border-Search Case

Yesterday, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Tabbaa v. Chertoff, a case challenging the lengthy detention and search by border agents of a large group of Muslim Americans returning from the 2004 Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference in Canada. The trial court dismissed plaintiffs' complaint. (See prior posting.) Yesterday's International Herald Tribune, reporting on the oral arguments, said that the panel of judges seemed unsympathetic to arguments by appellant's New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer that the travelers were unconstitutionally singled out because they were Muslim. Department of Justice attorney Lewis Yelin said that the government has now changed its procedures for mass inspections at the border so that a senior supervisor must be involved where a person is detained for more than two hours.

Developments in Portland and Spokane Catholic Church Bankruptcy Cases

On April 17, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris formally approved the bankruptcy reorganization plan of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. (See prior related posting.) In a surprise development, all remaining claims against the Archdiocese were settled as part of the reorganization plan, according to a Catholic News Service report yesterday. Checks will go out to priest sex-abuse victims next month, financed in part by a $40 million loan from Allied Irish Bank. No parish or school properties will be sold off to finance the $75 million total settlement. In mid-May the Archdiocese will open personnel files of accused clergy.

Also on April 17, parties in the bankruptcy reorganization proceeding of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington filed papers agreeing to a $48 million settlement of clergy sex abuse claims. It is expected that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams will approve the settlement at an April 24 hearing.

Utah Court Dismisses Most Claims Against LDS Church Over Ordination Of Sons

In the Mormon Church, children at age 12 are generally receive priesthood ordinances. Michael Gulbraa, who had legal custody of his two sons-- improperly taken to Japan by his former wife-- asked the LDS Church not to proceed with the ceremony for his sons without his permission. The Church ignored his request and proceeded with the ceremony "for the children's benefit". The father sued for damages and injunctive relief.

In Gulbraa v. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christof Latter-day Saints, (UT Ct. App., April 19, 2007), a Utah Court of Appeals dismissed the father's claims for breach of contract, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation, and his request for injunctive relief. It said that adjudicating the claims would excessively entangle the court in the Church's religious operations, the interpretation of its teachings, the performance of its ceremonies, or the governance of its affairs. An award of damages would require the court to place a monetary value on participation in religious experiences. However, the court permitted the father to proceed with his claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Today's Salt Lake Tribune reports on the decision. (See prior related posting.)

British Employment Discrimination Amendment About To Become Effective

An amendment to the definition of "religion or belief" in Britain's Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 takes effect April 30, according to Workplace Law. The amendment changes "any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief" to "any religion, or religious or philosophical belief". The removal of the word "similar" raises the question of whether discrimination on the basis of political belief now falls under the anti-discrimination prohibitions.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Westboro Baptist Church Picketers Target Virginia Tech Funerals

The Topeka, Kansas based Westoboro Baptist Church, known for anti-gay protests at funerals of military personnel, posted a press release on its website Tuesday indicating that its members plan to picket memorial services for the 32 individuals killed at Virginia Tech on Monday. The release said in part: "WBC to picket memorial services for 32 students massacred at Virginia Tech—in religious protest and warning: God is punishing America for going the way of ancient Sodom and Gomorrah…." The only Virginia Tech victim currently on its website’s listing of upcoming picketing is the April 21 funeral of student Ryan Clark, which is scheduled to take place in Evans, Georgia. A number of states (overview), including Georgia (O.C.G.A. § 16-11-34.2), have enacted laws to restrict picketing at or near funerals. [Thanks to Towleroad blog for the lead.]

Officials Accommodate Religious Burial Needs Of Virginia Tech Victim

The blog Yeshiva World on Tuesday carried an interesting account of the accommodations made by Virginia state officials so that Professor Liviu Librescu, one of the victims of the Virginia Tech mass shooting, could be buried in accordance with Jewish law. Librescu was the Romanian-born Holocaust survivor who was shot while barring his classroom door to permit his students to escape. Rabbis in the United States, contacted by Librescu's family in Israel, told the Virginia medical examiner's office that autopsies were inconsistent with Jewish law. The medical examiner agreed to merely use x-rays and a minimally invasive procedure to remove bullets. Also Jewish funerals are generally conducted promptly after death. Bad weather prevented immediate flight of the body to New York for ritual handling before burial, so state police all along the route from New York to Virginia provided a police escort for the vehicle that drove to pick up the body. On Wednesday, President Bush specifically mentioned Librescu's courage during a presidential speech at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. [Thanks to Gerald Katzman for the lead.]

Some Amish Farmers Protest Wisconsin's New Cattle ID Requirements

Today's LaCrosse (WI) Tribune reports that some Amish farmers object on religious grounds to the state's new livestock premises identification requirements that are set to take effect on May 1. The objectors say that the Bible prohibits them from buying and selling animals that are numbered. They consider the IDs the "mark of the beast." The U.S. Department of Agriculture is promoting voluntary premises registration, but Wisconsin is the first state to mandate it. The state's Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection board will meet Wednesday to discuss the problem. (See prior related posting.)

Christians Fear New Federal Hate Crimes Bill Will Stifle Their Religious Speech

On Tuesday, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held hearings on H.R. 1592, the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007". The Act, among other things, would expand the current hate crime ban to include crimes motivated by the victim's sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. One of the witnesses testifying against the bill (text of statement) was Brad W. Dacus, President of the Pacific Justice Institute. He told the committee that there is an "alarming potential, as evidenced by actual cases and situations, for well intentioned hate crimes legislation to squelch free speech, particularly religious free speech." Yesterday's Christian Post expanded on that theme in an article that focused on concerns that the bill will prevent Christians from speaking out in opposition to homosexuality or disagreeing with another person's religion.

