Friday, February 05, 2016

First Ever Meeting of Heads of Catholic, Russian Orthodox Churches Scheduled In Cuba For Next Week

In a joint press release today, the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Moscow announced that Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will meet on Feb. 12 in Cuba at the Havana airport.  The historic meeting, which will culminate in the signing of a joint declaration, is the first meeting ever between a Pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox church. AP reports on the religious and well as political implications of the historic meeting.

U.S. Opposes Chabad Subpoenas Seeking To Enforce Court Sanctions Against Russia

As previously reported, in a long-running lawsuit by a Chabad group in the United States to recover two expropriated collections of religious books from the Russian government, a D.C. federal district court last year imposed $43.7 million in sanctions on various Russian government entities that have refused to comply with the court's order after a default judgment. Chabad is attempting to enforce the sanctions by locating Russian assets in the United States. It has subpoenaed five major financial institutions seeking information on accounts of the Russian government, and of individuals such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.  National Law Journal reported yesterday that the Justice Department this week filed a Statement of Interest of the United States (full text) in the case contending that Chabad's subpoenas:
are contrary to the goal of resolving this dispute and will harm not only further diplomatic efforts to do so but also the foreign policy interests of the United States.
The government argued that any Russian assets in the subpoenaed banks are immune from attachment anyway.  And it emphasized:
The United States has invested significant resources in diplomatic efforts over many years to resolve this dispute, and it continues to believe that out-of-court dialogue with Russia, rather than litigation, presents the best opportunity for ultimate resolution. 

Reparative Therapy Practitioners, Enjoined In New Jersey, Move Work To Israel

As previously reported, last December a New Jersey state court issued a permanent injunction under the state's Consumer Fraud Act against JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), prohibiting it from offering gay conversion therapy in the future.  Yesterday, however, AP reported that therapists who had been connected to JONAH have moved their work to Israel. According to AP:
Israel’s Health Ministry advises against so-called “gay conversion” or “reparative” therapy, calling it scientifically dubious and potentially dangerous, but no law limits it. In Israel, practitioners say their services are in demand, mostly by Orthodox Jewish men trying to reduce their same-sex attractions so they can marry women and raise a traditional family according to their conservative religious values.
Clients also include Jewish teenagers from the U.S. and other countries who attend post-high school study programs at Orthodox seminaries in Israel....
Proponents in Israel say therapy does not “convert” clients, but boosts self-esteem and masculinity, which they say can reduce homosexuality. In Israel, therapists say there is greater acceptance of their work than in the U.S.

7th Circuit: Valuable Copy of Book of Mormon Exempt In Bankruptcy Under Illinois Law

In In re Robinson, (7th Cir., Feb. 4, 2016), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a bankruptcy case, held that under Illinois law, a debtor's copy of a rare, first edition Book of Mormon is exempt from attachment by creditors.  The court held that the exemption in Illinois law, 735 ILCS 5/12-1001(a), for the debtor's bible does not limit the debtor to retaining only one bible, nor does it limit the exemption to a bible of a particular value. St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on the decision.

President Speaks At National Prayer Breakfast

Yesterday President Barack Obama spoke at the 64th annual National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton Hotel. His remarks (full text) which NBC described as focusing on "piety not politics," but with political "undertones in the background," built on a quotation from Second Timothy: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." C-Span has posted video of all the speakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Saudi Court Reduces Sentence From Death To 8 Years and 800 Lashes In Apostasy Case

CNN reported yesterday that a court in Saudi Arabia has upheld the guilty verdict on a charge of apostasy that was handed down against Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh. However the court overturned the death sentence against him and instead sentenced him to eight years in prison and 800 lashes to be administered over 16 sessions.  As previously reported, originally Fayadh was sentenced to 800 lashes and four years in prison on charges that his 2008 Arabic poetry book “Instructions Within” was insulting to God and religion. Also on the basis of photos in his phone, he was charged with illicit relations with women. However apostasy charges against him were dismissed because the judge found he had repented.  Prosecutors appealed, seeking a harsher sentence, and the appeals court remanded for a new trial.  At that trial in November, a different judge concluded that Fayadh's repentance was not sufficient, and he was sentenced to death.

City Adopts Moment of Silent Prayer To Stop Scheduled Satanic Invocation

After hours of discussion, the Phoenix, Arizona City Council last night voted 5-4 to begin council meetings with a moment of silent prayer, replacing the 65-year old tradition of opening meetings with an invocation.  As reported by Tucson News Now, the change came in reaction to the invocation scheduled for the February 17 council meeting that was to be delivered by a member of the Satanic Temple. Originally some Council members had proposed to merely change the way in which persons were chosen to deliver invocations as a way to prevent the Satanic invocation, but at yesterday's meeting the city's attorney said that kind of retroactive change would likely pose constitutional problems. Meanwhile,  Councilman Jim Waring who wants to continue having invocations says he will seek a referendum on the issue

President Obama Speaks At Baltimore Mosque

Yesterday President Obama made his first visit to a mosque in the United States and gave a wide-ranging 45-minute address (full text) emphasizing both the contributions and concerns of the Muslim community in the United States.  Speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, he focused on the American tradition of religious liberty, dealt directly with the challenges posed to American society by groups such as al Quaeda and ISIL, and called on the American Muslim community "to show that it is possible to be faithful to Islam and to be part of a pluralistic society."  Near the end of his remarks, the President addressed himself explicitly to Muslim youth in the United States:
 In our lives, we all have many identities.  We are sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters.  We’re classmates; Cub Scout troop members.  We’re followers of our faith.  We’re citizens of our country.  And today, there are voices in this world, particularly over the Internet, who are constantly claiming that you have to choose between your identities -- as a Muslim, for example, or an American.  Do not believe them.  If you’re ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States:  You fit in here -- right here.  (Applause.)  You’re right where you belong.  You’re part of America, too.  (Applause.)  You’re not Muslim or American.  You’re Muslim and American. (Applause.) 
Don’t grow cynical.  Don’t respond to ignorance by embracing a world view that suggests you must choose between your faith and your patriotism.  Don’t believe that you have to choose between your best impulses and somehow embrace a world view that pits us against each other -- or, even worse, glorifies violence.  Understand your power to bring about change.  Stay engaged in your community.  Help move our country forward -- your country forward.  (Applause.) 
Several hours ahead of the President's appearance in Baltimore, White House advisor Rumana Ahmed released an e-mail emphasizing the importance to her of the President's visit to the mosque.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Suit Seeks To Oust Pastor Claiming Fraud As To Credentials

The Record reports today on a suit filed last December by 13 members of the Canaan Korean Community Church in Hackensack, New Jersey against their pastor, Sungnam Choi, and against the church.  The suit seeks to have Choi's contract rescinded and asks the court to bar him from serving as pastor.  Alleging fraud, breach of contract, emotional distress and negligence, the members claim that Choi lied about being a credentialed minister when the church hired him.  Just days before he was hired by the church, Choi surrendered his credentials to the United Methodist Church which had accused him of mishandling grant funds that were supposed to go to the Church.  Choi agreed to pay $37,000 in restitution to the United Methodist Church in exchange for their agreeing not to pursue further legal action against him. When some congregants confronted Choi, he apparently retaliated against them by spreading rumors about them and threatening to have them arrested for trespassing if they tried to attend religious services.  Among those the pastor has barred from worship is Chang Duk Cho, a 30-year member who lent the church $2 million to purchase a new church building. Church leadership however continues to support Choi and are preventing his removal.

Housing Commission May Not Limit Meeting Rooms To Secular Activities

In His Healing Hands Church v. Lansing Housing Commission, (WD MI, Feb. 1, 2016), a Michigan federal district court issued a preliminary injunction barring a public housing agency from denying a Christian church access to its community rooms for Sunday meetings that include worship and Biblically based lessons on morality and life skills. In the court's view, in denying use of meeting rooms in the public housing developments for religious activities, the housing commission engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. Alliance Defending Freedom issued a press release on the decision which includes links to the complaint and other documents in the case.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Britain's 2014 Sovereign Sukuk Issuance Creates Unexpected Problem For House of Commons

In 2014, Britain in a bid to become the Western hub for Islamic finance, sold £200,000,000 in Sharia-compliant bonds-- otherwise known as sovereign Sukuk. (2014 press release) (Offering Circular).  Under the Sukuk arrangement, investors do not lend money in exchange for interest; instead they share in "rent" payments made by the government on government property which is first leased to the investors and then sub-leased back from them. One of the conditions of the arrangement is that the government property that underlies the Sukuk arrangement cannot be used in ways that violate Sharia law. This means, among other things, that no alcohol can be sold on the premises of the building.

It was reported by the Deccan Herald last week that this condition is now creating a problem for Parliament.  The 182-year old Palace of Westminster in London where the House of Commons now meets is in need of extensive repairs that it is estimated will take six years to complete. A Parliamentary committee is seeking a place for Commons to meet while the repairs are under way.  The Committee has identified Richmond House in the Whitehall district as a good fit.  The building currently houses UK's Department of Health. It is also one of the buildings that has been leased to support the 2014 Sukuk issuance. The Palace of Westminster currently has eight bars in it.  Members of Parliament will have to give up that convenience while in their temporary home.

