Sunday, February 01, 2015

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Brooks v. Roy, (8th Cir., Jan. 27, 2015), the 8th Circuit upheld dismissal of an inmate's claim claims that a chemical-dependency program conflicted with his Native American religious faith. From the complaint, the court could not determine the nature of the prisoner's religious beliefs and thus prison officials were not put on notice of his claims.

In Robertson v. Call, 2015 Kan. App. Unpub. LEXIS 33 (KS App., Jan. 15, 2015), a Kansas state appellate court reversed a trial court's summary dismissal of a Messianic Jewish inmate's claim that allowing his meetings with his rabbi only to be by video link violates the free exercise and establishment clauses.

In Henderson v. Hernandez, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8773 (ND CA, Jan. 23, 2015), a California federal district court allowed a Muslim inmate to move ahead with 1st Amendment and RLUIPA claims that he has been denied congregate prayer, appropriate Ramadan and festival meals, a qualified Muslim chaplain and resource group, and various religious items. The court dismissed his claim that Muslim inmates should be housed in the same building.

In Grisham v. Pritcher, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9132 (MD TN, Jan. 27, 2015), a Tennessee federal district court permitted an inmate to move ahead with his complaint that authorities refused to provide a room for Hanafi Muslims to meet twice a week for study and prayer.

In Payne v. Gipson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9218 (ED CA, Jan.26, 2015), a California federal district court dismissed with leave to amend a Muslim inmate's claim for damages for denial of a Halal meal. Various other claims for equitable relief involving religious exercise concerns were dismissed as moot.

In Cejas v. Myers, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9258 (ED CA, Jan. 27, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge recommended allowing an inmate to move ahead with his free exercise claim alleging that Buddhist inmates were denied unsupervised access to the chapel, while Jewish and Muslim inmates were allowed such access.

In Mohammed-Bey v. Pool, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9348 (ND CA, Jan. 26, 2015), a California federal district court denied a preliminary injunction and TRO to an inmate seeking for religious reasons to change his ethnicity from "negro," or "black" to "Moorish-American."

In Brown v. City of New York, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10469 (SD NY, Jan. 29, 2015), a New York federal district court dismissed with leave to amend a Muslim inmate's complaint that he did not have access to an Imam.

In Dixie v. Virga, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11429 (ED CA, Jan. 29, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge permitted a Muslim inmate to proceed with his complaint that Enhanced Outpatient Program prisoners were barred from attending Jumu'ah prayer sessions with General Population inmates. The court also ruled on a number of discovery requests.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Luxembourg Revises Support of Religious Communities

Article 106 of the Luxembourg Constitution provides:
The salaries and pensions of ministers of religion shall be borne by the State and regulated by the law
Earlier this week, the government of Luxembourg signed an agreement with the country's faith groups to reallocate and modify the current government funding of religious communities. For the first time funding will be extended to the Muslim community, while funding to the Catholic Church will be severely cut. Over 70% of Luxembourg's population is Catholic. As reported by Law & Religion UK:
The stipends of all those within the faith groups who are currently paid by the state will continue; but those appointed in future will have to be supported by their respective religious communities. There will continue to be some Government subsidy for salaries of those engaged in counselling. The state subsidies currently received by the Roman Catholic Church will be severely reduced; and the agreement also foresees that the Roman Catholic seminary in Weimershof will become an interfaith learning centre, while the Church’s properties will be put into what Luxemburger Wort describes as a “public fund” – presumably something along the lines of a separate charitable trust. In addition, Roman Catholic confessional education in schools is set to be replaced with an ethics and morals course, including units on world religions.
Also the various political parties have agreed that the Constitution should be amended to provide a declaration of separation of church and state.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Chile's Parliament Approves Civil Unions

On Wednesday, the National Congress of Chile (Chile's Parliament) gave final approval to the Civil Union Agreement bill.  PanAm Post reports that if, as expected, Chilean President Michelle Bachele signs the bill, this will make Chile the seventh South American country to recognize civil unions. The bill, which applies to both same-sex and opposite-sex civil unions, provides for inheritance, pension and health plan rights.

Muslim Texans Face Hostile Reception At State Capitol

Yesterday CAIR Texas sponsored its annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day, featuring sessions on political activism and meetings with state representatives.  According to the Texas Tribune, participants visiting freshman representative Molly White's office received an unusual greeting.  White was back in her district, but she left an Israeli flag on the reception desk in her office and instructed her staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community "to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws." In her Facebook posting announcing this, she added: "We will see how long they stay in my office."

