Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"God Told Me To Do It!"

In this article
It highlights one of the many aspects of religion that I am very interested in. Although I practice a mainstream religion that many people are aware of (stereotype) and have heard of I always wonder what it looks like from an outside view. It fascinates me to know that there are people they may believe that my religion is crazy, obsolete and or hypocritical, when in fact I see it as the complete opposite. I found this article and thought that it would be a great blog post because so many times the question of motivation arises. In other words why do some people persist on practicing a religion or aspects of that religion that may be harmful to others? Then again I guess what needs to be highlighted is that there is a possibility that the people whom the religion is law may not feel that they are causing any harm in the first place but on the contrary, feel that they are being loyal and good. The article above talks about the Holocaust, an event in history that we are for the most part familiar with and how the excuse “God told me to do it” plays into the whole ordeal. Although the article references Canadian law I felt it still appropriate in order to see the differences between the American culture and that of our neighbors to the north.
The article outlines a number of aspects that are significant to American law as well as Canadian law. One that I have found incredibly appealing since the mentioning of it in class is the use of drugs in religious ceremonies. A case that was decided in the mid to late 1980’s was one of the uses of peyote. Two men that worked (ironically) for a rehab clinic were drug tested and tested positive for peyote. The men that were both members of the Native American church claimed that they used the drug for ceremonial and ritualistic purposes. Although they lost their jobs and their case I was not personally in agreement with the result of the case. Call me Skalia, but I agree that the men should have been fired because when they were employed they agreed to the fact that they would be drug tested and therefore when they used peyote new that were disobeying the rules of their employer. The part that I am not in accordance with is that the state in which they lived in and their employer should never had had the regulation to begin with. Peyote has been used by the Native Americans for a long time and it is a proven fact that it is part of their religious doctrine.
Of course what is a blog post about Religion and the law without the mention of Polygamy and Bigamy? In reference to Polygamy I feel that The Principle was just a way for men to have their cake and eat it too. For one, when a person strongly believes that something is right, just, correct and true they shouldn’t have a reason to hide it much like the Mormons did not do in reference to Polygamy and The Principle when it was first heard of. It was not until years after the founding of the Church of Latter Day Saints that the revelation of The Principle surfaced. Canada took the stance that these actions degrade women and therefore they are not constitutional and prohibited by law. Where it gets messy is whether or not the country can honor the marriages when they took place in another country. I feel if you’re married in Vegas in a little white chapel by Elvis, you should be married only in Vegas.
In the end Canada as you can see has the same if not more problems of Religion and the Law as America. The fact that they are both strong and large nations I feel only makes the problem that much harder and worse. I feel that with seeing a little insight to the ordeal that Canada and the rest of the world for that matter has to endure we see the Religion and the Law is a topic that literally will never be solved or go away. I guess I shouldn’t phrase it as a problem, but it sure is problematic. From “The Principle,” to the new revolution of the “Green” religion, it is good to know that American isn’t the only one with Religion and Law on its agenda.

Church Comes First! New Prison Fellowship Ministries Reentry Programs

In an article published this week on ReligionDispatches.org, Mark Bergen discusses a new development of the rapidly spreading Prison Fellowship Ministries program. For those that are unfamiliar, Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) states that their mission is “to seek the transformation of prisoners and their reconciliation to God, family, and community through the power and truth of Jesus Christ.” This program was launched by Charles “Chuck” Colson, who was incarcerated for 7 months himself after the notorious Watergate scandal, in 1976. PFM then went inside the prisons to serve as an “alternative” rehabilitation program for prisoners. For further information on the values and history of the PFM please see their website.

This article on RD deals directly with a new PFM program called Out4Life. Out4Life began in Louisiana and has gained tremendous popularity recently and will be spreading to more than 10 other states in the coming years. Out4Life’s basic structure will vary in each state; however, the basic structure “will mirror the one in Louisiana, set in place with “a partnership with state and church,” says Jean Bush, Out4Life’s National Director. Is this a viable partnership?

What is of particular interest here is not the fact that PFM wishes to help ex and current criminals change their lives through Jesus Christ, but that it is a government funded program within the prison system. Therefore issue for programs like Out4Life is this: Is it a violation of the Establishment Clause for the government to sponsor and aid a religious, and clearly evangelical Christian, program?

Dr. Winnifred Sullivan published her book Prison Religion last year after being called as an expert witness in the case in Iowa involving the PFM and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Her book is a detailed account of her experience as a witness, the trial, and the programs in place in the Iowa prison. When questioned by the defense on behalf of the PFM, Sullivan was frequently pushed to agree that on paper PFM is a non-sectarian group with a completely secular purpose: to transform prisoners. However, I defy anyone who looks at the PFM website listed above and reads their mission statement and core values section to claim that this is an inherently secular and not a religious group.

With that in mind, is there a clear violation of the Establishment Clause? Judge Pratt found that in Iowa there most certainly was. However, the PFM continues to grow inside and outside of the prison walls. In fact, President Obama recently set aside $144 million to support these reentry programs put in place by former President George W. Bush. Despite the fact that PFM has bipartisan support, is it constitutionally legal for the government to support and endorse such overtly religious programs? It is my understanding that with the precedents set up in cases such as Everson v. Board of Education there is to be a “high and impregnable wall” between Church and State. Recently, it seems that this wall has become a 2-way swinging or revolving door. If the government wishes to continue to state that they remain totally and completely neutral to religion, this wall must remain high and impregnable. If it does not, I have a feeling that we will see many more cases like the one in which Dr. Sullivan testified in Iowa.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pork or Parents?