Court Says Priest-Penitent Privilege From Reporting Child Abuse May Be Unconstitutional

Delaware Code, Title 16, Chap. 9 requires reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect to authorities. Under Sec. 909, the only privileges that excuse reporting are the attorney-client privilege and the privilege "between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession."  State of Delaware v. Laurel Delaware Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, (DE Super., Jan. 26, 2016), is an enforcement action against elders of a Jehovah's Witness congregation who did not report a sexual relationship between a 14-year old boy and an adult female member of the congregation.  Defendants' motion to dismiss raised the question of whether this priest-penitent privilege applies to these elders. The court held that if the privilege language is read narrowly, it is unconstitutional because it creates an exception only for certain religious denominations.  Even if read more broadly to cover similar kinds of conversations with clergy, here the conversations with elders were for the purpose of seeking spiritual advice and counsel, and were likely not for the purpose of penitence. Reveal reports on the decision.

Survey On Religion and Sports Shows 73% Favor Coaches Leading Players In Christian Prayer

The Public Religion Research Institute last week released its fourth annual survey of sports and religion.  The survey (full data) concluded that 48% of those surveyed think that playing fantasy online sports is gambling, while 63% think that gambling is morally acceptable.  Another question asked whether or not respondents agree that football coaches at public high schools should be allowed to lead their players in Christian prayer during games.  44% said they completely agree that this should be allowed, while 29% said they mostly agree; 14% completely disagree and 10% mostly disagree.

Monday, February 01, 2016

D.C. Circuit Revives Holocaust Survivors' Expropriation Claims Against Hungary

In Simon v. Republic of Hungary, (DC Cir., Jan. 29, 2015), the C.C. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed 14 Holocaust survivors to move ahead with claims against Hungary and the Hungarian state-owned railroad for property taken by the Nazis during World War II. The court summarized its decision as follows:
The wartime wrongs inflicted upon Hungarian Jews by the Hungarian government are unspeakable and undeniable. The issue raised by this appeal is whether those wrongs are actionable in United States courts.... The district court dismissed the suit, holding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s treaty exception grants the Hungarian defendants immunity. The court concluded that the 1947 Peace Treaty between the Allied Powers and Hungary set forth an exclusive mechanism for Hungarian Holocaust victims to obtain recovery....
We hold that the peace treaty poses no bar to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. While the treaty secures an obligation by Hungary to provide compensation for property interests confiscated from Hungarian Jews during the War, that obligation is not exclusive of other, extra-treaty means of recovery.... As a result, the FSIA’s treaty exception does not preclude this action.
Plaintiffs, however, still must overcome the FSIA’s default grant of immunity to foreign sovereigns. We hold that the FSIA’s expropriation exception affords plaintiffs a pathway to pursue certain of their claims: those involving the taking of the plaintiffs’ property in the commission of genocide against Hungarian Jews.... We further hold that the plaintiffs’ claims do not constitute nonjusticiable political questions.... We leave for the district court to consider on remand whether, as a matter of international comity, the plaintiffs must first exhaust available remedies in Hungary before proceeding with their claims in United States courts. reports on the decision.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Islamic Law):

Suit Over Chabad House In Historic District Survives Almost All Motions To Dismiss

Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, Inc. v. Borough of Litchfield, Connecticut, (D CT, Jan. 27, 2016), a decision on remand from the 2nd Circuit, is the latest installment in the long-running attempt of the Hasidic Jewish organization, Chabad, to expand a building it purchased in Lichtfield, Connecticut's Historic District.  In a 61-page opinion in the suit filed under RLUIPA,  the court first examined whether all parts of the proposed expansion of the building into a Chabad House would be used for religious purposes. It concluded:
Construction of the proposed facilities is in large measure religious exercise and, as to the remaining use / facilities, there exist genuine issues of material fact regarding their status as places of religious exercise.
The court then moved to consider whether the Historic District Commission's denial of a Certificate of Appropriateness placed a substantial burden on Chabad’s religious exercise. It concluded that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether or not it did, so that defendants' motion for summary judgment on this point was denied. The court also refused to dismiss plaintiffs' discrimination claim under RLUIPA, holding that there is sufficient evidence in the record for the fact finder to conclude that the Commission acted with an intent to discriminate on the basis of religion. The court went on to reject various defenses. Finally the court granted defendants' motion to dismiss the Chabad Rabbi as a plaintiff in the discrimination claim, but not as to the substantial burden claim.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Mauwee v. Olivas, (9th Cir., Jan. 27, 2016), the 9th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a complaint by a Native American inmate that for five months he was deprived of deer antlers used for sweat lodge ceremonies.

In Terry v. Babcock2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6073 (CD CA, Jan. 19, 2016), a California federal district court dismissed with leave to amend a Jehovah's Witness inmate's complaint that he was forced to attend an educational class that violated his beliefs. Plaintiff had asserted that his religious beliefs preclude him from being "a part of any educational class/program which does not include worship, and the timeless teachings of the Creator."

In San Antonio v. Shipman, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8209 (ND FL, Jan. 25, 2016), a Florida federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175229, Dec. 18, 2015) and dismissed as moot an inmate's RLUIPA complaint over his removal from the faith-based dormitory. The court dismissed, with leave to amend, plaintiff's 1st Amendment claim.

In Tatum v. Meisner, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8642 (WD WI, Jan. 26, 2016), a Wisconsin federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with this claim under RLUIPA that authorities had denied his request for a diet that complies with Nation of Islam rules.

In Moseley v. Spencer, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10232 (D MA, Jan. 27, 2016), a Massachusetts federal district court ordered an inmate to file an amended complaint or else face dismissal of his complaint that he was forced to choose between his religious (kosher) diet and his medical diet involving an evening snack for diabetes. He also complained that he has not been provided proper food and other items to celebrate Passover.

Texas Supreme Court: Cheerleaders' Battle With School District Not Moot

In Matthews v. Kountze Independent School District, (TX Sup. Ct., Jan. 29. 2016), the Texas Supreme Court, without hearing or oral argument, held that a dispute between football cheerleaders and a local school system over run-through banners carrying religious messages is not moot.  Originally the school banned the religious verses, but after a trial court issued a temporary injunction allowing the cheerleaders to continue using the banners, the school reversed its ban and the court of appeals agreed with the school that this eliminated any live controversy. (See prior posting.) The Supreme Court reversed, saying in part:
the District’s voluntary abandonment here provides no assurance that the District will not prohibit the cheerleaders from displaying banners with religious signs or messages at school-sponsored events in the future.
Justice Willett filed a concurring opinion, invoking analogies from the movie The Lion King. Justice Guzman filed a concurring opinion emphasizing that school officials need guidance on the extent to which limits on religious speech are permissible. AP reports on the decision. [Thanks to Steven Jamar via Religionlaw for the lead.]

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tennessee Appeals Court Invokes Ecclesiastical Abstention In Church Property Dispute

In Church of God In Christ, Inc. v. L.M. Haley Ministries, Inc., (TN App, Jan. 27, 2016), a Tennessee state appeals court in a 2-1 decision held that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine prevents civil courts from adjudicating a dispute between a local congregation and its parent body over ownership of assets-- including real property and a bank account with a balance of over $150,000.  Sometime after Gospel Center Temple's founding pastor died, the Jurisdictional Bishop for the Tennessee area of the Church of God In Christ ("COGIC"), David Hall, invoked a provision in COGIC's Official Manual that vacancies in the pastorate of local churches would be filled by the Jurisdictional Bishop until a new pastor was appointed. When Hall attempted to actively manage the local church and transfer its bank account into his name, some members of the local church threatened him and prevented him from getting access to the church's liquid assets. The local members also formed a new corporation to take title to the church's real estate, and voted to remove themselves from Bishop Hall's jurisdiction. However they remained member of COGIC. This led to a suit by COGIC. The majority rejected jurisdiction, saying that it could not adjudicate the real property dispute as long as the congregation had not withdrawn from the parent body.  And as to the dispute over the church's bank account, the majority said in part:
Bishop Hall's alleged authority regarding Gospel Center Church's personal property, including its bank accounts, derives from Bishop Hall's alleged place as the lawful leader of the church. This Court, however, has no subject matter jurisdiction to declare that Bishop Hall is the lawful leader of Gospel Center Church....
Judge Goldin filed a dissenting opinion.

Suit Seeks To Bring Marijuana Under American Indian Religious Freedom Act

Courthouse News Service reported this week that Oklevueha Native American Church leaders James "Flaming Eagle" Mooney and Joy Graves filed suit in an Oregon federal district court on January 15 against the federal government and the U.S. Postal Service.  The suit claims that federal authorities illegally seized 5 ounces of sacramental marijuana mailed to a church member in Ohio last December. Plaintiffs claim that their use of marijuana is protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.  National leaders of the Native American Church do not recognize the Oklevueha branch, nor do they agree with its claims that marijuana (as opposed to peyote) has sacramental use.  In 2013, a Hawaii federal district court rejected a claim under RFRA by Mooney. (See prior posting.) That decision is on appeal.