CAIR responded by sending a letter (full text) raising ethics questions to House Speaker Joe Straus, in part asking:
Has Rep. White violated any House rules in creating such an internal office policy that is selectively being enforced to discriminate against certain religious minorities trying to meet with her or her staff? Are House members prohibited from making constituents take oaths before meeting with their elected representatives or house staff?
Yesterday afternoon White issued a statement backing off somewhat from her earlier comments.

Protesters also interrupted the Muslim group's press conference at the Capitol yesterday. One grabbed the microphone and screamed: "Islam will never dominate the United States and by the grace of God, it will never dominate Texas."  More than 420,000 Muslims live in Texas. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

D.C.'s Kesher Israel Wants Religous Court To Force Rabbi Out of Synagogue-Owned House

On Wednesday, Washington D.C.'s Kesher Israel Synagogue and its president instituted a suit in a Jewish religious court-- the Beth Din of America-- against the synagogue's former rabbi, Barry Freundel.  The rabbi was suspended without pay when he was arrested for planting a secret camera in the synagogue's mikveh to view women showering there. (See prior posting.) According to the Washington Post, the synagogue gave Freundel until January 1 to move out of the synagogue-owned house where he and his family had lived for many years.  Freundel however has refused to vacate the house.  His contract with the synagogue calls for any disputes to be resolved through a Beth Din.

Mennonite Couple Stops Hosting All Weddings To Settle Sexual Orientation Discrimination Complaint

As previously reported, last year a Mennonite couple filed suit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission to prevent it from moving ahead on a complaint that the couple refused to host a same-sex wedding ceremony in their art gallery in violation of the ban on discrimination in public accommodations. AP reported yesterday that the couple-- Betty and Richard Odgaard-- have settled the complaint filed with the Civil Rights Commission by the two men whose wedding was refused.  The Odgaards paid $5000 in damages, dropped their suit against the Commission and agreed not to discriminate in the future on the basis of sexual orientation.  In order to comply with that agreement, the Odgaards have totally stopped hosting wedding ceremonies of any kind at their gallery even though that has been a major part of their business.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Obama Promotes Religious Tolerance In Address To Indian People

On Tuesday, President Obama on his trip to India delivered a 34-minute address to the people of India (full text). His remarks included a lengthy plea for religious tolerance:
Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all God’s children -- all equal in His eyes and worthy of His love.  Across our two great countries we have Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, and Jews and Buddhists and Jains and so many faiths.  And we remember the wisdom of Gandhiji, who said, “for me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree.”  (Applause.)    Branches of the same majestic tree.
 Our freedom of religion is written into our founding documents.  It’s part of America’s very first amendment.  Your Article 25 says that all people are “equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”  In both our countries -- in all countries -- upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it's also the responsibility of every person.
 In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith.  But there have been times where my faith has been questioned -- by people who don’t know me -- or they’ve said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing.  Around the world, we’ve seen intolerance and violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing up for their faith, but, in fact, are betraying it.  No society is immune from the darkest impulses of man.  And too often religion has been used to tap into those darker impulses as opposed to the light of God.  Three years ago in our state of Wisconsin, back in the United States, a man went to a Sikh temple and, in a terrible act of violence, killed six innocent people -- Americans and Indians.  And in that moment of shared grief, our two countries reaffirmed a basic truth, as we must again today -- that every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.  (Applause.) 
 The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts.  And it finds its glorious expression when we look beyond any differences in religion or tribe, and rejoice in the beauty of every soul.  And nowhere is that more important than India.  Nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld.  India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith -- so long as it's not splintered along any lines -- and is unified as one nation.
And it’s when all Indians, whatever your faith, go to the movies and applaud actors like Shah Rukh Khan.  And when you celebrate athletes like Milkha Singh or Mary Kom.  And every Indian can take pride in the courage of a humanitarian who liberates boys and girls from forced labor and exploitation -- who is here today -- Kailash Satyarthi.  (Applause.)  Our most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace.  (Applause.)
 So that's what unifies us:  Do we act with compassion and empathy.  Are we measured by our efforts -- by what Dr. King called “the content of our character” rather than the color of our skin or the manner in which we worship our God.  In both our countries, in India and in America, our diversity is our strength.  And we have to guard against any efforts to divide ourselves along sectarian lines or any other lines.  And if we do that well, if America shows itself as an example of its diversity and yet the capacity to live together and work together in common effort, in common purpose; if India, as massive as it is, with so much diversity, so many differences is able to continually affirm its democracy, that is an example for every other country on Earth.  That's what makes us world leaders -- not just the size of our economy or the number of weapons we have, but our ability to show the way in how we work together, and how much respect we show each other.
DNA India reported on the President's address.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Rules In Favor of Trinity Western Law School