Should serving pork be a requirement for good foster parenting? As outrageous as this question sounds, apparently a private company called Contemporary Family Services (CFS), which is authorized by the state of Maryland to place foster children, believes serving pork is such a requirement. This question came to light when Ms. Tashima Crudup, a Muslim woman who was once part of the foster care system herself, was denied the opportunity to become a foster parent. CFS denied Ms. Crudup’s application after a home interview during which Ms. Crudup explained that she would not allow pork products in her home. CFS claims that this is the sole reason that Ms. Crudup’s application was denied stating “there could potentially be a discrepancy between her expectations and the needs and personal views of a child.” However, Crudup had assured the CFS representative that she would honor the religious beliefs of any child in her care. She told the representative that she would take the child to services of his or her choice and the child was free to consume pork products in establishments outside the home.

On April 14th Ms. Crudup, with the help of the ACLU of Maryland, filed a complaint with the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission on grounds of illegal religious discrimination. Ajmel Quereshi, attorney with the ACLU maintained, “The law is clear that you cannot deny people the opportunity to care for foster children based solely on their religion, particularly when they have emphasized that they would help children in their care to follow their own religious beliefs.”

I agree with the religious discrimination claim made by Ms. Crudup and the ACLU in this case. I believe that CFS discriminated on religious grounds in denying Ms. Crudup’s application because such a dietary standard would lead to denial of applications by Orthodox Jews who also abstain from consuming pork, Catholics who do not eat meat on Friday, and even vegetarians, but it has not yet been shown that any of these groups are not fit to be foster parents because of their dietary restrictions. Therefore, it seems clear that Ms. Crudup has been singled out due to anti-Muslim prejudice by CFS.

If Contemporary Family Services has illegally discriminated against Ms. Crudup on a religious basis, one must wonder for how long the company has discriminated against Muslims and to whom else has this happened. There are thousands of kids across the United States that are in need of a family to care for them and I highly doubt that they are concerned whether pork is allowed on their dinner table or not.
Furthermore, although dietary restrictions as the basis for foster parent approval may appear secular on the surface, this rule clearly has not been secular in practice. If CFS had denied other parents such as Jews, Catholics, vegetarians, and vegans based on their dietary requirements, then I think this rule would be constitutional (although in my opinion unreasonable). However, by singling Ms. Crudup as a Muslim out from the other individuals with dietary restrictions, I think there is certainly a basis for an illegal religious discrimination claim and CFS should be held responsible.

Despite Contemporary Family Services’ opinion, given the option between pork products and foster parents, I would choose the latter. Wouldn’t you?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Court Splits Sharply on Campus Christian Argument

The college experience for many people is one of vast networking that many students have to go through if they want to make it ahead after graduation. And with networking we see these students join various clubs, be it physical (martial arts), mental (student United Nations). However, when it comes to joining a spiritual club, the student tries to find a sense of religious ideology with their fellow clubbers. However, one religious club at the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, a branch of the University of California, in particular has one rule that must be followed pertaining to homosexuals and their exclusion. And in this article we will look at one club who has overstepped their boundaries on who to let in and the trial that ensued.

The case titled, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez deals with the club excluding homosexuals because it clashes with their religious beliefs. The main issue that this case will determine is whether religious-based and other private organizations that want federal funding have the right to discriminate against people who do not hold their core beliefs. The Christian Legal Society requires members to sign a proclamation of their faith and that they do not participate in sexual immorality that clashes with Christian beliefs thus the reason for no homosexuals. The group even wants the University of California to fund their club, but the university not only denied them but shut them down on the basis of discrimination. At first the case was thrown out by federal judges saying how the club violated the first amendment granting free speech and free exercise which is upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004. However, this case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court in which the justices are split on the issue at hand the official rule will happen this summer.

The big question that comes into play is the actions of the Christian Legal Society. One can understand that the group holds the Christian beliefs as their core value, but to deny someone entry on the basis of their sexuality is just wrong. There are clubs that do allow others in even if their ideals clash such as Democratic students entering into Republican clubs such as Justice Scalia puts it, so what is to stop them from allowing homosexuals into their club.

In my opinion, I believe that the homosexuals should be allowed into the Christian Legal Society. The club could make a rule in which the member, be it homosexual or not, must pass a biblical quiz in order to join them or something. However, by blacklisting these future candidates the Christian Legal Society is just limiting themselves and their image within the University.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Green Universalism?

This semester has had many questions, mostly unanswered, but one of the big ones is ‘what is religion?’ In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (from now on referred to as Kitzmiller) we get incredibly long and detailed reasons and definitions for the decision to strike down intelligent design as a science because it is not a science. This opinion in the Atlanta Journal Constitution is a very well written opinion, but I am having a hard time with “environmentalist religion”. It seems like the environment should be a science. In Kitzmiller the 3 levels used to determine ID as not a science were invoking and permitting a supernatural being, the use of ”irreducible complexity” or dualism, and the fact that evolution is supported by scientists. Professor Nelson never calls the environmentalists scientists, but based on these three levels his opinion would not disprove validity of science. So then the question is “is it really a religion”? Nelson claims that the environmentalists are trying to be God and have their own 10 Commandments and have made Earth Day their Easter. However, he says the reason the Earth Day Environmentalists (EDE)are able to get such support is by connecting with people from various religious groups as well as spiritual people who have no wish to be in a religion. Here is the money question; “have the EDE created a viable universal religion that puts the Prison Fellowship Ministries (found in Winnifred Fallers Sullivan’s book Prison Religion) to shame?” In some ways I would argue yes. Professor Nelson says

“By appearing distinct from formal theologies and official churches of institutional Christianity, it can attract people who would normally not be involved, including residents of many nominally Christian nations and those who think of themselves as “spiritual,” while vigorously rejecting any suggestion that they should ever belong to “a religion.”

