Sunday, April 19, 2015

NYT Op-Ed On Increased Ban On Cattle Slaughter In India

Today's New York Times carries an interesting Opinion piece by University of Maryland Mathematics Professor Manil Suri criticizing steps taken last month by the Indian state of Maharashtra (which includes Mumbai) to expand the ban on slaughter of cows. The ban was extended to slaughter to bulls and oxen and the sale of beef was made punishable by up to five years in prison. He says in part:
The laws have affected more than just restaurants. Thousands of butchers and vendors, their livelihood abruptly suspended, have protested in Mumbai. The leather industry is in turmoil. Beef is consumed not only by Indian Muslims and Christians, but also by many low-caste Hindus, for whom it is an essential source of affordable protein. The poorest waste nothing, from beef innards to coagulated blood, while their religion pragmatically turns a blind eye. Low-caste Dalit Hindu students, and others, have organized beef-eating festivals to protest the infringement on their culture and identity.
With the recent re-criminalization of gay sex, bans on controversial books and films and even an injunction against the use of the colonial-era name “Bombay” instead of “Mumbai” in a Bollywood song, the new laws join a growing list of restrictions on personal freedom in India. Already, the police in the city of Malegaon have arrested three Muslim men accused of calf slaughter, and ordered livestock owners to submit mug shots of cows and bulls to a cattle registry, to create a record in case any of them go missing.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Adams v. Scott, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47928 (CD IL, April 10, 015), an Illinois federal district court permitted five non-denominational civil detainees to move ahead with their complaint that their RLUIPA and free exercise rights were infringed by refusal to create non-denominational religious services and by a policy that requires them to declare an affiliation with a denomination in order to attend services.

In Prim v. Jackson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48970 (SD OH, April 14, 2015), an Ohio federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a number of complaints by an inmate, including his request that Natsarim be recognized as a subcategory under the Messianic Jewish faith and access to religious instructional videos.  However he recommended that plaintiff be permitted to proceed to an evdentiary hearing on his request for a preliminary injunction regarding Sabbath services, recognition of plaintiff's religious calendar, sack meals on Friday night for the Sabbath and retaliation for filing grievances.

In Clark v. Davis, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4975 (ND CA, April 15, 2015), a California federal district court allowed a Messianic Jewish death row in mate to proceed with his challenge to a policy that limits his access to clergy.

In Masas v. Conte, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50009 (ND NY, April 16, 2015) a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50527, March 25, 2015) and dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies an inmate's complaint that correction officers threatened to assault him if he did not shave his beard that he wore because of his Muslim religious faith.

In Gomez v. Chill, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50800 (SD NY, April 17, 2015), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended on various procedural and substantive grounds dismissing the complaint by a Messianic Jewish inmate that he was denied kosher food and the right to attend Jewish religious services.

In Moore v. Hartley, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50904 (D CO, April 17, 2015), a Colorado federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that while at a private correctional re-entry center his free exercise, RLUIPA and Establishment Clause rights were infringed by the requirement that each morning, inmates stand and recite the correctional center's "Credo", "Attitude", and "Choices."

Cranston Schools Go Back To Calendar With Religious Holdiays Off

As previously reported, this current year the Cranston, Rhode Island School Committee changed their traditional calendar that had school off for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Good Friday. This generated a lawsuit by teachers who, under the revised policy, did not qualify for taking Good Friday off with pay.  On Friday, the Providence Journal reported that the Cranston School Committee has now decided to reinstate its traditional policy. It adopted a 2015-16 school calendar that again has Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Good Friday as school holidays.

Suit Filed Over Sale of Lower East Side Synagogue To Developer

The New York Post reported on April 10 that congregants at the Home of the Sages synagogue of the Ger Hasidic sect on New York City's Lower East Side are suing to invalidate the $13 million sale of their building to developer Peter Fine.  $10 million from the sale will be used to build a Ger synagogue in Israel, while the other $3 million will go to the synagogue's president, Rabbi Samuel Ashkenazi. The April 16 Jewish Business News has more on the story:
[S]ince the synagogue is a non-profit a court must sign off its sale. The sale price is well below market value for the area which set off a lot of red flags.... The synagogue allegedly had a member meeting to pass this deal — even though the ‘members’ were people from Queens who had never stepped foot in the synagogue to worship there.”...
Now here’s where things get complicated. Rabbi Ashkenazi has also been accused by ... [the congregants' lawyer] of using funds from the sale to in effect pay himself $45,000 a year to lease space in his Queens home to the congregation. Apparently, Ashkenazi’s wife was the one who signed the new lease with the synagogue.
In another strange twist the judge, Arthur Engoron, who was set to preside over the preliminary court hearing in New York yesterday, recused himself from the case without saying why.

