Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 10 Church-State and Religious Liberty Developments For 2011

Here are my nominations for the 2011 Top Ten Church-State and Religious Liberty Developments. The choices are based on the long-range implications of the developments on legal doctrines and on relations between government and religion. I have linked to representative postings on each issue:
1. Legalization of same-sex marriage expands, as religious objections continue to be voiced loudly.  New York passed a same-sex marriage statute and the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA while the Defense Authorization Bill assured that military chaplains would not be forced to perform same-sex marriages. Meanwhile litigation over California's Proposition 8 continues and some Catholic social service agencies in Illinois end foster-care and adoption programs to avoid placement with couples in same-sex civil unions.
2. Christian crosses on public property become the focus of litigation. Utah Highway Patrol Association memorial crosses on public property violate the Establishment Clause (10th Circuit). Supreme Court review is denied over dissent by Justice Thomas. The Mt. Soledad Memorial cross violates the Establishment Clause (9th Circuit) and Sunrise Rock Cross litigation continues after a fragmented Supreme Court decision last year.
3. Under pressure from Western countries, the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly pass freedom of belief resolutions that move away from the concept of "defamation of religion."
4. The Supreme Court in Snyder v. Phelps holds that the 1st Amendment protects offensive anti-gay funeral picketing by members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
5. Religion remains an important issue in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination.  Mitt Romney's Mormon faith raises questions for some Christians, while Republican debates have included significant discussion of candidates' attitudes toward church-state matters, religious liberty and Muslims in America.
6. Uncertainty remains on the role of religion in Egypt in the wake of its Arab Spring uprising.  Will religious liberty be assured for Christian Copts? What role will Shariah law play in the country's new constitution and legal system?
7. A measure to ban circumcision makes it onto the San Francisco ballot until a court forces it off on state pre-emption grounds. The proposal was seen by many as reflecting anti-Semitism.
8. The Supreme Court interprets standing narrowly in rejecting an Establishment Clause challenge to Arizona tax credits for contributions to organizations that provide scholarships to private and religious schools. The case is Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn.
9. A Canadian trial court upholds Canada' anti-polygamy law against challenges under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, except for prosecution of minors under the statute.
 10. The Supreme Court in Sossamon v. Texas holds that states which accept federal funding for their prisons retain sovereign immunity to monetary damage claims under RLUIPA.
For comparison, here is a roundup of top 2011 religion developments from BJC blogger Don Byrd  I invite your e-mails (religionclause@gmail.com) if you disagree with my picks.