In Trinity Western University v. Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, (NS SC, Jan. 28, 2015), the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, in a 138-page opinion, held that the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society exceeded its authority when it refused to recognize law degrees of Trinity Western University Law School so long as the Christian school's policy continues to prohibit students from engaging in sexual relations outside of traditional heterosexual marriage. According to the Court, the Society has the authority to deal with the education and qualifications of those who practice law in the province. Its action here however dealt with a University policy that does not affect the quality of its graduates.

The Court went on to hold that even if the Society had authority to refuse to recognize TWU's law degrees, it did not exercise the authority in a way that reasonably respects religious liberty and freedom of conscience:
People have the right to attend a private religious university that imposes a religiously based code of conduct. That is the case even if the effect of that code is to exclude others or offend others who will not or cannot comply with the code of conduct. Learning in an environment with people who promise to comply with the code is a religious practice and an expression of religious faith. There is nothing illegal or even rogue about that. That is a messy and uncomfortable fact of life in a pluralistic society. Requiring a person to give up that right in order to get his or her professional education recognized is an infringement of religious freedom.
The Halifax Herald News reports on the decision.

GITMO Inmate Invoking RFRA Wants Only Male Guards During Transfers

Miami Herald reports that at a pre-trial hearing at Guantanamo Bay yesterday, the defense lawyer for former al Quaida commander Abd al Hadi al Iraqi asked for an expansion of the existing order barring female guards being used to transfer al Hadi to and from court and meetings with his lawyers.  Al Hadi who says that his religion bars touching of males by females who are not close family members wants the order extended to cover his transfers to medical, Red Cross and recreation yard visits.  His lawyers cite the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision to back their request for a religious accommodation.  According to facts that came out in yesterday's hearing, until last October only men were assigned to the elite guard  unit at Guantanamo's Camp 7 that houses 15 prisoners who have been held by the CIA for years.  But then a female lieutenant colonel took charge of Camp 7 and recruited women to do escort duty as well.  Officials say that military morale has suffered since the military judge's order barring women soldiers from touching male prisoners being transferred to meetings with their lawyers. (See prior related posting.)

Trial of Egyptian Poet Over Facebook Posting Begins

Reuters reports that an initial hearing in the trial of poet Fatima Naoot was held yesterday in Egypt. She is charged with contempt of Islam, spreading sectarian strife and disturbing public peace because of a Facebook post criticizing the Muslim practice of slaughtering animals on the Feast of the Sacrifice-- a day celebrating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son.  Naoot's post said:
Millions of innocent creatures will be driven to the most horrible massacre committed by humans for ten-and-a-half centuries.A massacre which is repeated every year because of the nightmare of a righteous man about his good son.
If convicted, the poet could receive up to three years in jail.

Orthodox Jewish Group Blasts NYC Universal Pre-K Program

The New York Daily News reported yesterday that the Orthodox Union has taken out ads in a number of publications criticizing New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's free universal pre-K program because its full-day schedule does not leave time for religious studies to be added after the end of school.  The OU wants the city to make more seats available in half-day pre-K programs so a religious component can be added during the other half of the day.  A spokesman for the mayor says they have worked closely with Jewish groups in implementing the program and already have thousands of half-day seats available.