Meanwhile, today's Advocate reports that across from the capitol, hundreds of clergy from all over the country who support passage of the new hate crimes act joined in a rally. They were led by Bishop Carlton Pearson of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Ghana EPA Targets Noise Pollution From Charismatic Churches

Ghana's Environmental Protection Agency has become concerned with the harmful effect of noise on health and hearing ability. Today's Accra Mail says one significant source of noise pollution that concerns EPA is Ghana's charismatic churches. Ten complaints have been filed so far this year against churches that play loud music, shout, sing loudly and dance all night. Threatening eventual court action, a senior EPA official said that instead of heeding EPA's directives, some of these churches' leaders call the EPA office to insult and curse officials while their "prayer warriors" pray in the background. April 16 was Noise Awareness Day in Ghana.

California's Proposed Student Civil Rights Act Gives Broad Definition to "Religion"

On Tuesday, the California Senate Judiciary Committee approved by a vote of 3-2 and sent to the full Senate for consideration SB 777, the California Student Civil Rights Act. Press attention has focused on the bill's prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools receiving public funding or whose students receive student financial aid (Equality California press release). There is an exception for religiously-controlled schools where the requirements would be inconsistent with their religious tenets.

Another provision in the bill has gone largely unnoticed. While current California law prohibits religious discrimination in schools, SB 777 for the first time adds a broad definition of "religion" for this purpose. Proposed Sec. 212.3 of the Education Code provides that:
"'Religion" includes all aspects of religious belief, observance, and practice and includes agnosticism and atheism.

Reform Jews Charge Israel's Former Chief Rabbi With Libel

Yesterday in Israel, members of the Reform Jewish movement (including Holocaust survivors) filed a libel complaint with police officials against the country's former Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Mordechai Eliyahu. In a radio interview with the station Kol Haemet on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, Eliyahu blamed the creation of Reform Judaism in Germany for the death of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. YNet News reports Eliyahu explained that while the victims were innocent, "the wrath of God does not distinguish between the righteous and the evil ones". Under Israeli law, a civil action cannot be filed against Eliyahu because his statements were made against an entire group, not one individual. Instead, a criminal complaint had to be filed with the police.

Illinois School's Ban On Anti-Gay Slogan Upheld

On Tuesday, an Illinois federal district court upheld a school's decision to limit the manner in which two evangelical Christian students could express their opposition to homosexuality as others in the school observed the "Day of Silence" to protest anti-gay discrimination. In Zamecnik v. Indian Prarie School District #204 Board of Education, (ND IL, April 17, 2007), the court refused to enjoin a Naperville, Illinois high school from banning T-shirts, buttons and stickers reading "Be Happy, Not Gay". The school took the position that positive statements, such as "Be Happy, Be Straight" would be permitted, but that negative statements violate school rules against derogatory or discriminatory statements against others. The Associated Press reported on the decision yesterday. [Thanks to How Appealing for posting the decision.]

Tajikistan Government's Enforcement Efforts Rile Muslims

In Tajikistan, officially a secular country with a population that is 90% Muslim, several developments indicate tensions between the government and Islam. Yesterday's International Herald Tribune reported that Tajik school authorities are introducing a new dress code that reinforces the ban on wearing the hijab (Islamic head scarf). Meanwhile, IRSN reports on a new enforcement effort aimed at unregistered mosques in the capital city of Dushanbe. The move is aimed at ridding the country of Muslim extremists, but it threatens to alienate moderate Muslims as well. Adding to the tensions was a raid in mid-March by police on Dushanbe's main mosque to enforce the requirement that children under 18 must be in school rather than attend Friday prayer services.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Minneapolis Airport Adopts Sanctions For Cabbies Refusing Service

On Monday, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission formally adopted its staff's prior recommendation that a 30-day license suspension be imposed on any cab driver who refuses to transport a passenger for reasons other than safety concerns. A second offense would lead to a 2-year suspension. The new rules will primarily impact Muslim cab drivers who have refused to transport passengers carrying liquor. Developments are reported by yesterday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune. [Thanks to Blog from the Capital for the lead.]

EU Compromise On Religious Hatred Ban Reached

European Union justice ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday gave in to Britain's objections and narrowed a proposed EU ban on incitement to religious hatred so that it will apply only if the incitement has racist intent. Reuters reports that this change assures that religion could still be criticized where the criticism is not racially motivated. However individual countries will still be permitted to punish religious hatred more broadly as well as to enforce individual laws against Holocaust denial.

UPDATE: A UPI report says that the EU's draft proposal has been worded so that it includes a ban on denying the Nazi Holocaust of World War II and the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The European Jewish Press says that the proposal bans: "publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes" as defined by international crime courts and in the charter of the Nuremberg court.

National Episcopal Church Gets Only Limited Intervention In Property Dispute

In Diocese of Central New York v. St. Andrews Episcopal Church, (NY S.Ct., April 10, 2007), a New York trial court permitted only limited intervention by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church in a property dispute between a break-away Syracuse church and its parent Diocese. DFMS failed to demonstrate that it had a direct legal interest in the property of St. Andrews church. However it did show that there were common issues of law or fact in this case and DFMS's claim of an express or implied trust over the property of St. Andrews. In limiting the scope of the intervention, the court required that DFMS be represented by the same attorneys as are representing the Diocese and that DFMS may not conduct separate discovery without permission of the court. Transfigurations blog says that this is the first case in the country where the Episcopal Church was granted only limited participation in the litigation between a Diocese and a local parish.