RLUIPA Lawsuit Settled By California City

The Long Beach Press Telegram reports that the Bellflower, California city council agreed last Monday to settle a RLUIPA lawsuit filed against it by Glory Tabernacle Christian Center, a church that welcomes members of the LGBT community.  The church claims discrimination. The city refused to issue it a use permit because of insufficient parking, even though a similar requirement was not imposed on a nearby mortuary and fire museum.  The city will grant the church a permit to hold Sunday services for up to 150 people and hold week day meetings for up to 50 people.  It will also pay the church $1.775 million in damages. If Council approves the use permit at its May meeting, the church will dismiss its suit 90 days later and notify the Justice Department of the settlement.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Evangelist Blocked From Festival Sues

St. Paul Pioneer Press reports on a lawsuit filed April 3 by the Center for Religious Expression (press release) on behalf of evangelist David Miller who was prevented by police from preaching at the 2014 Irish Fair-- an annual event on the Mississippi River near downtown St. Paul.  Miller and a group of friends, wearing expressive T-shirts, were about to enter the fair grounds to preach and hand out literature when they were told by police that the Irish Fair had a special-event permit, so it could make the rules (including banning protests). The lawsuit contends that the total ban on preaching at the festival being held on public property violates Miller's free speech rights.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tennessee Senate Kills Bill To Make Bible the Official State Book

According to The Tennessean, the Tennessee state Senate yesterday effectively killed the controversial bill, passed by the House a day earlier, that would have made the Bible the state's official book. The Senate voted 22-9 to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee for study in light of the state attorney general's opinion concluding that the bill was unconstitutional. (See prior posting.) Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who led the effort to send the bill back to committee, said:
All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief. You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you're on your way to where he wants you.
 Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, another critic of the bill, said:
We don't need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and 'Rocky Top' in the Tennessee Blue Book to appreciate its importance to our state.
[Thanks to Blog From the Capital for the lead.] 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Justice Alito Stays 3rd Circuit's Non-Profit Contraceptive Mandate Decision

Late on Wednesday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued an order (full text) temporarily staying the Third Circuit's mandate in Zubik v. Buwell. In the case, the 3rd Circuit upheld the Obama Administration's rules accommodating the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate to religious non-profits. (See prior posting.)  Religious non-profits contend that the accommodation is inadequate. A response by the government is due to Justice Alito by April 20.  The 3rd Circuit opinion covered four separate lawsuits involving a variety of claimants, both for-profit and non-profit.  Justice Alito's order applies only to two of the cases that involve the Catholic Diocese of Erie and the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh along with affiliated charities and schools in the two dioceses. National Law Journal reports on the decision.

Over 140 Amicus Briefs Filed In Upcoming SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Cases

Oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Cout in the same-sex marriage cases are scheduled for April 28.  The Court has received over 140 amicus briefs in the cases-- with slightly more supporting petitioners than respondents.  Links to the full text of almost all the amicus briefs are available here from SCOTUSblog.

Tennessee AG Says Bill To Make Bible the State Book Is Unconstitutional; House Passes It Anyway

On Monday, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued Opinion No. 15-34 concluding that pending Tennessee legislation that would designate The Holy Bible as the official state book violates the federal Establishment Clause as well as Tennessee  Constitution Art. I, Sec. 3 barring preference to any religious establishment or mode of worship. The Opinion says in part:
Irrespective of the legislation’s actual purpose, common sense compels the conclusion that designation of the Bible as the official state book in practice and effect conveys a message of endorsement.
AP reported that following the issuance of the AG's Opinion, Tuesday saw "a sometimes raucous floor debate" on HB615/ SB1108, with the bill's sponsor arguing that it does not violate the Establishment Clause. On Tuesday, the House adopted an amendment (full text) to the bill setting out in a preamble over a dozen secular justifications for naming the Bible as the state book. Here are two of them:
WHEREAS, printing the Bible is a multimillion dollar industry for the state with many top Bible publishers headquartered in Nashville, including Thomas Nelson, Gideons International, and United Methodist Publishing House;...
WHEREAS, the tulip poplar was chosen as the state tree because, according to the Blue Book, “it grows from one end of the state to the other” and was “extensively used by the pioneers of the state” for practical purposes such as the construction of “houses, barns, and other necessary farm buildings”, similar to how the Holy Bible is found in homes across the state and has been “used” for practical purposes such as recording family histories; 
On Wednesday, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed the bill as amended by a vote of 55-38, and sent it to the Senate for its consideration. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead].