Where the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) employs sectarian views (there was disagreement in discussion about whether sectarian or secular or universal but I think we all agreed that there were no strong arguments for universalism) the EDE is able to bring people willingly into the fold through casting off religion. On Earth Day, Facebook was littered with statuses along the lines of “Go Green or Die” by people whose “religion box” ranged the gambit from Christian to Atheist to Spiritual to various smart-alecky remarks. Now Facebook is not the most “scientific” of sources to use for an argument but it certainly touches many people in the United States, and it is telling that it does touch so many different types of people. Sullivan argues that “religion” is not a viable term to use in the language of law. But looking at all the different things we call “religious” or “a religion”, maybe “religion” has outlived its viable use. The practices and beliefs of all of these different groups are still strong and in many cases growing. But if we continue to split up the world into “religions” we will never have a “universal group”. That seems like an oxymoron anyway. I have never heard of a “group” that includes everyone. I thought that was a species. And then we are back to religion v. science….

Monday, April 19, 2010

Muslim's in America

Several weeks ago a post was written about the banning of Muslim burqas in France, which we have discussed several times since. It never crossed my mind that such a religious discrimination would ever be imposed in the United States. This article discusses the on going issues facing Muslim women desiring to wear hijab, religious headscarves. Hani Khan, a young woman who worked at Hollister (owned by Abercrombie & Fitch), was asked one day to remove her hijab. When she refused, she was fired a week later. Khan filed a religious discrimination suit against the company only to discover she is one of many. Muslim women have been singled out in airports, banks, and at the Division of Motor Vehicles due to the ability to easily identify them by religious garments. A 16-year-old girl in Delaware now has a license depicting her crying because of how upset it made her to be asked to remove her hijab. Another woman, Nadia Hassan, was subject to a full-body search at the airport due to refusal of removing her hijab although she did not set off the metal detector.

Many different issues are brought up in this article. Should companies be allowed to portray a certain image to their customers? Are hijabs a threat to national security, either pictured in one’s license photo or worn on a plane? Does our country’s fear of terrorism give us the right to impose additional security on Muslim’s?

Regarding Khan and her suit against Abercrombie & Fitch, the company offered her a job if she agreed to stay in the stockroom, out of view. She refused claiming, “The company is trying to portray this all-American look. Well. I’m American.” I think Khan makes a wonderful point here. America is the mixing pot; our country is special because of its multiple cultures and the freedom of expression. I think it is unconstitutional for a company to be allowed to filter its employees by their religion and the accessories that accompany it. I don’t think a hijab hinders one’s ability to perform at a job in a clothing store, which I think should be the company’s only concern. The free exercise of religion should only be dismissed if there is a compelling state interest, which I hope the court agrees the image of Hollister is not. If the military, as discussed in previous blogs, can make exceptions for religious head coverings if they are not detrimental to performance, I believe a clothing store should have to.

In the original ruling of Wisconsin v. Yoder, the judge ruled that mandating the pledge of allegiance was constitutional due to the context of World War II. Given the context of the current war and recent terrorism attacks, I am sympathetic to the country’s concern regarding identification and traveling. The clerk at the Delaware Motor Vehicles Department was actually corrected, and the girl was told that there was no need for her to remove her hijab. I agree, that it is unnecessary to force women to do something interfering with their religion, but I also agree that it is important to insure the women are clearly identifiable in their pictures. If the hijab is covering a woman’s face it must be modified due to the fear of identity theft interfering with national security.

As was brought up in discussing the blog regarding Muslims opposition to x-ray airport security, this is a very big issue. Muslim’s are, unfortunately, associated with terrorism. They are the only group of people that we have had such devastating recent issues with and whom our troops are fighting to protect us against. But this does not take away the constitutional rights of Muslim Americans. Under the U.S Constitution a Christian American should be viewed no differently than a Muslim American. It is unfortunate that the hijab has become a target on Muslim women, but they are merely exercising their freedom of religion. To constantly mentally associate the symbol negatively is unfair. Social profiling is not provable, so although it is unconstitutional it is inevitable. We should not be able to employ additional security upon Muslim’s with no probable cause, but our fear of national security will over ride the rights of the people. The right to fair employment though is provable and unconstitutional. Stores like Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch are sending a bad image to youth saying that expressing a non-Judeo-Christian religion makes you not American. We must first tackle this terrible misconception before there is any hope for complete protection for religious minorities.

Discrimination or Freedom of Speech?

Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments from the Christian Legal Society at the University of California's Hastings College of Law. The Christian Legal Society is suing Hastings College because it believes that its religious freedoms were violated when it was denied recognition as a student group. In 2004, the Christian Legal Society implemented a requirement that voting members sign a statement of faith. Shortly thereafter Hastings revoked the society’s recognition as a student group because its membership requirement violated the strict nondiscrimination policy, which states that student groups that wish to receive money from the publicly financed college cannot refuse membership on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or other prohibited factors. Hastings’ nondiscrimination policy is consistent with California law prohibiting postsecondary educational institutions that receive state money from discriminating based on religion or sexual orientation. In 2006, a San Francisco Federal Court decided in favor of Hastings. This decision was affirmed unanimously by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. A more detailed description of today’s hearings can be found in this Wall Street Journal article.

The major constitutional issues raised by this case are whether the nondiscrimination policy of Hastings is neutral or hostile towards religion and whether the policy is necessary to avoid violation of the Establishment clause. I believe that the policy is neutral towards religion, deeming it unnecessary to consider Establishment issues. This case is very similar to Rosenberger v. University of Virginia. Ronald Rosenberger was among a group of undergraduate students that formed a student publication at University of Virginia. The publication, called Wide Awake, focused on contemporary issues from a religious perspective. The University of Virginia denied school funding to Wide Awake because it believed that the publication “would jeopardize the University's tax-exempt status.” Rosenberger subsequently filed suit claiming that the University had violated his freedom of speech. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Rosenberger, claiming that the University of Virginia had engaged in viewpoint discrimination and that providing funding to the student publication would not have violated the Establishment clause.

