Wednesday, April 26, 2017

China Bans Islamic Names For Uighur Children

The New York Times reported yesterday that China has taken further steps to "curb religious fervor" among Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang.  It has banned parents from giving their children names that can be seen as encouraging Islamic extremism.  According to Radio Free Asia last week:
Islam, Quran, Mecca, Jihad, Imam, Saddam, Hajj, and Medina are among dozens of baby names banned under ruling Chinese Communist Party's "Naming Rules For Ethnic Minorities," an official confirmed on Thursday.
An employee who answered the phone at a police station in the regional capital Urumqi confirmed that "overly religious" names are banned, and that any babies registered with such names would be barred from the "hukou" household registration system that gives access to health care and education.

Trump Justice Department Wants Further Extension In Remanded Contraceptive Mandate Cases

Last May the U.S. Supreme Court remanded to the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and D. C. Circuits a group of cases brought by religious non-profit institutions challenging the contraceptive mandate coverage accommodation worked out by the Obama administration.  The Supreme Court, apparently split evenly on the case, urged the parties to work out a compromise. (See prior posting.)  In a letter (full text) sent to the Catholic Leadership Conference by the Trump Campaign last October, Trump said that, if elected: "I will make absolutely certain religious orders like The Little Sisters of Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs." However on Monday in a Status Report (full text) filed with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Justice Department asked for the cases to be held in abeyance for another 60 days, arguing:
the new Administration has been in place for only a few months. The regulations at issue here are jointly administered by three Departments—the Department of Health & Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the Department of the Treasury—and are the subject of numerous other lawsuits being handled by the Department of Justice. The nominee to be Secretary of Labor has not yet been confirmed, and numerous subcabinet positions at the Departments have not yet been filled. The issues presented by the Supreme Court’s remand order are complex; for example, the original accommodation took more than a year to develop with input from interested parties.
NBC News reports on developments.

Indiana Legislature Passes Law Protecting Student Religious Expression In Schools

After final passage, yesterday the Indiana legislature sent HB 1024 (full text) to Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature.  The bill authorizes public high schools to offer an elective course surveying religions of the world. The course must include historical, cultural and literary study, and must be "neutral, objective and balanced."  In a separate section, the Act prohibits public schools from discriminating against a student or the student's parent on the basis of religious viewpoint or religious expression. It provides that students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments, which are to be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance.

The Act provides that public school students may pray or engage in religious activities or religious expressions before, during, and after the school day in the same manner and to the same extent that students may engage in nonreligious activities or expression. They may wear wear clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display religious messages or religious symbols in the same manner and to the same extent that other types of clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display messages or symbols are permitted.Religious groups are to be given the same access to school facilities as other non-curricular groups. Liberty Counsel issued a press release announcing the passage of the legislation.

Suit Says Indiana Charter School Act Violates Establishment Clause

Indiana's Charter School Act names, among the institutions that may authorize public charter schools, some 30 non-profit colleges and universities-- public, private and religious. Charter schools they authorize must be non-sectarian and non-religious.  Yesterday a non-profit advocacy organization supporting public schools filed suit against Indiana education officials contending that the Charter School Act violates the Establishment Clause as well as the no-aid cause of Indiana's constitution. The complaint (full text) in Indiana Coalition for Public Education v. McCormick, (SD IN, filed 4/25/2017) focuses on the authorization of a charter for Seven Oaks Classical School by Grace College and Seminary, an evangelical Christian college. It contends that the Act violates the Establishment Clause by delegating government power to authorize charter schools to a religious institution and by authorizing payment of public funds as an administrative fee to that religious institution. Indiana Lawyer reports on the lawsuit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Presidential Proclamations On Yom HaShoah and Meds Yeghern

Yesterday, which was Yom HaShoah, President Trump signed a Proclamation (full text):
ask[ing]  the people of the United States to observe the Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust, April 23 through April 30, 2017, and the solemn anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps, with appropriate study, prayers and commemoration, and to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution by internalizing the lessons of this atrocity so that it is never repeated.
The text of the Proclamation has been posted on Trump's Facebook page, but has not yet appeared on the White House website.

Yesterday the President also signed a Proclamation (full text) marking Armenian Remembrance Day. As pointed out by Hurriyet, consistent with past practice the Proclamation uses the Armenian term Meds Yeghern (Great Calamity) and avoids referring to the atrocities as a "genocide."

UPDATE: And here is the full text of President Trump's speech on Tuesday at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum National Days of Remembrance.

Israel Appoints First Woman As Judge On Muslim Religious Court

Haaretz reports that Israel has for the first time in the country's history appointed a woman to serve as a judge (qadi) in a Muslim religious court.  Government appointed religious courts in Israel have jurisdiction over personal status matters, particularly marriage and divorce.  The appointment of Hana Khatib, a family lawyer, was confirmed unanimously today by Israel's Judicial Appointments Committee.

Pakistan Paper Surveys Mob Violence Following Blasphemy Accusations

Pakistan's Express Tribune today surveys Pakistan's growing problem of mob violence following accusations of blasphemy.  There have been two such incidents in the past 11 days.  According to the paper:
Between 1947 – the year of Pakistan’s creation – and 1985, only 14 cases of blasphemy were registered by law enforcement agencies. In 1986, the military regime of General Ziaul Haq made blasphemy a capital offence and broadened its classification. Since that year, over 4,000 such cases have been registered....
On March 7, 2017, an Islamabad High Court judge ... went on a diatribe against online ‘blasphemy’, declaring it a form of terrorism and demanding that the government initiate a crackdown immediately. Following this, the Pakistan Interior Minister ... condemned online ‘blasphemers’ and ordered that action be taken against them. Since then, four people have been arrested on charges of blasphemy and Facebook has managed to shut down 85% of the pages deemed blasphemous.
These developments have also encouraged certain televangelists and social media activists who have embarked on a campaign to identify individuals they deem to be offending religious sensitivities.
The lynch mobs of today have not occurred in isolation. They are no natural expressions or consequences of the Islamic faith but a direct consequence of politicians and other national institutions weaponising religion and utilising it as a political tool – a tool that recruits militants for proxy warfare in Afghanistan and Indian-occupied Kashmir and brings in conservative votes during elections.

Female Teenage Boxer Gets Religious Dress Accommodation

According to yesterday's Rochester MN Post-Bulletin, USA Boxing, the organization that oversees amateur boxing in the United States, has granted a religious accommodation to a Muslim teenager.  Amaiya Zafar will be permitted to wear a hijab and cover her arms and legs in her first sanctioned competition.

Pew Study: Global Hostility To Religion Grew In 2015

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released its annual study (full text) of global restrictions on religion. The 79-page report covers the year 2015 and concludes:
Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years....
The share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions – i.e., laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices – ticked up from 24% in 2014 to 25% in 2015. Meanwhile, the percentage of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities – i.e., acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society – increased in 2015, from 23% to 27%.  Both of these increases follow two years of declines in the percentage of countries with high levels of restrictions on religion by these measures.
When looking at overall levels of restrictions in 2015 – whether resulting from government policies and actions or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations or social groups – the new study finds that 40% of countries had high or very high levels of restrictions, up from 34% in 2014.

Court Says Disaffiliated Church's Property Belongs To Local Congregation, Not PCUSA

In Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area v. Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church, Inc., (MN Ct. App., April 24, 2017), a Minnesota state appeals court held that it was proper to apply the "neutral principles of law"approach, rather than applying the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, to decide ownership of property of a congregation which had disaffiliated from the Presbyterian Church USA.  Affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that the property belongs to the local congregation despite the trust clause in PCUSA's Book of Order.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Criminal Complaints Filed Against JCC Bomb Threat Perpetrator

The Department of Justice announced that on Friday criminal complaints were filed against Michael Kadar, a dual American-Israeli citizen living in Israel, who allegedly telephoned bomb threats to Jewish institutions around the U.S. earlier this year. According to the Criminal Complaint filed in federal district court in Florida:
Beginning on January 4, 2017, and continuing until March 7, 2017, an individual, later identified as KADAR, made at least 245 threatening telephone calls involving bomb threats and active shooter threats. A significant portion of the threats targeted Jewish community centers ("JCCs"), and other historically Jewish institutions such as Jewish schools and Anti-Defamation League offices.
A Criminal Complaint was also filed against Kadar in a Georgia federal district court charging him with making a series of "swatting" calls to public schools and residences in Athens, Georgia.  The Forward reports on developments. [Thanks to Michael Lieberman for the lead.]

UPDATE: In Israel today, Kadar was charged in a Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court with various other crimes, including an attempt to extort a U.S. Senator, Ernesto Lopez. (Haaretz).

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Legal Issues and Islam):

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Jenkins v. Campose, (9th Cir., April 21, 2017), the 9th Circuit, reversing the ditrict court in part, held that defendants failed to show that a prohibition on wudhu in one of the prison restrooms is rationally related to a legitimate and neutral governmental objective.

In Nevels v. Chapman, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59530 (ED AR, April 19, 2017), an Arkansas federal district court adopted a magistrate 's recommendation (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59620, March 28, 2017) and dismissed an inmate's complaint that on one occasion his lunch tray contained pork which he will not eat for religious reasons

In Goddard v. Alexakos, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57951 (ED KY, April 17, 2017), a Kentucky federal district court allowed an inmate to proceed with his complaint that authorities do not permit The Way (a non-Protestant Christian group) to hold separate worship services.

In Wright v. Hauffman, 2017 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 285 (PA Commw., April 21, 2017), a Pennsylvania appellate court reversed the dismissal of an inmate's claim that Nation of Islam group religious services were not available.

In Hill v. Skrah, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57279 (D OR, April 11, 2017), an Oregon federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57430, March 14, 2017) and dismissed on qualified immunity grounds an inmate's complaint that he was not given kosher meals.

In Smith v. Wildermuth, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57318 (ND NY, April 14, 2017), a New York federal district court permitted a Muslim inmate to move ahead with his retaliation claim (but not his free exercise claim) stemming from his refusal to interrupt his prayer to respond to a corrections officer.

3 Indicted In Detroit On Charges of Female Genital Mutilation

On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan announced the arrest of a Detroit physician and his wife on charges of violating the federal ban on female genital mutilation. (Full text of criminal complaint.) Fakhruddin Attar and his wife Farida were charged with conspiring with Dr. Jumana Nagarwala who was arrested earlier this month in Detroit and ordered detained on pending trial. (Press release and criminal complaint in Nagarwala case.) As reported yesterday in a background article in the Detroit Free Press:
All three defendants  belong to a small, Indian-Muslim community known as the Dawoodi Bohra, whose members say genital cutting is a deeply entrenched social and cultural norm, with some women viewing it as normal as having a period. Celebration parties are held after the cuttings, and the women and girls are supposed to keep it a secret. One of the key reasons for the procedure, victims say, is to curb a woman's sexuality.
According to an earlier Detroit Free Press report:
Nagarwala has claimed through her lawyer that she did not engage in any actual cutting, but rather that she removed a membrane from the genital area using a "scraper" and gave it to the parents to bury in the ground as part of a religious custom within  the Dawoodi Bohra community.
On Friday, Anjuman-e-Najmi Detroit, an umbrella organization for the Dawoodi Bohra community in Detroit, issued a statement reading in part:
The Dawoodi Bohras do not support the violation of any U.S. law, local, state or federal.  We offer our assistance to the investigating authorities. Any violation of U.S. law is counter to instructions to our community members.  It does not reflect the everyday lives of the Dawoodi Bohras in America.
Apparently these are the first defendants charged under 18 USC 116 prohibiting female genital mutilation.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pence In Jakarta Praises Moderate Islam

Vice President Mike Pence's comments at his press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia on Thursday led Haaretz to run an article titled Pence's Visit to Indonesia Another Strike in Internal White House Battle Over Islam.  In his remarks to the press (full text), Pence said in part:
As the second and third largest democracies in the world, our two countries share many common values -- including freedom, the rule of law, human rights, and religious diversity.
 The United States is proud to partner with Indonesia to promote and protect these values, the birthright of all people....
Later today I’m greatly humbled to have the privilege to visit Indonesia’s national mosque, where I’ll have the opportunity to speak with leaders of many faiths.
And, Mr. President, I’m very much looking forward to that visit and that honor.  
 As the largest majority Muslim country, Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam, frankly, is an inspiration to the world.  And we commend you and your people. 
In your nation, as in mine, religion unifies -- it doesn’t divide.  It gives us hope for a brighter future, and we are all grateful for the great inspiration that Indonesia provides for the world.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Pence Meets With Interfaith Leaders In Indonesia

Yesterday, as part of his trip to Asia, Vice President Mike Pence met with interfaith religious leaders in Indonesia.  The White House readout on the meeting (full text) in addition to listing the 17 participants said:
Today, Vice President Mike Pence participated in an interfaith dialogue with faith leaders of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Confucianism at the conclusion of his tour of the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. Vice President Pence expressed appreciation to Indonesia for its shared commitment to religious freedom and reaffirmed that the United States will continue to defend this fundamental freedom, at home and abroad.

9th Circuit Judge John Noonan Dies At Age 90

Ninth Circuit Senior Judge John T. Noonan, Jr. died on April 17 at the age of 90. A News Release from the 9th Circuit described Noonan as "a distinguished jurist and an eminent scholar with a particular focus on the historical development of moral concepts." Before he was appointed to the bench, Noonan was a law professor at Notre Dame and then at Boalt Hall.  He was also a prolific scholar, as pointed out by the same News Release:
His major publications include 13 books, most notably “Bribes,” a magisterial historical study of bribery published in 1984; “The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom,” a 1998 tome tracing the origins of religious freedom back to the Founders; and “Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists.” Published in 1966, “Contraception” is said to have influenced Pope Paul VI to create a commission to study the issue, to which Judge Noonan served as an advisor.

Canadian Provinces May Not Fund Non-Catholic Students In Catholic Schools

Canada's Constitution Act of 1867 (Sec. 93) guarantees Catholics and Protestants in the three Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario the right to petition the provincial government to create a separate denominational school for them when they comprise a minority in a school attendance area. In Good Spirit School Division No. 204 v. Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic Separate School Division No. 212, (QB Sask., April 20, 2017), a Saskatchewan trial court in a 230-page opinion held that it is a violation of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms for the provincial government to provide funding for non-Catholic students at government-supported Catholic schools.  The court held that Catholic separate schools have no constitutional right to receive funding for non-Catholic students and that it violates the province's duty of religious neutrality, as well as guarantees of equality, to fund non-minority faith students in denominational schools.  Global News reports on the decision.

Woman Sues Claiming Her Firing Was For Not Being Christian Enough

Suit was filed earlier this week in a Texas trial court by a managerial employee of Gulf Winds International who alleges that she was fired because she was not Christian enough.  The complaint (full text) in Thomson v. Gulf Winds International, Inc., (TX  Dist. Ct., filed 4/18/2017) alleges that the company "discriminated and retaliated against Plaintiff based on religion and because of her opposition of forced religious material in the work place in violation of the Texas Commission on Human rights Act...." Courthouse News Service reports on the lawsuit.

Russian Supreme Court Judge Bans Jehovah's Witness Organizations As Extremist Groups

According to Forum 18, in Russia yesterday, after six days of hearings Supreme Court Judge Yury Ivanenko declared the Jehovah's Witness national headquarters in St. Petersburg and all 395 of its local organizations to be "extremist" organizations.  The judgment bans all their activity and orders their property seized by the state. According to Tass, the full text of the judge's decision will be furnished to the parties within five days.  Jehovah's Witnesses now have 30 days to appeal the decision to a 3-judge appellate panel of the Supreme Court.  If that panel affirms the decision, Jehovah's Witnesses plan to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. If the judgement is ultimately upheld, it will be illegal for Jehovah's Witnesses to engage in any kind of missionary activity in Russia.

Defense Department Expands List Of Recognized Faith and Belief Groups

Section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 called on the military to accommodate the conscience and moral beliefs, as well as religious beliefs, of members of the Armed Forces.In a Memorandum dated March 27, 2017, the Pentagon, after review by the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, issued an expanded list of faith and belief groups, expanding on a list (at pg. 46) last updated in 2013.  The new list includes Pagan and Humanist, as well as listing separately a number of religions that were previously consolidated under a broader classification. The American Humanist Association this week issued a press release "applaud[ing] the Department of Defense (DoD) for recognizing Humanism as a belief system protected by the Department’s ethical standards."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Christian Solidarity Worldwide Recognized BY UN As NGO

According to AP, yesterday the United Nations Economic and Social Council voted 28-9 (with 12 abstentions) to accredit the British-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide as a non-governmental organization, giving it consultative status. Christian Solidarity is an organization that promotes religious freedom. The grant of consultative status will give the group the right to attend meetings at the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council.  The organization had originally applied for accreditation in 2009, but ECOSOC's 19-member accreditation committee repeatedly deferred action on the bid.  Wednesday's full ECOSOC vote granted an appeal against a further delay recommended in February by the accreditation committee. Christian Solidarity worldwide issued a press release on the matter.

Catholic Hospital Sued Over Refusal Of Gender Reassignment Surgery

A transgender male filed suit this week in a California state trial court against Dignity Heath.  Following Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services that prohibit direct sterilization, Dignity Health's Mercy San Juan Medical Center refused to perform a hysterectomy as part of plaintiff's treatment for gender dysphoria. The complaint (full text) in Minton v. Dignity Health, (CA Super. Ct., filed 4/19/2017), contend that the refusal constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.  ACLU issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit. Sacramento Bee reports on the suit.

9th Circuit Hears Oral Arguments In Falun Gong's Suit Against Cisco

On Tuesday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of appeals heard oral arguments (video of full arguments) in Doe v. Cisco Systems, Inc.  In the case, a California federal district court dismissed a lawsuit by Falun Gong practitioners that claimed Cisco aided and abetted and conspired with the Chinese Communist Party and Public Security officers in committing human rights abuses against Falun Gong. (See prior posting.) Courthouse News Service reports on the oral arguments.

Assistant Principal Sues Over Christian Parents' Objections To Yoga

Atlanta Journal Constitution yesterday reported on a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Georgia by Bonnie Cole, an assistant principal in the Cobb County schools, who says she was forced out of the school in which she originally served after Christian parents objected to her introduction of yoga as a method of calming disruptive students. The paper recounts:
Cole, who says she is a Christian, says school leaders and ultimately the school board buckled under pressure from parents who held a prayer rally at Bullard “for Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism.” The next day, two women put their hands on Cole’s office window and prayed.
“Not only was the capitulation and transfer a humiliating and public demonstration of the district’s lack of support of Ms. Cole, it made clear to the community that religious activities will be allowed as long as they are part of the “accepted” religion of Christianity,” her lawsuit says.

Alabama Supreme Court Affirms Suspension of Chief Justice Over Defiance of Same-Sex Marriage

Yesterday, a specially composed panel of judges sitting as the Supreme Court of Alabama unanimously affirmed the judgment of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspending Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for the remainder of his term. Six judges joined in the court's opinion, while one judge concurred only in the result. In Moore v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, (AL Sup. Ct., April 19, 2017), the court in a 66-page opinion agreed that Moore violated various provisions of the Code of Judicial Ethics when he issued directions to Alabama judges to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite federal court decisions and orders to the contrary, including the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision. reports that Moore remains defiant