Free Exercise Clause issues
For lack of a First Amendment
Three women from a punk rock band face seven years in prison for performing an anti-Putin song on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. By contrast, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech, religion and assembly.
Churches to protest IRS
Thousands of pastors across the country plan to preach politics from the pulpit on Oct. 7 to defy a 1954 tax code prohibiting tax exempt organizations from such activities. But does the IRS really care? This issue is discussed in the UMass Press book, Religious Liberty in America.
Freedom of conscience, and lack thereof
On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops stormed Tiananmen Square, crushing the pro-democracy movement and killing hundreds. See SageLaw article on the right of conscience – and how it developed in America.
“One prisoner of conscience is one too many,” said Aung San Suu Kyi during her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech – 21 years after she was awarded the prize. See the SageLaw primer, “Faith and Conscience” in America, with Charles C. Haynes.
Supreme Court says ‘No’ to Ave Maria appeal
The High Court declined to take up a case charging that a school superintendent in Everett, Wash., violated students' First Amendment rights by prohibiting an istrumental performance of “Ave Maria” at a public high school graduation ceremony. Los Angeles Times editorial. The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, includes a chapter on religion in public schools.
Dividing line between ‘status,’ beliefs and sexual orientation
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Christian Legal Soc. Chapter of Univ. of Cal., Hastings College of Law v. Martinez, which concerns the "right" of a college-affiliated Christian club to exclude homosexuals. “Are you suggesting that if a group wanted to exclude all black people, all women, all handicapped persons, whatever other form of discrimination a group wants to practice, that a school has to accept that group and recognize it, give it funds and otherwise lend it space?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Michael W. McConnell, the lawyer for the Christian Legal Society. McConnell replied that the group may not discriminate on the basis of a person's status, but can on the basis of beliefs.
Free exercise of tax-free yoga?
Missouri recently imposed a 4 percent sales tax on yoga studios, prompting objection from many practitioners, who say yoga is a spiritual pursuit, and therefore should be tax-exempt. The state's move came as a result of a 2008 state Supreme Court decision, which ruled that fees paid for personal training services at gyms were taxable. The state Department of Revenue determined that yoga and Pilates centers offered similar training services, classifying them as "places of fitness and recreation," not worship.
Government seeks seizure of mosque properties
Federal authorities allege that religious organizations funneled money to an Iranian bank involved in that country's suspected nuclear weapons program. In response, Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said, "We are concerned that the seizure of American houses of worship could have a chilling effect on the religious freedom of citizens of all faiths and may send a negative message to Muslims worldwide." UC Berkeley law professor Jesse Choper cited instances in which the Supreme Court upheld seizures of bookstores or theaters because they were said to be linked to crimes. "Whether it is seizing a mosque or seizing a bookstore, it doesn't mean there is a special 1st Amendment scrutiny," or protection, Choper said.
Eagle killing raises issue of religious liberty
A Native American from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming is facing a criminal trial for killing a bald eagle without a permit. Tribal members say eagles are necessary for religious ceremonies. The federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits killing the birds, but the law provides an exception for Native Americans who use the eagles in ceremonies. The case is not the first time Native American religious practices have run afoul of the law. In the 1990 case, Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court ruled against two Native Americans who were fired from their jobs and denied unemployment benefits for using peyote during Native American religious ceremonies. The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, covers the Smith case and its implications.
Islamic sect has free exercise in America
Pakistan officially labels the Ahmadiyya sect non-Muslim and forbids Ahmadis from practicing some of Islam's most basic elements. An Ahmadi imam in Chino, Calif., reflects on the differences between his homeland and America on the issue of free exercise: "In this country, you have complete freedom to worship," said Imam Shamshad Nasir, the spiritual leader of the Chino mosque. "How can we have all this freedom in a Christian country but no Muslim countries offer the same kind of freedom?" The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, defines the meaning of free-exercise and how it has evolved in America.
UCLA grad permitted to ‘thank Jesus’
A UCLA student can thank Jesus in a personal statement to be read during graduation ceremonies. The had initially barred use of the Christian reference. The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, features a chapter on religion in public schools. See press release.
Judge gives nod to moment of silence
A federal district Judge in Dallas ruled that a Texas law mandating a moment of silence in public school classrooms does not promote an "excessive entanglement between government and religion." In 1985 Supreme Court case Wallace v. Jaffree, the Court struck down an Alabama school policy authorizing a one-minute period of silence. Religious Liberty in America covers Wallace v. Jaffree in chapters 5 and 7. See press release.
Church vs. IRS
Ministers from 22 states used their pulpits Sunday to deliver political sermons or endorse presidential candidates — defying a federal ban on campaigning by nonprofit groups. Religious Liberty in America discusses the showdown between All Saints Episcopal Church and the IRS on page xii; and the book explains the meaning of the free exercise of religion on pages 14 and 145. See press release. Also see the L.A. Times column, "Beware of the Bully Pulpit," by Tim Rutten; and news update.
Issues of conscience
Israel ends conscientious objection for Orthodox
The Israeli Supreme Court has invalidated a law that exempted from military service ultra-Orthodox Jews engaged in religious studies. The 6-to-3 court decision invalidates Tal Law, which granted exemptions to tens of thousands of religious academy students.
Conscience and contraception
A new federal requirement that employers include contraception coverage without a co-pay in the insurance plans they make available to their employees has sparked opposition from the Catholic church, which claims the policy collides with the right of conscience.
Chaucer expert fought Red Scare loyalty oath
Charles Muscatine, a world-renowned Chaucer scholar who was fired as a young assistant professor of English at UC Berkeley when he refused to sign a loyalty oath during the Red Scare of the 1950s, has died. He was 89. In 1949, the University of California Board of Regents began requiring all university employees to sign an oath in which they affirmed loyalty to the state Constitution while also denying membership or belief in organizations that advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government. Muscatine was among 31 professors, including distinguished scholars and future UC President David S. Saxon at UCLA, who were fired in the summer of 1950 after refusing to sign the loyalty oath.
Bill would allow modification of oath
A bill in California state senate would allow public employees to modify the state oath -- specifically the section that commits all state employees to defend the state and federal constitutions "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." The bill's sponsor, California State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), said the state "should not be asking people to violate their faith in order to work for the state of California as long as they will uphold the laws of the state." The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, explores the underlying basis of the First Amendment, the issue of conscience. See news release.
Teacher declines oath; school denies hire
A lecturer was denied an appointment at Cal State Fullerton because of her refusal to sign the state loyalty oath swearing to “defend” the U.S. and California constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Religious Liberty in America discusses conscientious objection on pages 156-159. Update: Lecturer allowed to append oath. See news release.
Math teacher fired, rehired over California oath
Marianne Kearney-Brown, a math instructor and a Quaker, was fired from Cal State East Bay after she inserted the word “nonviolently” in the California oath. Religious Liberty in America discusses conscientious objection on pages 156-159. See news release.