However, there are several key differences between this case and Rosenberger v. University of Virginia. Firstly, Rosenberger was argued on free speech grounds and I do not think that the Christian Legal Society can make a valid free speech case. In my opinion, Hastings did not engage in viewpoint discrimination because they did not attempt to sensor the content of Christian Legal Society meetings or brochures. The university merely enforced a nondiscrimination policy consistent with California state law. Secondly, I believe that Hastings faces a real risk of violating the Establishment clause by providing funding to the Christian Legal Society because Hastings would essentially be funding a religiously discriminatory membership requirement. By doing so, the Hastings students and the public at large could see the college as favoring Christianity over other religions. The University of Virginia was not a risk of violating the Establishment Clause because they were funding a group that was verbal about its opinions, but did not have any discriminatory policies.

Opinions of the Supreme Court Justices were mixed today. The always outspoken Scalia noted "It is so weird to require the campus Republican Club to admit Democrats, not just to membership, but to officership. To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That's crazy." A decision on this case is expected to be released in June.

A million New Yorkers are good without religious advertisements. Are You?

After a semester long of discussion about the first amendment and the various situations in which its been invoked to decide landmark cases, I think it’s interesting to take a look back at an article from a few months ago that many of us may at the time would have brushed off without thinking about the possible implications. Back in October a group of eight various atheist organizations purchased a month long campaign that will place their posters through a dozen different subway stations in Manhattan, in an attempt to foster their message: “A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?” Apparently the reason for choosing Manhattan as the location for this campaign is due to the city’s extremely busy nature, and wide spread usage of public transportation. The United Coalition of Reason, a national organization that advocates atheist ideas, is among one of the groups involved in this new campaign to buy ad space from the Metro Transit Authority. While on the surface this may seem harmless, and fully in line with advertising guidelines and constitutional legality, does this make anybody besides me a little uneasy?

There are numerous contexts to argue from as to why implementing these ads is such a problem, but outside of a legal standpoint mainly two. To begin with, why is the MTA, an organization run and funded by New York State with tax payer dollars, promoting a religious campaign? While atheism isn’t exactly a religion, it’s actually quite the opposite, the same logic would apply to any religious billboard, as we know from class religion and non religion must be treated equally, and as such the MTA endorses both similarly in their advertising guidelines. I think while not blatant; the state of New York is in fact endorsing religion, at least on some level. If the board read “A million New Yorkers are good with Jesus. Are you?” I can’t help but feel that people would undoubtedly have a problem with this. In fact many of the atheist groups hope that the billboards “encourage talking and thinking about religion and morality,” according to the article. If this is the purpose of the advertisement, then why is the MTA, which is funded by the government, engaging in this kind of religious encouragement. If you weren’t from the United States and were traveling via subway, as many tourists in fact do, and saw a large billboard sponsoring religion, it would be dubious at best to say this wouldn’t generate confusion about the American legal system.

It also happens that just a few years ago an advertisement promoting Islam was being displayed on subway cars, and was being partially funded by an imam of a Brooklyn mosque who served as a character witness for the man convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. While I am not saying of course that all Muslims are terrorists or that all Islamic advertisements are funded by terrorists, it must be realized that there is some clear religiously guided message being provided from these billboards. At that time, due to the nature of its funding, this Islamic related billboard was under heavy debate, while currently these new, seemingly religiously content lacking atheist billboards, do not appear to be under particular scrutiny. Whether or not one buys the tax payer dollars argument, we have already looked at cases like Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, just to name one from class, where limited public forum has come into play, and quite frankly what I think I am getting at is, if these subway cars are government affiliated vehicles I believe there exists some right, to not be subjected to billboards displaying religious content while I commute to work in the morning.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ra, Ra, Zis Boom Bah! Praise Jesus!

The recent demolition of Texas Stadium saddened me for reasons I could not explain. What I can admit, though, is that now I have football in my mind. As I now live in Georgia, I reflect on Georgia football—specifically the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School football program and its cheerleaders. Located somewhere in north Georgia (I admit I have not bothered to look it up), this high school endured public scrutiny last October, 2009 when someone complained about the cheerleader practice of holding up large signs decorated with Scripture for the team’s break-through on the field. A Ph. D. education student at Liberty University alerted the school about possible Constitutional problems associated with this practice. The school principal mused about the “flap and the amount of attention it’s gotten nation wide.” Apparently, this practice is not new and has been going on for six years. The cheerleading coach, Susan Bradley, mentioned her familiarity of the practice from as far back as 2001 in response to 9/11 and the nation’s efforts to rally toward God. The community definitely rallied behind the school. Nearly 12,000 supporters signed a Facebook page created by a local youth pastor. Students attending games peppered the stands with Scripture-bearing signs, some students painted Bible verses on their bodies and players gathered at midfield to pray. One cheerleader commented that this practice seemed so benign when compared to the cheerleaders in one Atlanta suburb who were recently accused of licentiously provocative dancing in front of football players at a pep rally.

Just how benign is a 30 X 15 foot sign painted with Scripture for the football team to burst through on their way to brutal and violent play? Bradley offered that this could not be illegal because the girls fundraised the money for the signs and it was a student-led activity. The school class president declared that the cheerleaders just wanted to inspire and motivate the players and the fans. The Lemon test, hard to die since it is so simple to apply, might allow that (1) the secular purpose is as the class president claims—motivation and inspiration for players and fans; (2) it apparently does inspire and motivate the fans—they attend games—and maybe the players, it is difficult to say since they seem to lose a lot; and (3) the girls did raise the money for the signs, but then they displayed the signs on school district property lit up by lights paid for by the school district (read taxpayers). Or we could stick to O’Connor’s Endorsement test: Is this an invocation of religion and does it cause outsiders discomfort? Has the school been neutral to religion? What is a reasonable accommodation of religion for this community? In a small north Georgia community of less than 10,000, a community that most likely has a long history of religion in the public school despite Supreme Court rulings may very well want their boys to punch through a Scriptural blessing on their way to possible glory. There may be a newcomer in town that may feel uncomfortable with this overtly obvious public display of religion. People interviewed admitted that only Christian verses would be acceptable and other religion’s philosophies would not be received well. Is it, under this circumstance, possible for the school district to be neutral? There seems to be two realities here. First, I cannot see how this practice could be declared Constitutional as it fails every Supreme Court test. Second, taking something endeared by this community, something clean and wholesome (if slightly sacrilegious), and something important to the students away to be replaced by something safely secular is profoundly sad. Whether a matter of state endorsement of religion or of free exercise of religion, the people of this community lose something fundamental to their community’s identity. Too much and too obvious religion may be bad, but to a certain extent, too much and too obvious secularism may be bad too.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

National Prayer Day is Unconstitutional?

This article from the Huffington Post describes a recent ruling by a Federal District Judge on the constitutionality of National Prayer Day. In her opinion, Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the upcoming National Prayer Day 2010 is unconstitutional and should be canceled. Needless to say, this decision has garnered a great deal of criticism. Even the Obama Administration has started an inquiry into what can legally be done to overturn this ruling. Justice Crabb stated the United States government should have no say over “whether or when” an individual prays. Additionally, Judge Crabb describes prayer as something that is completely personal. Any declaration of a prayer day, by the government, can be viewed as an issue of establishment. The issue of establishment is clearly defined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Justice Crabb went on to say, “In this instance, government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.” She finishes her opinion by stating that her ruling in no way bars the declaration of official prayer days until all legal means of appealing the ruling have been utilized.

In response, the American Center for Law and Justice expressed displeasure about the ruling. The ACLJ’s Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow asserted that this decision is a blatant disregard for the religious tradition of the United States. Mr. Sekulow believes that the National Prayer Day in no way breaches the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In fact, Sekulow argues that the National Prayer Day is a sign of respect for the role that religion played in shaping the nation. Additional criticism for this ruling has come from the White House. Representatives of the Obama Administration have stated that President Obama still plans to recognize a National Prayer Day. According to presidential representatives, the National Prayer Day in no way violates the Establishment Clause. Rather, as the ACLJ also suggests, the tradition of holding a National Prayer Day has unequivocally upheld the First Amendment. The government argues that the National Prayer Day does not impose a religion on any individual; it only celebrates the role of religion in the United States.

It is undoubtedly the case that Judge Crabb’s decision has gone against a long tradition of holding a national day of prayer in the United States. But, is she correct that the National Prayer Day breaches the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? In my opinion, the National Prayer Day does not establish any form of religion in the country. Although the religious history of the United States is founded in Protestantism, it is not the case that the National Prayer Day favors any particular religion. It is merely a day to celebrate the freedom of religion that is granted to all citizens. Furthermore, the Prayer Day does not directly bias non-religion. Individuals are not being coerced in to participating in this day or any activities related to it. The government setting aside a single day to celebrate a certain activity hardly constitutes religious establishment. For these reasons, I believe that that Federal District Judge’s decision will eventually have little effect on the future of National Prayer Day.

The realization that National Prayer Day has never been struck down as unconstitutional, until this point, is indicative of the widely held belief that National Prayer Day does not constitute an establishment of religion. Along these lines it has also been argued that the Prayer Day is not an excessive entanglement of government and religion. I agree that this single day of recognition is not an example of excessive entanglement and furthermore does not violate the Establishment Clause. This issue can be paralleled to the decision in Marsh v Chambers. In Chambers, the Court ruled that the unique history of religion in the United States shows that a publicly funded prayer does not infringe on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. While there are other arguments made in the Chambers ruling, I believe that the issue of tradition is the most pertinent to the decision on National Prayer Day. If the argument of tradition can be used to show that a publicly funded prayer does not violate the Establishment Clause then it is unreasonable to suggest that the a National Prayer Day, which is not tied to any specific religion, establishes a national religion. In this way, Marsh v Chambers sets a precedent for the government arguing that the secular reason of celebrating the tradition of religion through publicly sponsored prayer is constitutional.

The most difficult issue surrounding this decision is whether or not a National Prayer Day discriminates against those individuals who are non-religious. Although I quickly brushed this issue aside at the beginning of this post, it is the most common argument made in favor of Judge Crabb’s ruling. The notion of prayer is undeniably linked to religion or at least faith in general. It may be argued that by the government establishing a National Prayer Day, the state is in turn violating the rights of atheists who do not believe in religion. However, this argument seems to be logically invalid. There are plenty of examples of “National” holidays that could be said to discriminate against anyone who does not believe in their religious underpinnings. If it is the case that the National Prayer Day violates individuals rights under the First Amendment, then so must every other holiday that has some form of religious history. (For example, Thanksgiving) However, this is not the case. The National Prayer Day is no more an establishment of religion than any other governmentally recognized holiday. The government has a secular reason for celebrating religion. Simply put, prayer has played a major role in constructing the nation. It therefore has a secular right to be recognized and it is important to do so. The National Prayer Day does not serve as an establishment of religion but rather as a way to inform citizens of their history and the role religion has played in it. For these reasons I believe that Judge Crabb’s ruling, that the National Prayer Day is unconstitutional, is unfounded and will eventually be overturned by the appeals process.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Co-Pays for Faith Healing

Right now, lobbyists are hard at work trying to convince politicians to hold insurance companies responsible for covering prayer fees.

The Christian Scientist Church is currently employing lobbyists to persuade lawmakers to draft a bill that will push insurance companies to cover $25-$50 visits to the Christian Scientist Church for healing prayer. In his New York Times article, Paul Vitello explains how the aforementioned church plans to connect with modern medicine via the thin bridge of structured service billing.

The Church of Christ, Scientist was founded in Boston by Mary Eddy in 1879. After sustaining a serious injury after slipping on a sheet of ice and being told that she had no chance of recovery by her local doctor, Ms. Eddy claimed to be miraculously healed after reading a New Testament Bible verse. She thus formed the Church around the premise that the Scripture beckons Christians to heal others by mimicking Jesus’ reliable actions.

Original Christian Scientist text warned that “anyone inviting a doctor to his sickbed invites defeat.” Since its inception, over 50 members have been charged in connection with death or injury stemming from members, mostly children, being encouraged to forego medical care. Currently, church officials maintain that “its members [have always] been free to choose medical care”. Declining membership rates and Church closings have forced the Christian Scientists to reinvent their approach. They hope that the co-pay options will act as a double edged sword that will both enforce the legitimacy of faith healing and increase the profits of the Church.

Lobbyists have petitioning the Senate on behalf of the Church of Christ, Scientist since 2006. In October 2009, Senate leaders received statements from physicians invalidating faith healing because of the “ complete lack of scientific evidence of the efficacy of prayer in treating any illness or disorder in children.” The doctors maintained that by holding insurance companies responsible for financing the Church’s prayer consultations, the government would be effectively “mandating coverage… for services that run counter to the principles of evidence-based medicine.”

Unfortunately, the article does not question the constitutionality of a Bill that would effectively support the practices of a church that performs services whose only qualifiers are references to Jesus Christ. Isn’t that in violation of the Establishment Clause? In the 1993 Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah case, the Supreme Court held that states cannot restrict religiously mandated animal slaughter. The Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye is a Yoruba church in Florida that, among other things, provides spiritual help and guidance to its members through Santeria practices. If this Bill is passed, would Santeria healing be included also? Would a Yoruba woman undergoing fertility treatments, who requests a Priest to summon the fertility goddess Oshun to aid in conception, be covered? Probably not. Religious treatment should not be mandated by the Legislative Branch. If all religious healing and treatment cannot be addressed in this Bill, then it is futile to even consider it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

2 Catholic schools to convert

Following a trend set in New York and Washington DC, Catholic leaders in Indianapolis have decided to convert two parochial schools into state-funded charter schools. However, this marks the first time that an archdiocese will run public charter schools. In order to qualify for almost $1 million in funding for the first year, the schools St. Anthony’s and St. Andrew and St. Rita’s Academy will have to undergo significant changes. All prayer, Bibles and religious icons have to be removed from the school and religious education during the school day will end. Teachers will also have to undergo strict lessons on the constitutional duties of public school teachers, and all of the teachers will have to reapply for their jobs, though the archdiocese expects most of the teachers to return. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has taken on the role of watchdog, to ensure that the archdiocese goes through with its promises to remove the church from the now state-funded schools. The president of the group’s chapter in Indiana stated, “we are certainly going to be watching the situation as closely as we can and making noise about it when we see things going on that should not be”. The schools will even be renamed this summer. The schools are in very low-income areas and as such, the archdiocese has a long history of subsidizing them. While the schools are not overjoyed about the decision to apply for charter status, parents are very excited about only having to pay for textbook rental once the conversion is complete.

The mayor sees this as an innovative way to keep good schools open in neighborhoods that are underprivileged, and as a way to ensure that these struggling parochial schools stay open. Indianapolis is a unique situation because ADI Charter Schools Inc, a non-profit set up by the archdiocese will continue to run the schools once they are converted. The parochial schools that were converted in New York and Washington DC were turned over to a secular organization. As families continue to find it more difficult to pay parochial school tuition, more schools are looking into converting to charter schools. Officials feel confident that the schools will successfully be able to separate religion from the school through secular adaptation of the state-approved character education curriculum already used in the city's urban Catholic schools. Parents are confident that children will still learn the same Catholic values in these schools through parental involvement at the school and ensuring that their children remain active in their local parishes. Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, stresses that “the schools will have to walk a fine line…This switch goes far beyond saying, ‘Well, we're no longer going to say prayers.’ There is a whole set of obligations that public schools have to students and to the public that private schools do not have”.

Once again we see the collision of the state and religion in schools. Like many of the cases we have read in class this article discusses the role religion is going to play in the running of a public school. However, in this case the school was previously run privately by the Catholic Church and is converting to a public charter school as a result of financial troubles. Additionally, there have been previous, successful transitions of parochial schools into secular charter schools, but they have been run afterwards by secular organizations. In Indianapolis, the non-profit that will be running the schools is organized by the archdiocese. This can present some potential problems in keeping the schools secular, as will the parental involvement. Parents want to make sure that their children still receive the same Catholic morals that they were receiving before the school became public. The school will have to be very careful to not promote anything religious, as they will be closely watched. As we saw in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, Wallace v. Jaffree, and Edwards v. Aguillard, the court is becoming increasingly strict on religious activities occurring during the school day. I think that the parochial organization running the day-to-day operations of the charter school will complicate the secularization of the schools. I do not think that a religiously affiliated organization should have any type of control over a school that is being funded by taxpayers. Charter schools are traditionally free from many of the regulations regular public schools are subject to by the state regarding ciriculum and budget, so I think the state and the ‘watchdog’ organization should keep a close eye on these new charter schools to ensure that they realize they are now secular schools. I think it is very noble of the Indianapolis government to try to rescue these good schools serving needy areas, and if they want this venture to be successful, they have to keep a close eye on the curriculum and activities of the school to ensure that any religious education that the students receive occurs after school, or at their respective churches.

Can Your Parents' Sexual Orientation Determine Your School Admission?

Two children currently enrolled as students at The Sacred Heart of Jesus School will not be allowed to return to school next year. Why? Because their parents are lesbians.

This article states that last month the Archdiocese of Denver defended the Catholic school's decision to ban the children from attending the school, on the grounds that their parents' lifestyle goes against the doctrines and teachings of the Catholic Church. The two children are currently both in preschool; the oldest child was enrolled in kindergarten for next year, and the younger child was enrolled for another year of preschool. The oldest child is allowed to complete this year but will not be allowed to return next school year, and the younger child is allowed to complete all preschool years, but will also not be allowed to enroll in kindergarten. In an article published in the Denver Catholic Register, Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote, "The Church does not claim that people with a homosexual orientation are 'bad' or that their children are less loved by God. Quite the opposite. But what the Church does teach is that sexual intimacy by anyone outside marriage is wrong; that marriage is a sacramental covenant; and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. These beliefs are central to a Catholic understanding of human nature, family and happiness, and the organization of society. The Church cannot change these teachings because, in the faith of Catholics, they are the teachings of Jesus Christ."

When put into those terms, this decision indeed appears to be in line with the Catholic teachings, but DignityUSA director Marianne Duddy-Burke does not feel that way. She says that "the Archdiocese has acted very unjustly" in singling these two children out for exclusion. She continued, "Until every student's parents are tested on Catholic teaching, this action by Catholic officials cannot be understood as anything other than discrimination on the back of a child." Duddy-Burke brings up a valid point. Since the Catholic church does not agree with divorce and remarriage, are children of divorced or remarried parents also being asked to leave the school? Or what about children whose parents have affairs and cheat on their spouses? I'm pretty confident that the Archdiocese is not monitoring the lifestyle of every student's parents, so it seems that this decision was made off of rather inconsistent regulations.

As a private institution, The Sacred Heart of Jesus School has the right to choose who is granted admission into the school. But does it have the right to reject students, even if it means rejecting them on the basis of discriminating against homosexuality?

It seems unfair, but I think that right now it would be in the best interest of both of the children to leave the The Sacred Heart of Jesus and attend elementary school somewhere else next year. If they stay at a school where they are being taught that homosexuality is bad and evil, they will essentially be learning that their mommies are bad, which is clearly not something that children should be learning in school.

Religious Exemptions to Military Uniform Codes

The United States Army changed its policy regarding Sikhs in 1984, when it decided to no longer permit adherents of Sikhism to retain their uncut hair, wrapped in a turban, and unshaven faces and still enlist in the military. However, the army has recently granted exemptions to this policy to two Sikh men, and Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan just graduated from basic officer training.

The Supreme Court held in 1986 (two years after the aforementioned policy shift) that a Jewish Air Force officer could not wear his yarmulke with his uniform, so this is certainly a change in the way the military feels about religious apparel and the uniform code. The Court did not rule that soldiers could not display external signs of their religion; only that the military was within its right to ban those displays, and the case of Captain Rattan shows that the military has decided to allow at least some displays of religion.

One of the major concerns that would arise with this case would be unit cohesion, since Captain Rattan appears noticeably different from his peers while they are all in uniform. However, one of Rattan’s unit’s instructors stated that, “[o]nce the other soldiers understood that [Rattan wasn’t a foreign national and had received the Army’s permission to maintain his beard and turban], there were no issues.” I think that there will always be people who do and do not accept people who are different from them, and if there are soldiers who will not accept a practicing Sikh, their opinions will not really hinge on the soldier’s outward signs of his faith but rather his religious beliefs or ethnic background.

Another concern is the safety of stepping outside of the traditional uniform, a worry that the article also addresses, describing how Rattan wore a helmet over his turban and how he was able to seal his gas mask over his beard. The Army’s safety concerns, which would have been legitimate, were thus assuaged. I agree that safety is tantamount and I think that is the appropriate line of demarcation when it comes to religious displays on soldiers. If a soldier’s outward manifestation of his religion could present a danger to himself or others, he will have to choose between his uniform and his faith, but as long as the outward display cannot cause harm, the Army should allow soldiers to express their religion because the Constitution allows them free exercise.

I do believe that the Army has erred in only granting exemptions rather than doing away with the non-Sikh policy in the first place. Since Captain Rattan has made it clear that Sikhs maintaining the articles of their faith can successfully serve in the military, there is no reason for the Army’s continued discrimination against his Sikh fellows. In addition, since the Supreme Court’s main argument in Goldman v. Weinberger was that the Court should yield to military experts, that case should be overturned as the Army has determined that retaining the articles of their faith does not negatively affect a Sikh’s performance, and I cannot see why a Jew’s yarmulke would not fall under the same banner.

Justice Stevens and the Religious Makeup of the Supreme Court

On April 9th, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced that he will be retiring from the Court at the close of the current term, assuming that President Obama has found a fitting replacement for him. This announcement has been met with a great deal of buzz in the political world, and the question as to the religion of the new Justice has come into play. In this article from the Associated Baptist Press, many of the issues related to religion and the Supreme Court are discussed.

As it stands, Justice Stevens is the only Protestant Justice still sitting on the High Court. The remainder of the Court is comprised of six Catholic members and two Jews, which is highly uncharacteristic of a Court that has historically been dominated by Protestants. While the arguments about numbers and ratios of the religious faiths represented hold a great deal of water in this situation, it is interesting to look back on Justice Stevens’ personal record as related to cases dealing with the Religion Clauses.

While Stevens is generally considered the most liberal member of the Court and his jurisprudence has only drifted further left, the Court itself has seen an overall shift toward the right in membership. Stevens has consistently opposed government entities that have promoted or endorsed religion, most notably seen in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000). Not surprisingly, Stevens has often been criticized for his firm stance on Establishment. Writing the Minority Opinion in Santa Fe, Chief Justice Rehnquist said that Justice Stevens’ Majority Opinion “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.”

Interestingly, though, Justice Stevens has been somewhat inconsistent in decisions dealing with Free Exercise claims. In the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith, Stevens joined the majority in striking down the use of Peyote by Native Americans as part of their religious practices. This was one of the most controversial cases dealing with religious liberties that the Court has handed down in recent history. Speaking of this decision, Brent Walker of the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty said that Smith “gutted the Free Exercise Clause of its robust religious-liberty protection for all Americans.” In other cases, however, Stevens did vote in favor of protections for religious groups (Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah and Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union School District, both in 1993).