Canadian Supreme Court Rejects Prayer At City Council Meetings

In an important church-state decision, the Supreme Court of Canada yesterday held that a facially non-sectarian prayer prescribed by a municipal by-law to be said before the start of City Council meetings violates the duty of religious neutrality imposed by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  At each Council meeting, the mayor would recite the prayer, while at the beginning and end of the prayer he and other Council members would make the sign of the cross and say "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".  In Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City), (SCC, April 15, 2015), the recitation of the prayer was challenged by an atheist who attended Council meetings. The Court said in part:
Neither the Quebec Charter nor the Canadian Charter  expressly imposes a duty of religious neutrality on the state. This duty results from an evolving interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion....
By expressing no preference, the state ensures that it preserves a neutral public space that is free of discrimination and in which true freedom to believe or not to believe is enjoyed by everyone equally, given that everyone is valued equally. I note that a neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals.... On the contrary, a neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity. The neutrality of the public space therefore helps preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society enshrined in s. 27  of the Canadian Charter.
UPI reports on the decision. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

California Appeals Court: No Duty To Warn Congregants of Child Molester

In Conti v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc., (CA App., April 13, 2015), a California state appeals court held that elders of a Jehovah's Witness congregation had no duty to warn the congregation in general, or parents, that another member of the congregation had previously molested a child.  In the case, Candace Conti who as a child was subsequently molested by the same fellow Church member (Jonathan Kendrick), sued the Congregation and its national Church body. The court concluded that a duty to warn arises only where there is a special relationship with the injured party:
While it is readily foreseeable that someone who has molested a child may do so again, the burden the duty to warn would create and the adverse social consequences the duty would produce outweigh its imposition. The burden would be considerable because the precedent could require a church to intervene whenever it has reason to believe that a congregation member is capable of doing harm, and the scope of that duty could not be limited with any precision..... Child molestation is a particularly heinous evil, but which other potential harms would the church have a duty to avert?... Imposition of a duty to warn would also have detrimental social consequences. It would discourage wrongdoers from seeking potentially beneficial intervention, and contravene the public policy against disclosure of penitential communications....
However the court upheld the jury's finding that the Church was negligent in failing to prevent Kendrick from performing church-sponsored field service-- door-to-door preaching-- alone with a minor. That gave Kendrick particular opportunity to molest Conti.

Based on these conclusions, the appeals court, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, reversed the $8.6 million punitive damage award against the national Watchtower Society, but affirmed damages for negligence awarded against the defendants for $2.8 million.

Oklahoma AG Promotes Right of Schools To Have Neutral Policy Allowing Bible Distribution

As reported by Raw Story, on Friday attorneys for the Duncan, Oklahoma Public Schools responded (full text of letter) to an earlier letter from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center complaining that an elementary school teacher had offered Bibles to her students. The school system will advise teachers and administrators not to hand out Bibles or other religious material and not encourage students during class time to take religious materials from others.  It will stop any distributions of Bibles at elementary schools during school hours or immediately before or after, though reserves the right to permit distributions at high schools.

Meanwhile yesterday Oklahoma's Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced a new program "to defend religious freedom and provide support to Oklahoma schools facing intimidation. The assistance includes creating a statewide training program to equip superintendents, teachers, parents, school board members, and others to know their rights."  In a letter to school superintendents (full text) that focuses on complaints that had been made by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Pruitt said in part:
Oklahomans do not need to live in fear that their government has become hostile to religion. Schools have a right to enact neutral policies that allow all viewpoints on religion to thrive. As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, I will not stand idly by while out-of-state organizations bully you or any other official in this State into restricting the religious freedom the Founders of this country held dear. 

USCIRF Press Release On Yom Hashoah

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom yesterday issued a press release noting:
April 15 is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, an international day commemorating the six million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany and her allies.  It is a solemn day of remembrance, recalling those who suffered and died and those who fought against this evil.  
“As we honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and those who fought against the Nazis and their sympathizers, we must go beyond remembering and condemn the torrent of virulent anti-Semitism that has been unleashed seventy years after the Holocaust’s end.  We also must condemn the continued existence and growth of Holocaust denial, an especially solemn responsibility given the gradual disappearance of the generations who witnessed the Nazi evil," said Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). 