Court Issues Enforcement Orders To Assure Jehovah's Witnesses Access To Puerto Rico Urbanizations

In Watchtower Bible Tract Society of N.Y. Inc. v. Municipality of El Dorado, (D PR, Jan. 26, 2015), a Puerto Rico federal magistrate judge issued broad remedial orders in an attempt to force reluctant gated communities ("urbanizations") in Puerto Rico to comply with prior orders to give Jehovah's Witnesses access so they can engage in door-to-door proselytization. One community in El Dorado allowed Jehovah's Witnesses entry, but barred their knocking on residents' door.  Another community continued to deny entry to Jehovah's Witnesses.  The decision made clear that it is the responsibility of municipalities to ensure compliance by individual neighborhoods.  The court threatened to have the gates of the community forcibly opened if access was not granted.  The magistrate judge also recommended that the municipality be held in contempt and fined $5000.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

More Companies Win On Basis of Hobby Lobby Decision

In a brief opinion in Briscoe v. Burwell, (D CO, Jan. 27, 2015), a Colorado federal district court, applying the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, enjoined enforcement of:
those provisions of federal law in existence on June 30, 2014, when the Supreme Court decided Hobby Lobby, that require plaintiffs Continuum Health Partnerships, Inc.; Continuum Health Management, LLC; and Mountain States Health Properties, LLC to provide their employees with health coverage for “[a]ll Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity,” which plaintiffs object on religious grounds.
AP reports on the decision.

Mormon Church Leaders Call For Legislation Protecting LGBT Rights and Religious Liberty

In a News Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah yesterday, leaders of the Mormon Church called for legislation protecting LGBT rights but also protecting religious freedom. (Full text of news conference.) (Summary of key points.) (Press release.)  Speaking at the news conference were Elders Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Church’s Young Women general presidency. Introducing the news conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:
To those who follow the Church closely and who are familiar with its teachings and positions on various social issues, it will be apparent that we are announcing no change in doctrine or Church teachings today. But we are suggesting a way forward in which those with different views on these complex issues can together seek for solutions that will be fair to everyone.
Oakes said in part:
Accusations of bigotry toward people simply because they are motivated by their religious faith and conscience have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and public debate. When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser....
Today, state legislatures across the nation are being asked to strengthen laws related to LGBT issues in the interest of ensuring fair access to housing and employment. The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on record as favoring such measures. At the same time, we urgently need laws that protect faith communities and individuals against discrimination and retaliation for claiming the core rights of free expression and religious practice that are at the heart of our identity as a nation and our legacy as citizens.
The Salt Lake Tribune has more on the press conference.

Alabama Same-Sex Marriage Developments: A Second Decision and Defiance

As previously reported, on Jan. 23 an Alabama federal district court invalidated Alabama statutory and constitutional provisions that bar recognition of same-sex marriages. The court however imposed a 14-day stay on its order to allow an appeal. (See prior posting),  Three days later, the same judge decided a second case, Strawser v. Strange, (SD AL, Jan. 26, 2015), reaching the same result, this time in a suit by plaintiffs seeking to marry in Alabama, rather than have their out-of-state marriage recognized in the state. The court again granted a 14-day stay to give an opportunity for an appeal.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 27 Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore sent a letter to the state's governor urging defiance of the federal court's decisions. In his letter (full text) to Gov. Robert Bentley, Moore said in part:
I am dismayed by those judges in our state who have stated they will recognize and unilaterally enforce a federal court decision which does not bind them.  I would advise them that the issuance of such licenses would be in defiance of the laws and Constitution of Alabama.  Moreover, I note that "United States district court decisions are not controlling authority in this Court."...  As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, I will continue to recognize the Alabama Constitution and the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.
... Be advised that I stand with you to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority.
According to, the governor issued a statement after the release of Moore's letter, saying in part:
The people of Alabama voted in a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between man and woman. As governor, I must uphold the Constitution. I am disappointed in Friday's ruling, and I will continue to oppose this ruling. The Federal government must not infringe on the rights of states.
In 2003, Roy Moore ,in his first term as Alabama Chief Justice, gained national attention by his fight against removal of a large Ten Commandments monument that he had place in the Alabama Judicial Building.

Suit Challenges Dismissal For Praying At Work By Speaking In Tongues

The New York Daily News reports on a federal lawsuit filed in Brooklyn yesterday by a former New York Department of Environmental Protection police officer.  Plaintiff Jerome Boswell was taken in handcuffs to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation and dismissed from his position after he began to pray by "speaking in tongues."  Boswell, a Pentecostal Christian, was discussing with a fellow employee their lack of a labor contract.  Boswell said he was leaving the issue to God, and his co-worker responded that they had no contract because God is not powerful.  Boswell took this as blasphemy, told his co-worker to repent and began the prayer in question. Boswell's lawsuit asks for back pay and $2 million in punitive damages for religious and perceived mental illness discrimination.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Facebook Complies With Turkish Court Order To Block Pages Insulting To Prophet

Jurist reports that on Sunday, a court in Turkey ordered a ban on Facebook pages containing material insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. The Golbasi Duty Magistrate Court sent to the Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication and to the Access Provider Association its order calling for Facebook to be totally blocked in the country if the offending pages are not removed. The New York Times reported yesterday that Facebook has complied with the court order and blocked Turkish users' access to the pages authorities specified as offensive.

Female GITMO Guards File Discrimination Complaints After Judges Grant Prisoners' Accommodation Requests

Muslim defendants in two cases before military commissions at Guantanamo Bay have been objecting to the military's assigning female guards to transfer them to meetings with their attorneys and to hearings.  The transfers result in physical contact between guards and the prisoners.  Military judges have issued at least interim orders barring the practice which violates defendants' religious beliefs. (See prior related postings 1, 2). Now AP reports that female guards at Guantanamo have filed complaints with the Defense Department's Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity claiming that the orders amount to gender discrimination.

Today Is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust as designated by a United Nations Resolution (full text) adopted five years ago. The date-- Jan. 27-- is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp by the Soviet army. (Background.) This year is the 70th anniversary of that liberation. The ceremony scheduled at United Nations headquarters for today has been postponed until Wednesday because of the snow storm forecast for New York.

Sundance Film Festival Features Documentaries on Controversial Religious Groups

This year's Sundance Film Festival began on Jan. 22 and runs until Feb. 1 in Park City, Utah.  Among the Documentary Premieres are two films that deal with controversial religious groups:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Supreme Court Remands Native American Prisoner Free Exercise Case

In the wake of its decision on allowing prisoners to wear beards for religious reasons, the U.S. Supreme Court today sent a prisoner religious free exercise case back to the 11th Circuit for reconsideration.  In Knight v. Thompson, (Docket No. 13-955, vac. and remanded 1/26/2015) (Order List) the Court held:
The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit for further consideration in light of Holt v. Hobbs, 574 U. S. ___ (2015).
In the case the 11th Circuit rejected several Native American inmates' RLUIPA challenges to Alabama prison system grooming rules that prohibit them from wearing long hair as required by their religion. (See prior posting.)

British Court Says Male Circumcision Cannot Be Equated With Female Genital Mutilation

A decision by a Family Court judge in Britain earlier this month tackled directly the argument that male circumcision should be equated with female genital mutilation and be banned just as female genital mutilation is.  In Matter of B and G (Children), (Family Ct., Jan. 14, 2015), the court found significant differences between the two procedures, saying:
in 2015 the law generally, and family law in particular, is still prepared to tolerate non-therapeutic male circumcision performed for religious or even for purely cultural or conventional reasons, while no longer being willing to tolerate FGM in any of its form....
FGM has no basis in any religion; male circumcision is often performed for religious reasons. FGM has no medical justification and confers no health benefits; male circumcision is seen by some (although opinions are divided) as providing hygienic or prophylactic benefits. Be that as it may, "reasonable" parenting is treated as permitting male circumcision.
UK Human Rights Blog has more on the decision. [Thanks to Law & Religion UK for the lead.]

Israeli Court Orders City To Remove Signs Telling Women To Dress Modestly

In Israel yesterday, the Magistrate's Court in the city of Beit Shemesh ordered the  municipality to remove signs that had been put up by haredi (ultra-Orthodox) synagogues and organizations instructing women to dress modestly in the areas of the city where the signs are posted, and not to stand outside certain synagogues. According to the Jerusalem Post, the ruling came in a lawsuit brought by four modern Orthodox women after women suffered repeated harassment and attacks by haredi youths.  Judge David Gidoni wrote:
The signs were designed to restrict women from using public spaces simply because they were women... and constitute a severe injury to the rights of women to equality and respect....  The signs create the expectation that they should be adhered and are likely to create the expectation or understanding that the area where the sign is placed belongs, in effect, to one specific population group in which its norms are applicable.
The court also awarded each plaintiff damages equivalent to $3700 (US). Responding to the court order, the city said that it had repeatedly taken down the signs, only to see them replaced, and that taking them down had led to riots.  The city added that the court did not understand the "complicated reality" of relations between different population groups in the city. [Thanks to Vos iz Neias for the lead.]

Recent Articles and Book of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Christianity and Law):
From SSRN (Islamic Law and Society):

From SmartCILP and elsewhere:

Recent Book: