Monday, April 14, 2014


President Sends Passover Greetings

The White House issued a statement from the President (full text) today sending greetings from himself and Michelle to all those celebrating Passover. Passover begins this evening.  Mr. Obama announced that, as in past years of his Presidency, on Tuesday he will be joining friends and loved ones at a Seder. His statement spoke both of the meaning of Passover and, in light of yesterday's shootings in Kansas, of the need to combat ignorance and intolerance, including anti-Semitism, that can lead to violence.

President Hosts Easter Prayer Breakfast

This morning, President Obama hosted religious leaders at the White House for his 5th annual Easter Prayer Breakfast marking the beginning of Holy Week. (Press release and video of remarks).  He began his remarks (full text) by speaking of the shootings in Kansas City yesterday. He then went on:
So this Easter Week, of course we recognize that there’s a lot of pain and a lot of sin and a lot of tragedy in this world, but we’re also overwhelmed by the grace of an awesome God.  We’re reminded how He loves us, so deeply, that He gave his only begotten Son so that we might live through Him.  And in these Holy Days, we recall all that Jesus endured for us -- the scorn of the crowds and the pain of the crucifixion, in our Christian religious tradition we celebrate the glory of the Resurrection -- all so that we might be forgiven of our sins and granted everlasting life. 
He went on to speak about his recent meeting with Pope Francis, and to thank religious leaders in the audience for their good works, including participation in the My Brother's Keeper initiative.

U.S. Delegation To Canonization Mass Named

Last Friday the White House announced the makeup of the Presidential Delegation to the Holy See which will attend the Canonization Mass of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II on April 27, 2014.  The delegation will be led by Presidential Counselor John Podesta. Other members of the delegation are Rep. Xavier Becerra, Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus; and Katie Beirne Fallon, Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:

Italian Court Orders Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage Performed In New York

In Italy for the first time last Thursday, a court ordered the recognition of a same-sex marriage.  UPI reports that a judge in Grosetto ordered the local registry to record the marriage of two men who were married in a civil ceremony in New York in 2012. The court said that the Italian civil code "contains no reference to sex in relation to the requisites" for marriage. The Italian Bishops' Conference issued a statement saying that the ruling raises serious questions.

Maryland County Will Obey Injunction on Christian Prayer

Last Tuesday, a week after a contempt of court motion was filed against members of the Carroll County, Maryland Board of Commissioners for violating a court order barring them from using specific Christian references in Council invocations, the Board by a vote of 3-2 adopted a resolution to obey the court's order, at least while the case is in litigation.  Christian Post reports that unedr the resolution, only Board President Dave Roush will present the invocation. He may still refer to "God," "Heavenly Father," "God of Abraham," or similar phrases, but will not use the name "Jesus."  One of the two commissioners voting against the motion, Richard Rothschild, complained: "[T]his resolution asked me to refuse to acknowledge the Son of God. In my judgment, this resolution asked me to, in effect, disown him.... Censorship is not freedom."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Battle Over Estate Raises Issues of Religious Marriage and Interfaith Relations

Estate of Chaim Weisberg, (NY Surr. Ct., April 8, 2014), is a suit over competing claims to administer an estate.  Its underlying narrative offers a fascinating glimpse into religious relationships in the United States.  Chaim Weisberg, who came from an Orthodox Jewish family and apparently continued to practice Judaism, died without a will on Aug. 29, 2012.  His mother (through her daughter as her designee) asserts that Weisberg was unmarried, while Jannah Geaney claims to be Weisberg's wife. Each claims to be the sole distributee of Weisberg's estate and filed competing petitions for administration.

In 2008, Weisberg apparently become romantically interested in Geaney and sought out an acquaintance who had been a tenant of his family for help in arranging an Islamic marriage to Geaney. This led to Wesiberg's converting to Islam at New York's second largest mosque (Madina Masjid), and his marriage to Geaney in a religious ceremony performed by Imam Yousuf Abdul Majid on June 21, 2008.  Apparently the parties did not take out a civil marriage license. Weisberg did not inform his family of the marriage ceremony until January 2012 when he told his sister.  By then the couple's relationship had become troubled. In February Weisberg's attorney drafted, but did not file, a divorce petition.  Instead both parties filed in Family Court for orders of protection against each other. By March 2012, though, the couple said they wanted to reconcile and withdrew the petitions. Less than six months later Weisberg was hospitalized and died.

Weisberg's mother (through her daughter) claimed in court that Weisberg's marriage ceremony was invalid as a matter of Isamic law.  The court ruled, however, that this is a matter of religious doctrine that may not be determined by a civil court.  However the court also refused to grant summary judgment to Geaney, saying:
A religious marriage in New York is valid if conducted in accord with the requirements of New York's Domestic Relations Law. In relevant part, this requires that the couple participate in a religious marriage ceremony, before a member of the clergy authorized to perform such a ceremony and at least one other witness, in which they solemnly declare that they take each other as husband and wife (DRL §§ 11, 12) .
Movant's proof is deficient in two respects. First, she produces no evidence as to the qualifications of Imam Majid to officiate at a marriage. The person officiating must be a "clergyman or minister" of a bona fide religion (DRL § 11[1]).... In this case, however, the record is completely silent as to the source of the imam's religious authority.
Second, the record does not contain a description of the ceremony sufficient to establish that the parties solemnized the marriage. DRL § 12 is explicit that while "[n]o particular form or ceremony is required ... the parties must solemnly declare in the presence of a clergyman and the attending witness or witnesses that they take each other as husband and wife."
The case now proceeds with discovery and trial.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Blaine v. California Health Care Facility, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33686 (ED CA, March 12, 2014), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with leave to amend, an inmate's claim that he has not been allowed to attend church.

In Williams v. Champagne, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47753 (ED LA, April 6, 2014), a Louisiana federal district court permitted a Rastafarian inmate who was placed in lock down for refusing to cut his dreadlocks to proceed with his RLUIPA challenge to the prison's hair policy.

In Harris v. Ellis, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48604 (ED CA, April 8, 2014), a Muslim inmate challenged a prison's policy to serve him only a symbolic portion of lamb for his Eid-ul-Adah meal. A California federal district court dismissed the claim because the request for injunctive relief is moot and damages are not recoverable under RLUIPA.

In Potts v. Holt, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49176 (MD PA, April 8, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed on qualified immunity grounds a Muslim inmate's complaint that the religious diet program was discontinued for 2 weeks during a prison lock down necessitated by the outbreak of food poisoning among inmates who ate in the regular meal program. Plaintiff did not eat the food served him during the lock down for fear he would be removed from the religious diet program for doing so.

In Khadzhimurad v. Sacramento County Sheriff Department, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49876 (ED CA, April 9, 2014), a Muslim inmate complained that halal meals had been replaced by vegetarian meals.  A California federal magistrate judge held that while plaintiff may have a 1st Amendment or RLUIPA claim, his pleadings presently do not set out one. The court dismissed the complaint but provided that an amended complaint may be filed.

European Court Chamber Decision Says Hungary's Church Law Violates Human Rights Convention

In Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and Others v. Hungary, (ECHR, April 8, 2014), the European Court of Human Rights, in a 5-2 chamber judgment, held that Hungary's 2011 Church Act violates the European Convention on Human Rights.  This excerpt from a press release by the Court  summarizes the majority decision:
As a result of the new Church Act, the applicant communities had lost their status as churches eligible for privileges, subsidies and donations. While the Hungarian Government argued that the Constitutional Court’s decision on the Act had remedied their grievances, the applicant communities found that they could not regain their former status unimpaired. In the Court’s view, it was important that the applicant communities had been recognised as churches at the time when Hungary adhered to the European Convention on Human Rights, and they had remained so until 2011. The Court recognised the Hungarian Government’s legitimate concern as to problems related to a large number of churches formerly registered in the country, some of which abused State subsidies without conducting any genuine religious activities. However, the Government had not demonstrated that the problem it perceived could not be tackled with less drastic solutions, such as judicial control or the dissolution of churches proven to be of abusive character.
Concerning the possibility open to the applicant communities of re-registration as fully incorporated churches, the Court noted that the decision whether or not to grant recognition lay with Parliament, an eminently political body. The Court considered that a situation in which religious communities were reduced to courting political parties for their favourable votes was irreconcilable with the State’s duty of neutrality in this field.... 
The withdrawal of benefits following the new Church Act in Hungary had only concerned certain denominations, including the applicant communities, as they did not fulfill certain criteria put in place by the legislator, notably as to the minimum membership and the duration of their existence. Referring to a report by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (“Venice Commission”) on the Church Act, the Court agreed with the report’s finding that it was an excessive requirement for a religious entity to have existed as an association internationally for at least 100 years or in Hungary for at least 20 years.... 
The Court concluded ...  that the measure imposed by the Church Act had not been “necessary in a democratic society”. There had accordingly been a violation of Article 11 [freedom of assembly and association] read in the light of Article 9 [freedom of thought, conscience and religion].
The decision is not final since the parties may still request review by the Grand Chamber of the Court. [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Friday, April 11, 2014

Union University Files Challenge To ACA Contraceptive Coverage Rules

According to ABP News, Southern-Baptist affiliated Union University filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Tennessee last week challenging the application to it of the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate and the opt out rule for religious non-profits. The lawsuit says that the University objects to coverage for Plan B, ella and IUD's that may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. The suit was filed at this time because changes in the University's prior health plan ends its grandfathered status on May 1.

TRO Requires Indiana To Recognize One Couple's Same-Sex Marriage

According to the Huffington Post, yesterday in Baskin v. Bogan, (SD IN, April 10, 2014) an Indiana federal district court issued a temporary restraining order requiring the state of Indiana to immediately recognize the same-sex marriage of Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler.  The TRO was granted because Quasney has stage 4 ovarian cancer, and recognition of the marriage that took place in Massachusetts is needed so Sandler can handle her spouse's affairs after her death and access benefits available for a surviving spouse and children of the marriage (who were born to Sandler through reproductive technology). The order comes as part of a case that more broadly challenges Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage. (Links to pleadings.) (See prior related posting.)

Preliminary Injunction Denied In Land Use Suit Against Texas Synagogue

In Dallas, Texas yesterday, a state trial court judge refused to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent an Orthodox synagogue from continuing to use a home for daily worship services for some 30 families.  In Schneider v. Gothelf, (Collin Co. TX Dist Ct.), plaintiff contended that the use was disruptive and violated deed restrictions imposed by the neighborhood homeowners' association that limit the homes to residential use. (Dallas Morning News.) Congregation Toras Chaim filed a brief in opposition (full text) making numerous procedural and substantive arguments. After the judge's decision, Liberty Institute issued a release saying in part: "We are excited that we were able to successfully defend the religious liberty rights of this congregation on the eve of Passover."

10th Circuit Hears Oral Arguments In Challenge To Utah's Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

Yesterday, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the Utah same-sex marriage case, Kitchen v. Herbert. Audio of the full oral arguments is available online. Equality on Trial has a written summary of the oral arguments. In the case, a Utah federal district court declared Utah's state constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage invalid under the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal constitution. (See prior posting.)

Dating Website Sues Mormon Church Over Intellectual Property Rights

Courthouse News Service reported yesterday on a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Texas by Jonathan Eller founder of "Mormon Match" against an affiliate of the Mormon Church. Mormon Match is planned as an LDS singles dating website. Before beginning operation of the dating service, Eller filed an application to trademark the name "Mormon Match."  Intellectual Reserve, Inc.-- the holder of the LDS Church's intellectual property rights-- began an an opposition proceeding before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board claiming that the LDS Church has total ownership of the word "Mormon."  In response to that proceeding, Eller filed the current suit seeking a declaration that the LDS Church does not have exclusive rights to the word "Mormon" and seeking a temporary injunction to prevent Intellectual Reserve from "taking further action to interfere with Mormon Match's operation of the dating website, pending a decision on the merits of this action."

TSA Issues Passover Alert To Screeners

The Jewish holiday of Passover begins Monday evening. Last week, the Transportation Security Administration issued a statement (full text) alerting its screeners and other personnel to the upcoming holiday and to "the unique items" and "religious practices" they may encounter among passengers:
This may include reading of religious text or participating in prayer rituals. Observant travelers may be wearing a head covering, prayer shawl, and phylacteries -- in Hebrew, kippah, tallit, and tefillin. Some travelers will be carrying boxes of matzoh, which are consumed as part of the Passover ritual. Matzoh can be machine or handmade and are typically very thin and fragile, and break easily. Passengers traveling with religious items, including handmade matzoh, may request a hand inspection by the TSO of the items at the security checkpoint.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Missouri Court Denies TRO To Prevent Same-Sex Couples' Joint Tax Filings

In Messer v. Nixon, (MO Cir. Ct., April 4, 2014), a Missouri state court judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent state tax officials from accepting joint returns from same-sex couples. The court concluded that plaintiffs had not shown the irreparable injury necessary for issuance of a TRO.  The court said: "should the ultimate outcome of this litigation establish that such an income tax filing was improper resulting in state income taxes being illegally avoided or refunded, the State has, as it always has had, the right to challenge that filing and seek recovery." Links to all the pleadings in Messer v. Nixon at on Marriage Equality Wikia. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's office issued a statement after the April 4 decision, defending the Executive Order that permits same-sex joint filing as being consistent with Missouri law which requires state tax conformity to federal tax definitions.

Draft of Justice Department's New Racial Profiling Rules Adds Limits On Religious Profiling

The New York Times reports today on the draft revisions to the Justice Department's racial profiling rules.  Under the proposal, limits will be placed on the use of religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation, as well as race, in profiling for law enforcement purposes. They will also increase the threshold for using these criteria and eliminate the broad national security exception now in place. However the new rules will not change the current practice of mapping neighborhoods by nationality or the use of nationality to recruit informants or track foreign spies.

Quick Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage Sought In North Carolina

The North Carolina ACLU yesterday announced several legal steps it has taken to get a quick ruling on recognition of same-sex marriages in the state. In a case that was initially filed in 2012 and expanded in 2013, plaintiffs this week filed a motion for a preliminary injunction so that a same-sex North Carolina couple married in Massachusetts can get their child who suffers from cerebral palsy on the private health insurance policy of one of the parents (instead of remaining on Medicaid).  Separately, the organization filed a new lawsuit on behalf of three same-sex couples married elsewhere seeking recognition in North Carolina of their marriages. The suit asks for a prompt ruling because one member of each couple has a serious medical condition. AP has more on the legal moves.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Quebec Election Results Scuttle Controversial Parts of Proposed Charter of Quebec Values

In elections in the Canadian province of Quebec on Monday, Liberals won 70 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly. Party Quebecois (PQ) won only 30. As reported by CTV News, this loss for PQ derails much of its push for a Charter of Quebec Values that, among other things, would have barred public employees from wearing overtly religious symbols in the workplace. (See prior posting.) During the election,  Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard said that he opposed the ban on public sector workers wearing religious symbols. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Couillard said he would quickly address the issues raised by the proposed Charter, and hoped to find elements such as government neutrality and protection of religious rights on which there is general agreement.

President Signs Bill Granting Pension Funding Flexibility To Charities

On Monday, the President signed into law HR 4275,  the Cooperative and Small Employer Charity Pension Flexibility Act. Rep. Susan Brooks, sponsor of the bill, described it as follows after the House passed the legislation:
The legislation ensures that charitable and cooperative associations are not swept into the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) funding rules, which require them to fund their pension plans at levels commonly associated with high risk plans. These groups received a temporary exemption from the rules in 2006 which is set to expire in 2017. H.R. 4275 makes the exemption permanent.

Suit Challenges School's Ban On Student's Religious Valentine's Cards

Alliance Defending Freedom announced yesterday that it has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Nazareth, Pennsylvania elementary school student and his parents complaining that under school rules the school principal unconstitutionally censored the student's religious Valentine's cards.  The complaint (full text) in J.A. v. Nazareth Area School District, (ED PA, filed 4/7/2014) alleges in part:
5. NASD permitted students in J.A.'s class to distribute a variety of Valentine's cards bearing secular messages, including cards with human skulls, guns, and weapons, as part of the 2014 class celebration of Valentine's Day.
6. But NASD Policy 220, entitled "Student Expression," prohibits students from engaging in any expression, whether oral or written, that "[s]eek[s] to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect, or point of view."
7. Pursuant to NASD's Policy 220 and its practice, NASD singled out J.A.'s religious Valentine's cards for prohibition and censure even though there was no evidence that J.A.'s cards would create a material and substantial disruption at school.

Humanists Seek Recognition By Federal Prison On Same Terms As Theistic Religions

The American Humanist Association announced yesterday that it has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons seeking require an Oregon federal prison to recognize Humanism as an official religious assignment option. The complaint (full text) in American Humanist Association v. United States, (D OR, filed 4/8/2014), claiming Establishment Clause and equal protection violations, seeks, among other relief, a declaratory judgment and injunction so that humanists and atheists may form study groups to meet to discuss their common beliefs on the same terms as theistic religious groups.

Philippine Supreme Court Upholds Most of Country's Controversial Reproductive Health Act

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Philippine Supreme Court yesterday upheld the constitutionality of most of the Philippines' Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 and the implementing rules under it.  (Full text of the Act and the Court's press briefing are available at the Philippine Official Gazette website, as is the full text of the Implementing Regulations.) The Act was challenged by the Catholic Church and faith-based groups in 14 lawsuits that were consolidated for Supreme Court review. Under the Act, the government guarantees universal access to reproductive health care services  and relevant patient information. The Court however struck down eight provisions of the Act and Rules. These provisions that were held unconstitutional:
  • require private and religious hospitals to refer patients in non-emergency situations to another convenient health facility and allow minors who have suffered a miscarriage access to family planning methods without written parental consent;
  • punish health care providers who do not disseminate information on reproductive health services, regardless of the provider's religious beliefs;
  • allow a married person in non-emergency situations to undergo reproductive health procedures without consent of the person's spouse;
  • punish providers who fail or refuse to refer a patient in a non-emergency situation to another conveniently located provider, even if the referral violates the provider's religious beliefs;
  • punish public officers, regardless of their religious beliefs, who refuse to support reproductive health programs or who hinder implementation of programs;
  • require (even for conscientious objectors) rendering of pro bono reproductive health service to secure PhilHealth accreditation;
  • define abortifacients as drugs or devices that "primarily" have certain effects;
  • penalize a health service provider who requires parental consent from a minor in non-emergency situations.
Parties have 15 days to seek rarely-granted reconsideration by the Supreme Court. After the decision was handed down, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines issued a generally conciliatory statement (full text).

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

IRS Guidance On Qualified Retirement Plans and Same-Sex Spouses

On April 4, the Internal Revenue Service announced two releases that give guidance on how qualified retirement plans should treat marriages of same-sex couples following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor. Notice 2014-19 gives important guidance as to retroactivity:
Qualified retirement plan operations must reflect the outcome of Windsor as of June 26, 2013. A retirement plan will not be treated as failing to meet the requirements of section 401(a) merely because it did not recognize the same-sex spouse of a participant as a spouse before June 26, 2013.... [A] retirement plan will not be treated as failing to meet the requirements of section 401(a) merely because the plan, prior to September 16, 2013, recognized the same-sex spouse of a participant only if the participant was domiciled in a state that recognized same-sex marriages. 
Further guidance is given in IRS, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Application of the Windsor Decision and Post-Windsor Published Guidance to Qualified Retirement Plans (April 4, 2014). (See prior related posting.)

UAE Appeals Court Says Murder Conviction To Be Decided By Sharia Procedure

The National reported yesterday that in the United Arab Emirates the appeals court has held that a trial court murder conviction of two cousins who allegedly shot an Omani while on a desert hunting trip was supported by strong suspicion but not by a confession or by witnesses to the crime. So the court held that guilt or innocence should be determined by the Sharia procedure of Qasama. According to the report:
During Qasama, the victim’s heirs are asked to swear a religious oath a total of 50 times that they believe the defendant killed the victim. They also have the choice of reverting the Qasama back to the defendant and making them take the oath 50 times that they did not commit it. If they decline from either option then the case is dropped.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Gutierrez v. Corrections Corporation of America, (5th Cir., April 3, 2014), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed as frivolous a Catholic inmate's complaint that only non-denominational (apparently Protestant-oriented) programming from the Trinity Broadcasting Network is carried in the prison, and the prison does not furnish programming from the Catholic-oriented Eternal Word Broadcasting Network.

In Hughes v. Heimgartner, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45867 (D KA, April 3, 2014), a Muslim inmate complained that he was refused halal meals while in segregation. A Kansas federal district court ordered prison officials to investigate the matter, consider whether other similar complaints are related, and file a report with the court on whether action can and should be taken.

In Crews-Bey v. Price, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44313 (ND AL, April 1, 2014), an Alabama federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45394, March 4, 2014) and dismissed for lack of standing an inmate's complaint that prison rules do not allow Moorish Science ordained ministers and Temple heads to perform marriage ceremonies for adherents incarcerated in Alabama prisons.

In Darrough v. Allen, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45917 (MD GA, April 3, 2014), a Georgia federal district court refused to allow an inmate to file an amended complaint alleging generally that he is being harassed by the warden because of his religious beliefs.

In Pfeil v. Lampert, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46389 (D WY, March 31, 2014), a Wyoming federal district court dismissed a Catholic inmate's complaints that a religious volunteer, on a single occasion, was not permitted entry to provide Catholic services, and that a new policy prohibiting hardbound books in living quarters caused him to lose his religious books.

In Browning v. McDonnell, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46578 (WD VA, April 4, 2014), a Virginia federal district court dismissed as frivolous an inmate's claim for $10 million in damages because Art. I, Sec. 16 of the Virginia Constitution that refers to "the duty which we owe to our Creator" and  "Christian forbearance" forces him to worship against his conscience and makes Christianity the official state religion.

The Story Behind The Niqab Wearing British Defendant

Last September, a good deal of attention was given to rulings by a British judge in the case of a Muslim woman charged with witness intimidation who sought to keep her face fully covered by her niqab at her arraignment and subsequently at her trial. (See prior posting). In a lengthy article yesterday, The Independent reports the back story on defendant Rebecca Dawson. The witness intimidation charges grew out of an encounter between Dawson and a volunteer caretaker at a local mosque who was planning to testify against Dawson's husband in his trial on assault charges.  According to the report:
At the root of the case, so it seemed, lay a dispute between two factions at the Finsbury Park Mosque. One believed that it was acceptable for tourists to be shown around the mosque with their heads uncovered and in Western dress; the other did not. Dawson’s husband was firmly in the latter camp, and when he learned that the caretaker had shown around a group of “improperly” dressed Portuguese visitors, he had gone to the mosque and duffed him up.
When the jury was deadlocked after 10 hours, Dawson agreed to a plea deal.  While awaiting sentence, Dawson went to trial along with her husband on other charges-- disseminating YouTube videos glorifying the terrorist killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

Virginia Settles Suit Challenging Limits On Student Preaching On Campus In Wake of New Law Assuring Speech Rights

The Hampton Roads (VA) Pilot reports that a proposed consent decree was filed in Virginia federal district court last Friday in Parks v. Members of the State Board  of the Virginia Community College System. In the suit, a student who wished to preach on campus challenged the rules at Thomas Nelson Community College that allow students to speak in open, outdoor areas of campus only if they are members of student organizations, and then only if they register their activity 4 days in advance. (See prior posting.) Under the consent decree, which still requires court approval, students will be allowed to speak freely on campus without joining a recognized student organization or registering in advance. Also colleges will not unreasonably limit the outdoor areas in which students can speak.

This development comes the same day that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed HB 258 (full text) which bars public colleges in Virginia from imposing restrictions on student speech in outdoor areas of campus unless they are reasonable, content-neutral and narrowly tailored to serve a significant interest and leave open ample alternative channels for communication.

Appeals Court Reverses Priest's Clergy Sexual Misconduct Conviction

In State of Minnesota v. Wenthe, (MN App., April 7, 2014), a Minnesota state appellate court reversed the conviction of Christopher Thomas Wenthe, a Catholic priest who had been convicted of violating Minn. Stat. § 609.344 which criminalizes sexual penetration by a member of the clergy where the victim is receiving religious or spiritual advice. The criminal complaint against Wenthe charged that sexual conduct occurred during the course of a single meeting in which the victim sought or received spiritual advice. The appellate court concluded that the trial judge had given two erroneous jury instructions.  Since there was evidence of different acts of sexual conduct between the priest and the adult female victim on different days, jurors should have been told that they must unanimously agree on the one of these that constituted the single meeting. The jurors should also have been instructed that the state must prove that Wenthe knew the victim was seeking or received spiritual or religious advice during that meeting. Finally the appellate court held that the trial court erroneously excluded evidence of the adult complainant's sexual history when the prosecution opened the door by eliciting testimony from the victim that she was sexually inexperienced. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on the decision. (See prior related posting.)

Monday, April 07, 2014

Supreme Court Denies Review In New Mexico Same-Sex Wedding Photographer Case

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied certiorari in Elane Photography v. Willock,  (Docket No. 13-585, cert. denied 4/7/2014). (Order List.) In the case, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that the New Mexico Human Rights Act requires a commercial photography business to serve same-sex couples on the same basis as opposite-sex couples. It concluded that the 1st Amendment does not require an exception for creative or expressive professions. (See prior posting.)

Pension Plan of Catholic Hospital Does Not Qualify As "Church Plan" Exempt From ERISA

In Kaplan v. St. Peter's Healthcare System, (D NJ, March 31, 2014), a New Jersey federal district court held that in order for a pension plan to qualify as a "church plan" exempt from ERISA, it must be established by a church or an association of churches.  It is not sufficient that it is established by a tax exempt corporation merely controlled by or associated with a church, despite a 2013 IRS private letter ruling that recognized the New Brunswick, New Jersey Catholic hospital's plan as a church plan. This is the second recent case (see prior posting) to require pension plans of religiously affiliated health care organizations and hospital systems to comply with ERISA. Plaintiff contends that St. Peter's pension plan violates a number of ERISA's requirements, including a requirement that results in its being underfunded by $70 million. reports on the decision.

Christian Couple Sentenced To Death For Blasphemy By Pakistani Court

Christian Today reports that in Pakistan's Punjab province last month, a Christian couple were sentenced to death for sending blasphemous text messages after police allegedly forced a confession from the husband. The trial was held in prison due concerns about the couple's safety.  Shafqat Emmanuel who is confined to a wheel chair and his wife Shugufta Emmanuel who works as a cleaner at a local missionary school were charged with sending the messages to the two complainants, one of whom was a local bar association president.  The Emmanuel's lawyer says that the judge acted under pressure from Islamist lawyers who continually quoted Qur'anic verses calling for death to blasphemers. Shugufta told police that the cell phone had been lost for a month, and police did not produce the phone's SIM card.  Their lawyer also said that the couple could not have possibly sent the messages, written in Roman Urdu, since they cannot read or write Urdu properly. An appeal is planned once a detailed verdict is received.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:

British Government Proposes Shariah-Compliant Student Loan Program Alternative

Last week, the British government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced a proposal to make available Shariah-compliant student loans to Muslim students.  (Full text of Consultation On a Shariah-Compliant Alternative Finance Product).  The Executive Summary explains the proposal in part as follows:
In September 2012 changes to higher education funding mean that students are able take out student loans for tuition of up to £9000 for each year of study. These post-2012 loans carry a different rate of interest, above inflation, to student loans issued before September 2012. 
Some students, whose religious beliefs may forbid the taking out of a loan that bears interest, may be unable to take advantage of student loans because of this change. This could make it more difficult for them to benefit from higher education. 
The Government have been exploring the possibility of making an alternative student finance product available. This finance product would be Sharia-compliant and overseen by a Sharia advisory committee. Any such alternative finance product would not result in a student being in any way disadvantaged or advantaged over a student who took out a traditional student loan. Both the size of the finance and the repayment amounts would be equivalent between the two systems. The model of the proposed product could be applied for in the same way as a traditional loan: through the Student Loans Company (SLC).
The Telegraph reports on the proposal. [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]

Appeals Court Finds Mormon Branch President Did Not Misuse His Police Department Credentials

In Fierro v. Park City Municipal Corporation, (UT Ct. App., March 27, 2014), the Utah Court of Appeals rejected the findings of the city's employee discharge appeal board that had upheld the firing of a member of the police department for misusing his police credentials.  Michael Fierro was president of a small local Mormon congregation (branch) as well as a member of the police department. When a member of his branch was arrested as a suspect in a child sex abuse case, Fierro visited him in jail in his Branch President role.  Fierro was dismissed for misusing his credentials to obtain the visit.  The appeals court found however that the evidence showed Fierro had fully disclosed his ecclesiastical role in visiting the jail. Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.