I think the overarching issue that needs to be examined is Justice Stevens’ tenure on the Court in the context we discussed last week in class relating to the Feldman article, “A Christian America and the Separation of Church and State.” We discussed the seemingly inconsistent manner in which the Court has decided cases dealing with minority religious perspectives. It is evident that our country has developed with a strong Protestant influence and faith, and only sparingly has the Court ruled in favor of the minority groups. How can this be explained? Does the overall religious makeup of the Court have anything to do with this? Will it matter at all if there are no more Protestant members left on the Court? There are groups calling for the President to nominate someone as dedicated to the separation of church and state as Stevens was, and still others who want someone who will provide a more consistent voice in the Free Exercise realm. I wonder, though, if it might be time to call for a nominee of a true religious and cultural minority. The most recent addition to the Court was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, only the third female Justice and the first one of Hispanic heritage. Given the religious melting-pot that our nation has come to be, maybe it is time for the Highest Court to resemble such diversity.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Westboro Baptist Church and the First Amendment

By now, most of us have probably heard about the mine explosion that occurred last Monday in West Virginia. The tragic event left 25 dead and many others injured. What some might not have heard is that the Westboro Baptist Church has made their way up to West Virginia to make known their sentiments regarding the situation. For those unfamiliar with the Westboro Baptist Church, a few years ago they became infamous for showing up to funerals of American soldiers with signs that read “God hates homosexuals,” claiming that the death of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan was due to America's toleration homosexuality.

Before what was to be an excursion to West Virginia for protests unrelated to the mining incident, the Church claimed to have received threats about their trip. When the mine exploded, they saw it as a vindication of their mission and condemnation of those who were against them. A quote from the NY times article on the group (from the website of the group) reads, “So God reached down and smacked one of those mines, killing 25 (and likely four more are dead),” it said. “Now you moan and wallow in self-pity, and pour over the details of the dead rebels’ lives, pretending they’re heroes.”

The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear the case of Albert Snyder, father of American soldier Lance Snyder, whose case concerns the Westboro Baptist’s Church’s protest at his son’s funeral. The lower court’s struck down this case on First Amendment grounds claiming that the Church’s members were protected on free speech grounds.

It seems likely that the Supreme Court will also rule in favor of the Church. They are a private religious group with no governmental connections. In many of the cases our class looked at for this week, Goldman v. Weinberger and Sherbert v. Verner to name two, the government played a role in the restriction of free exercise. The role of government interest seems also to be the sticking point for the Court’s decision regarding the restriction of free speech and exercise. Here, the government has played no such role. One could perhaps argue that the Church is defaming the military and therefore the government has a “compelling interest” in restricting the Church's speech. But this would be a stretch since the influence of the group is relatively small, save for the large amount of media attention that they have received. In other words, there is no indication that the Church is a real threat to the government or people and therefore no compelling reason to restrict their speech and exercise.

Unfortunately, it seems likely the public will have to continue to put up with the Westboro Baptist Church and their protests in West Virginia and soldiers' funerals. Perhaps, if there is a positive side to the case, it is that it pushes our appreciation of First Amendment rights to the limit. If we can put up with this, then we can probably put up with anything. And in the end it teaches us about the underside of the First Amendment that we sometimes forget.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Who Really Benefits from School Voucher Programs?

Many will remember that a large part of the “No Child Left Behind” school initiative that was passed by the Bush administration was concerned with providing school vouchers for families of students who feel the public school system does not sufficiently meet students educational needs. In theory, vouchers seem like a viable solution for improving the level of education for America’s students. Families are provide with a given amount of money to put toward tuition in a private school of their choosing, implying that parents will be able to find a school that will provide a first-rate education. Much debate has centered on the efficacy of voucher programs, and the funding of these programs continues to be an issue within state and national legislative bodies.

A recent post on Americans United for the Separation of Church and State investigates Senator Lieberman’s “personal mission” to renew funding for the voucher program in Washington, DC. The post presents the views of those who oppose the program and the reasons they feel it does not work. It cites three US Department of Education studies that show “no significant improvement in the reading and math scores of D.C. voucher students coming from schools in need of improvement.” The post also cites a 2007 Government Accountability Office report that “found participating private schools lacked occupancy permits and employed teachers without bachelors’ degrees.” Such evidence would seem to suggest that voucher programs are not an effective means to improve American education.

In addition to raising questions about efficacy, voucher debates raise questions of establishment. In the Supreme Court case Zelman v Simmons-Harris (2002) the question of establishment was addressed concerning the voucher system in Cleveland, OH. The issue that arose in Cleveland was that 96% of the students who opted for the voucher applied it toward tuition into religious schools. The reason for such a high percentage going to religious schools rather than non-religious private schools was that the amount of money provided by the voucher would not pay enough of the non-religious schools. Implicitly, the higher costing private schools offer better resources for learning and a better overall education.

The Majority opinion of the Court found that Cleveland’s voucher program did not violate the establishment clause because the program was deemed formally neutral in purpose. The dissenting opinion argued that the effect should also be taken into account. According to the post, “approximately 82% of DC voucher students attended religious schools in 2009.” It seems likely that no voucher program can logistically offer enough money to allow students to attend the higher priced, non-religious private schools, so the majority of students will tend to go to cheaper religious schools. The Americans United post explains that the DC voucher program, which provides almost three times the amount of money as Cleveland’s, does not provide “parents nearly enough money to cover the tuition for Sidwell Friends, the elite private school attended by Obama’s daughters.”

The post also states that the majority of people who are supporting Sen. Lieberman in his ‘mission’ are religious groups: “Religious Right groups, right-wing think tanks, anti-public school forces and religious school lobbies.” This would seem to point to the fact that the purpose of voucher program legislation is to promote religious teaching rather than improve student learning.

There are, of course, a multitude of issues that contribute to the difficulties faced by public education. However, after teaching for five years in North Carolina Public Schools, I have been convinced that two of the biggest problems arise from insufficient funding and classroom overcrowding. These problems absolutely cannot be fixed by incorporating a voucher program. I think money that is wasted in voucher programs should be redirected into the public schools to lower the student-teacher ratio and improve educational facilities and resources.