Florida Lawsuit Claims Court Enforcement of Parenting Plan For Circumicison of 4+ Year Old Boy Is Unconstitutional

In Florida, a dispute between the father and mother of a now four-and-one-half year old boy has led to the filing of a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state trial court order enforcing a parenting plan provision  calling for the boy's circumcision.  The complaint (full text) in C.R.N.H. v. Nebus, (SD FL, filed 4/13/2015), filed by the mother on her own behalf and on behalf of the child, names the boy's father, Dennis Nebus, as well as all judges and sheriffs in Florida, as defendants.  As reported by the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel and AP, the boy was born in October 2010.  In 2012, his parents who were never married agreed to a parenting plan which was approved by a Florida trial court.  The plan called for the father to arrange for the son's circumcision.  Subsequently the mother changed her mind about allowing the procedure and went into hiding at a battered women's shelter with the boy.  The father has no religious reasons for desiring the boy's circumcision. It is disputed whether he has a medical reason.

The complaint contends that under the circumstances of this case, forcing circumcision of the boy amounts to assault and battery and would impair the parents relationship with their son. It also claims that the child has been denied procedural due process. the right to privacy and bodily integrity, equal protection, and free exercise of religion. Explaining the free exercise argument, the complaint contends: "C.R.N.H. is Christian and the New Testament affirmative [sic] discourages of the practice of circumcision." The complaint stresses numerous times that its arguments are made in light of the child's current age and the lack of any religious reason for the circumcision request.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Vatican Delays Approval of France's Gay Nominee As Ambassador

Reuters reported yesterday that the Vatican has still not approved the Jan. 5 nomination of Laurent Stefanini as France's new ambassador to the Holy See. Stefanini who once served as the number two person in France's Vatican Embassy has more recently been President Francois Hollande’s head of protocol.  According to Reuters:
French Catholic daily La Croix cited an unnamed source as saying the Vatican considered it “provocation” that France’s Socialist government, which in 2013 passed a law permitting gay marriages, had proposed a homosexual for the post.

Suit Challenges Guam's Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

Yesterday a suit was filed in federal district court in Guam challenging the constitutionality of Guam's ban on same-sex marriage.  The complaint (full text) in Aquero v. Calvo, (D Guam, filed 4/13/2015) was brought by a lesbian couple who wish to marry on Guam where they live.  The complaint points out the distance plaintiffs would need to travel to go to a state where they could now legally marry. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that includes Guam has already held other states' same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. (See prior posting,) Pacific News Center reports on the lawsuit.

3rd Circuit Again Rejects Challenge To New Jersey Reparative Therapy Ban

The U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, for a second time, rejected a constitutional challenge to a New Jersey statute (A3371) that prohibits providing "sexual orientation change efforts" counseling to minors.  Last September, in King v. Governor of New Jersey, the 3rd Circuit rejected free speech and free exercise challenges to the law brought by counselors offering the therapy. (See prior posting.) Now in Doe v. Governor of the State of New Jersey, (3d Cir., April 13, 2015), the 3rd Circuit also rejected challenges brought by a minor and his parents who claim the law abridges their free exercise rights, their right to receive information and their parental rights to control the upbringing of their children. The Court relied on its King opinion in dealing with the free exorcise challenge.  There the Court had found the law to be neutral and of general applicability. It held that the right to receive information is not broader than the right to disseminate it.  Finally, rejecting the parents' due process argument, the Court held that parental rights do not include the right to choose a specific medical or mental health treatment that the state has reasonably concluded is harmful. Reuters reports on the decision.

UPDATE: Plaintiffs on the same day the decision came down filed a petition for certiorari (full text) with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Monday, April 13, 2015

White House Will Host "The Gospel Tradition: In Performance"

As part of the "In Performance At the White House" series, tomorrow night President and Mrs. Obama will host a program on The Gospel Tradition. According to the White House announcement last week,:
The event will pay tribute to the fundamental role gospel music has played in the American musical tradition and the important artists and repertoire that have marked its vibrant history. The program will include performances by Bishop Rance Allen, Pastor Shirley Caesar, Aretha Franklin, Rodney Crowell, Rhiannon Giddens, Emmylou Harris, Darlene Love, Lyle Lovett, Tamela Mann, the Morgan State University Choir, and Michelle Williams — with T Bone Burnett as executive music director and Billy Maxwell as music director.
The program will be streamed live a 7 pm ET at , and will be broadcast by PBS at 9 pm ET on June 26. Tomorrow during the day the First Lady will host a workshop for middle school, high school and college students on The History of Gospel Music.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP: