Monday, April 16, 2012

Gunman in Norway Claims Self-Defense as Trial Begins

April 16, 2012                   
Gunman in Norway Claims Self-Defense as Trial Begins
The article that I have chose to blog about for my final religious and law assignment deals with the recent court case of a gunman who is accused of killing approximately 69 people on July 22, 2011 at a youth camp in Utoya Island Norway.  The defendant Mr. Anders Behring Breivk, age 33 acknowledges committing the act of mass murder, but on the grounds of self defense given his belief that these individuals were involved in a plot to overrun Norwegian society with Islamic immigrants.
 Mr. Breivk is claiming self defense due to precede threats from Islamic radicals.   Mr. Breivk, according to the article is using the intense media focus/and or coverage of his trial to deliver his radical ideology to a broader audience.  Initially it was believed that Mr. Breivk was acting in concert with some type of organized group, however this theory has been disproven by the investigation.  Mr. Breivk is apparently a long wolf acting solely on his own accord promoting hatred and division.  Mr. Breivk stated that he does not recognize the authority of the court and continue to be defiant throughout the legal proceedings by challenging legal protocols and court room etiquette.
In order for the court to proceed with the prosecution of Mr. Breivk, Norwegian law requires the court to determine the mental status of the defendant.  If Mr. Brevik is determined to be sane under the definition of Norwegian law, then he can be sentenced up to 21 years in prison with a provision to keep him behind bars longer if he is still considered dangerous.  If Mr. Breivk is found insane he can be kept in forced psychiatric care for as long as his illness persists.
I completely disagreed with the actions of Mr. Breivk, he is a criminal and deserves to be persecuted to the maximum extent in which Norwegian law allows.  However I believe that Mr. Breivk actions represent a broader problem that exists in Western Judicial Christian society regarding a prejudicial attitude.
Islam is viewed as a religion of uncivilized and barbaric people by many white Christians Europeans. This institutionalized religious discrimination goes beyond race or ethnicity but is deeply rooted in religious intolerance and bigotry stemming from mid-evil wars such as the crusades.  Islam is seen as an inferior form of Russia and Christianity is viewed as the correct way to believe in worship God.  These two religions are classified and separated based on imaginary line then ratified and stratified depending on the predominant society.
My final issue with this case involves the attention given to Mr. Breivk based on his mental health status.  The term used sane vs. insane are prejudicial and offensive.  It is clear that the court as well as most modern so called civilized societies would rather attribute criminal behavior to individuals with some sort of medical defect or illness rather than acknowledge the fact that individuals who are deemed normal are more capable and likely to commit heinous crimes than those who are quote (un-quote) insane.
In this secular modern  and civilized society it is regrettable that that the majority of citizens still hold on to fairytale of good and evil where the mentally ill are viewed in mid-evil terms similar to the devil or similarly evil characters, while sane individuals are viewed in more favorable and angelic terms maintaining hope for redemption and salvation.


Fla. pastor Terry Jones: Islam's goal is 'world domination'

             The article I found is about a Florida pastor bashing Islam. Pastor Terry Jones stood in front of the biggest mosque in Michigan protesting. He claimed that the growing population of Muslims in the United States would lead to the oppression of everyone who is not a Muslim. Jones made statements such as, “Muslims, no matter where they go around the world… they push their agenda on the society. We must take back American.” Michigan police department placed the mosque in lockdown to prevent any harm from occurring. Jones’s previous visits had resulted in arrest and street clashes, which is why the mosque was on lockdown.
            Jones was also worried about the free speech rights of Americans. This past year Jones was arrested in front of the mosque and a Dearborn City Judge ordered him to stay away from the mosque for three years. A Detroit Judge later overturned this decision. Last month Jones was asked to sign a legal argument before protesting in front of the mosque. Once again Jones filled a lawsuit, and a Detroit federal judge ruled in his favor. Many supporters of Jones made statements such as, “sharia law is the most dangerous thing. We can’t have it in this country.” Jones, who was a pastor in Germany, also makes claims that Islamic Laws are taking over the world.
            The Jones case is similar to a Supreme Court case from 1940. In the case Cantwell v. Connecticut, Newton Cantwell and his two sons were arrested for proselytizing in a heavily Roman Catholic neighborhood. They were going door to door with books and pamphlets; they also had a portable phonograph with them. They were charged with not obtaining a certificate before soliciting funds from the public and inciting a breach of peace. The Cantwells believed that obtaining a certificate from the city was a violating their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and speech. The court ruled in favor of Cantwell. They said Cantwell’s actions were protected by both the first and fourteenth amendments.
            This case is significant to the current case because Jones was expressing his first amendment rights. Prior to Cantwell v. Connecticut the Supreme Court had not legally clarified the extent of the First Amendment. The Detroit judge who overturned the Jones case ruling may have had Cantwell case in mind. Another similarity between the two is the city asked Jones to sign a legal agreement before protesting. When Jones filed a lawsuit, a federal judge ruled in his favor. In Cantwell v. Connecticut the Justice Roberts stated that one does not need to obtain a license for proselytizing.
            This case shows how important it is for the Supreme Court to clarify laws, and Amendments. Since Cantwell v. Connecticut clarified the first amendment the two lower level judges in the Jones case were able to make a quick ruling. Jones was within his rights to make the claims he did, and he was protected by the first amendment. What I am confused about is, why Jones is worried that the free speech amendment is going to be violated. In his case, he was protected by free speech, so why does he believe Americans are going to have their free speech revoked? 

Imprecatory Prayers

Judge Rules it is OK to Pray for Harm To Come To Others

Earlier this month a District Judge in Dallas ruled that it is legal to ask God to do harm to another person, as long as no one is actually threatened or harmed.

Here is a summary of the case in question.  A lawsuit brought by a Jewish agnostic (Mike Weinstein) against a former Navy chaplain (Gordon Klingenschmitt) stated that “curse” prayers, like those in Psalm 109, were used to incite others to do harm to the agnostic and his family.     The case was dismissed by the Dallas District Court Judge who ruled that there was no evidence that prayers by the Navy chaplain were connected to threats made against Weinstein.  Weinstein is also the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. 

From our discussions of First Amendment history this case is troubling.  Does the First Amendment protect speech despite the harms it may cause?   Under what circumstances should the court regulate speech that fosters or facilitates violence, hate or harm to another human being?  Should such speech be allowed in public religious language or prayers? 

Here are a few more facts about the case.  Weinstein is a former Air Force lawyer who started the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to battle with what he sees as undue religious influence in the armed forces.  Klingenschmitt, the Navy endorsed chaplain, posted a prayer on his website urging followers to pray for the downfall of the MRFF.  The prayer quoted from Psalm 109 calls for the death of an opponent and curses on his widow and children.  After the ruling Klingenschmitt said “I praise God for religious freedom because the judge declared it’s OK to pray imprecatory prayers and quote Psalm 109.”

Weinstein explained that he received death threats, his house painted with vile words and symbols and his windows have been shot out.   “A very aggressive appeal is highly likely,” he says.  Weinstein added, “I don’t think the judge understood that these are not regular prayers” but compared imprecatory prayers to a radical Islamic fatwa.

John W. Whitehead, President of the Rutherford Institute, a legal advocacy group that helped defend the chaplain and the group he represents said, “Thankfully, the district court recognized that if people are forced to stop offering imprecatory prayers, half the churches, synagogues and mosques in this country will have to be shut down.”  

In my opinion, this case sets a dangerous precedence.  Public speech that expresses hatred can inflict potential harm – harms we have seen regularly in the news.  Religious zealots, as well as those strong civic minded individuals who use religiously grounded beliefs (or no religious belief) to distort and devalue human beings offer new opportunities for the courts to consider, more carefully how equal protections will be granted. 

How could the judge in this case rule that the threats and vandalism Mr. Weinstein experienced not be considered to have stemmed from the speech Mr. Klingerschmitt and his group uttered?

Pennsylvania's Religious Examination Disquised as Law

            It has been a record year for new legislation designed to make it harder for many citizens to vote including 19 laws and two executive actions in 14 states dominated by Republicans. As a result, more than five million eligible voters will have a harder time participating in the 2012 election. With the recently established voter ID laws enacted to prevent voter fraud, several states gained unwanted attention, starting with Pennsylvania.
In March 2012, Pennsylvania became the first state to enact a voter ID law. The affects of the law have been disastrous. Not only has the law affected the 700,000+  Pennsylvanians who currently lack a photo ID, but it also harms those who still need an ID to vote but object to having their picture taken for religious reasons, like the Amish and Mennonite communities. They can use a non photo ID to vote, but only after completing an interrogation about their faith.         
This examination includes questions such as: How many members are there of your religion? How many congregations? What’s the process by which you came to the religion? What religious practices do you observe? Do other family members hold the same religious beliefs? Along with submitting that form notarized, applicants must fill out another form. Going through this process is essential if those who hold religious objections to being photographed want to vote.
Personally, I think Pennsylvania has gone too far. The questions that these groups are asked to answer are difficult to answer and are over and above what is needed. The state shouldn’t have the right to delve in such personal religious matters. It seems now the state has granted itself the will to decide if you are religious enough to have your request granted.  Through these actions, denying a request for a non photo ID based on answers to these questions puts the state in a tenuous position. There has to be another more efficient way of handling this situation without blatantly stepping on toes.
With that said, I do feel that there should be one rule for everyone. What is the point of establishing laws if we allow people to be exempt from them merely based on their religious beliefs? Also, The Constitution which contains many phrases, clauses, and amendments detailing ways people cannot be denied the right to vote, does not implicitly give us the right to vote. It does state that you cannot be denied the right to vote because of race or gender. It also requires that Representatives be chosen and Senators be elected by "the People," and who comprises "the People" has been expanded by the abovementioned amendments many times. Aside from these requirements, though, the qualifications for voters are left to the states. And as long as the qualifications do not conflict with anything in the Constitution, that right can be withheld. Any right of action based on belief cannot be supreme. Therefore, the right to practice a religion cannot mean that any individual or organizati­on should be allowed to do whatever they want and justify it by hiding behind their religious beliefs. There is nothing automatica­lly sacred about action based on religious beliefs, no matter how sincere.

Alabama Bill

Alabama Bill Will Allow Churches To Teach Religion Classes To Public School Students

          According to an article in the Huffington post a bill was passed in Birmingham Alabama on that would allow churches or ministries to teach a religion class to public school students off campus, provided that the parents and the school board give permission and the church provides all the transportation and all the expenses.
            According to the article the bill was introduced by Republican state Rep. Blaine Galiher. The request for this bill was brought by 84 year old Joseph Kennedy. Kennedy had been fired from his position as a teacher for refusing to stop reading the Bible and teaching creationalism at the public school.
         Kennedy along with supporters formed a board of directors for a new institute for Biblical studies that also offers classes in creationalism.

         Under this Bill high school students would be offered a released-time class, which would allow students to go off campus to study creationalism and would be able to earn elective credits for doing so. Kennedy stated that this would “give students good sound scientific reasons to support their faith in the seven-day creation.”
          According to the article Thomas Berry, a Constitution law teacher at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis objected to the passing of the bill. He stated that the elective credits earned by the students in the released-time program under this bill could raise concerns about  public school involvement in religious education. Berry points out that one could argue the motivation as being religious, which could raise the courts suspicion. He was quoted as saying                                     “there is a certain suspicion in the courts of Alabama legislations trying to promote religion”.
         Berg asked the following questions "Is the religious teacher going to certify that the student passed? Would the school do any review of that? Would they monitor the class for quality to ensure it would warrant a public school credit?" Berg asked. "All those things would entangle the school."

           The article references two court cases. The first case occurred in 1952, where the U.S. Supreme court upheld a New York law allowing released-time from school for religious instruction, stating the religion classes were not held on public property or at the public expenses. However in 1948 four yours prior to the above mentioned case, the court had struck down a similar release-time law in Illinois, because the school was too involved in the administration of the classes.

          The questions that Berg addresses are legitimate questions that raise legitimate concerns about possible entanglement issues between the school and the religious institute. Generally released- time programs are held off school property, and the public school systems have no involvement in the religious programs taught off school property.The issue here is not the fact that the students are taking religious courses off campus, but the fact that these courses are being counted for extra credits. In a somewhat similar case ( Lemon v. Kurtzman)  that involved government funding and non-public schools the Court's decision established  the the Lemon Test.

      The Lemon Test- requirements for legislation concerning religion consisted of three prongs. 1- The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose, 2- The government’s action must not have the primary effects of either advancing or inhibiting religion, 3- The governments action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement with religion.  Violation of any one of these prongs would be deemed unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The question then becomes is government funding being used to support these extra credit religious classes? If the answer is yes, then I do believe there is “excessive entanglement” and is therefore unconstitutional.  Also by allowing these classes to count as extra credit classes is the school offering an incentive or endorsing the religion?

The Main/Landmark cases from the US Supreme Court seems to be

1.      Edwards V. Aguillard (1987)

2.      McLean V. Arkansas Board of Education (1982)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Symbols and Freedom of Religion

In this post, I will discuss different types of symbols and freedom of religion. There are various symbols throughout the world that express faith, history, victory, remembrance, etc. According to CBC News, there is a ban in France on religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses etc.  However, I think there is not only one type of symbols. But, France banned all symbols by considering them as the same. Some symbols are created by people. Certainly, they are originally symbols of something, but not religious then people attach different meanings to them. For example, in the Roman Empire the crucifix was not a religious symbol before Jesus' death. But after his death it was accepted as a religious symbol. The crescent and the star are not originated in Islam, but they have been adopted by Muslims over time. On the other hand, some religious rituals are considered as religious symbols. They are not originally religious, historical, national or regional symbols. For example, hijab is not really an Islamic symbol, but it is an observance of Islam. However, today it is being treated as an Islamic symbol for some secular countries like France.  

A related question is why these symbols are prohibited by some secular governments without considering their origin. Also, how can the secular government consider these symbols as religious even though it can evaluate them as historical, national, or regional symbols? For example, although there is a difference between Christian cross and Jewish yarmulke or Muslim headscarves in terms of their origin, for this discussion is a theological issue, the secular government regards all of them as the same. In this case, if the government makes the distinction that Muslim headscarf is a ritual rather than a symbol, it makes a theological decision. If a government does not make this distinction, it makes a decision that restricts freedom of religion. This is what the French government fails to see. It is indeed a dilemma in secularism.

Another issue is whether a symbol promotes the religion. For example, if an officer of Air Force wears yarmulke, a Muslim woman wears hijab, or a Christian government officer hangs a cross, it does not affect their religion positively in any way. However, if these people are not allowed follow their religion, their rights are being restricted.  For example, in Turkey, the ban on wearing hijab at public institutions has been effective for approximately 40 years based on the reasoning that in a secular country a religious symbol cannot be allowed at such institutions. According to people who support the ban, if the government appoints, say, a female teacher or judge wearing hijab, it means that the government supports the religion. In contrast, in the US which is a secular country whose citizens are largely Christians, there are many Muslim women who can freely wear hijab at work and nobody make such groundless claims.  

Finally, the issue of identifying a symbol as religious is a very complicated one. Therefore, banning them violates both human rights and freedom of religion because even if what is called as a religious symbol is not religious originally, people have the right to embrace them. If what is wrongly labeled as a religious symbol is indeed a rule that followers of a religion have to obey, then banning the 'symbol' is against freedom of religion. I think a court must first refine what a religious symbol is before introducing a ban on a given practice.

Contraception Controversy No Longer a Religious Freedom Issue, Rather an American Issue?

In keeping with the times, I have chosen to look at a new movement within the contraception debacle that our nation is currently fighting. On CNN's Belief Blog, Dan Gilgoff presents his audience with coverage on the Catholic Church's "religious freedom" campaign. In this article, Gilgoff gives updates on how the controversy over contraception is continuing to evolve and how the Catholic Church believes that, “this is not a Catholic issue,” the statement said. “This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.” I wish to ask you all this very same question. Is this an American issue? Is giving the opportunity to have birth control coverage an impediment of religious freedom for all American woman? To be quite blunt, contraception is only available for women, yet all we are hearing in the news is Catholic Bishops refuting against contraception. Where are the women in this conversation? Gilgoff writes how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are wanting to extend awareness of religious freedom by addressing congregations and "sending inserts for church bulletins." As for the actual legal bill regarding contraception coverage, Gilgoff notes that " The White House tweaked an earlier version of the rule that required employers, rather than insurance companies, to pay for the contraception coverage, mollifying some Catholic groups who objected to Catholic colleges and hospitals to fund contraception coverage." Apparently this was not efficient enough for the Roman Catholic Church, thus the push for a religious freedom awareness campaign. The Catholics stating that this is no longer a religious issue, but an American issue. 
The argument of the contraception controversy being an "American issue" seems to be a bit of an oxymoron in my opinion. Where I find fault with this statement is that religious freedom is being blurred into the web of American-ism. While I understand that our Constitution provides us with freedoms and rights language that other nations do not provide, I do not agree with the Catholic church stating that religious freedom is "our first, most cherished freedom." For a religious person, I could understand the personal mentality of such a statement. However in broader terms, I am not sure that such a position would be aligned with the majority opinion. While I understand that I am coming from my own personal bias, I try to be as open to hearing both sides. Jeffrey Stout, a current scholar focusing on religion's place in democracy, notes the importance of conversation. We must be effective listeners and talk with one another in order for democracy to flourish. As democratic citizens, if our duty is to listen and converse with one another, I argue that such conversation is not occurring. In the article, Gilgoff notes that a bishop stated that, "Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. . . .It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans." While I agree that religious liberty is not just about the ability to partake in a religion, in order to contribute to the common good of all Americans, fruitful conversation must be produced; I argue that such is not happening. Gilgoff points out that the Catholic Church believes that the contraception controversy is "going to be extensive and it's going to be occurring over a few years." I agree with this statement and further problematize the situation by noting that the rhetoric used in the Constitution and Supreme Court rulings, is not efficient for allowing for dialogue between all parties involved in the contraception controversy. I further challenge the issue by asking where women are in this conversation? The Catholic Church is stating that this is an infringement upon their religious freedom, but I question if the Catholic Church is infringing upon individual rights and conscienceless by turing this controversy into an "American issue." 
In looking to what's at stake here, I fear that the voice of religion in democracy is under a microscope in this particular controversy. I have hope that the government is listening to the Catholic Church by tweaking the bill regarding controversy, however as shown in this article, such aims are not to the Church's likings.  Because of the lack of proper language and the continuance of blurring the separation of church and state, such a controversy will challenge language set out by the founding fathers and further allow for questions of where religion belongs in conversation regarding governmental decisions. Thus, concurring with the statement that this controversy will be "extensive" and "occurring over a few years." 

Monday, April 9, 2012

State University will no longer cancel classes for Christian, Jewish holidays

            This article from Fox News discusses the decision made recently in regards to a New York university cancelling classes for Christian and Jewish holidays.  State University of New York at Stony Brook decided to no longer cancel classes on Christian and Jewish holidays.  The decision was made in an effort “to ensure that some religions are not given special treatment and to ‘afford equal support and equal respect to students and faculty from all faiths’”.  The article lists holidays of these two faiths that would be affected: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover and Holy Week for Jews and Good Friday for Christians.  Charles Robbins, vice provost for undergraduate education, wants to take all religions into consideration while maximizing instructional times for students, therefore, the state funded university and he found it most beneficial to follow through with the decision.  He clearly states that he acknowledges all concerns, but a small number of people are upset.  The university and he want to make sure there is no “special treatment”.  The university is confident that the decision to stop cancelling classes for these religious holidays ensures no “special treatment”.
            I am in agreement with this decision.  If the policy of cancelling classes for Christian and Jewish holidays were to be subjected to the Lemon Test, it would fail all three prongs of the three-prong test.  Passing this decision is a safe guard for the university to avoid possible future lawsuits.  I am surprised no lawsuits have been taken to court in regards to class cancellation.  The university is correct in its passing of the decision because it does offer no “special treatment” of a religion, group of people, or individual.  By not cancelling classes for specific religious holidays, all religions are taken into consideration. 
            Due to the university’s status as being a state funded university, the university falls under a governmental entity.  Therefore, it is the university’s duty to adhere to the constitution in all of its policies.  If the new policy were to be questioned as unconstitutional, it would be subjected to the Lemon Test within the courts.  The new policy would in fact pass the Lemon Test’s three-prong evaluation.  Number 1, the state funded university now has a secular purpose.  Before the change, it would be hard to say that the university’s purpose was purely religious and not secular; however, it would not have been deemed purely secular either.  Number two, the university is now not advancing Christianity and Judaism over other religions or inhibiting the other religions.  Pre-policy change, the university would be seen to advancing Christianity and Judaism over all other religions as well as inhibiting the other religions.  Number three, the university now does not have excessive entanglement with religion.  Previously, the university was excessively entangled with religion because it was allowing classes to be cancelled for certain religious holidays and because it was decreasing instructional time with the students for religious purposes.  I am confident that if a lawsuit were to come about due to the change in policy, it would not stand in a court of law.  The decision for the new policy would be deemed constitutional.  

Inspirational Message or Masked Prayer?

            Within our class we have discussed whether religion should have a place in the public classroom.  Even after a history of legal cases and public debates, our society still is tackling this question.  Recently, Florida has passed a bill that would allow “inspirational messages” to be read by students during events sponsored by the public school.  For many, this broad statement is a mask to endorse prayer or religious messages to be said at school events why some are arguing that it is only meant to protect heart felt messages to be said to the crowd.  Though this bill has yet to go into effect, there are already threats of lawsuits in limiting what form these inspirational messages will take.

            This bill is one that has many implications attached to it.  Throughout the history that we have seen, it was the student whose ability to practice their religious beliefs was protected.  This bill extends a protection to those practices while defining their religious practices as inspirational messages.  Again,  we see the entanglement that occurs when religion and the student is examined.  One cannot inhibit their practices but this bill extends a forum by which these practices can become public.  For example, a student can choose to open an event with a prayer.  This example has many other factors though.  Is the school only choosing students who are inclined to say a particular type of prayer?  What will happen if the student chooses to pray to Allah?  Will the school define inspirational messages in a way that only particular religions will apply?  Such questions demonstrate that such a broad term can truly harm the religious freedom of the student.  Also, as one watches the events that unfold with this bill, one may see the students religious practices come into question.  This bill begins to intertwine the place of the school and the students beliefs in a way that endorsement is possible to happen.  Additionally, such a thing can be dangerous because if endorsement occurs then a question of a place for the student’s religious beliefs in the school can occur.
            When tackling this bill with my opinion, I find that this bill can be dangerous.  The questions that I posed earlier play in my mind around this bill.  I also believe it can be a dangerous game when the students are given the freedom to choose the inspirational message at these events.  I say this not because I am against the free speech of a student but because now that speech is becoming endorsed by the state.  Such a bill brings into question the student’s right to free speech and I fear that some are using this to mask an attempt to bring into the school religious messages.  I also wonder if these messages will need to be reviewed by the school before they are delivered.  This could lead to a type of control that I consider dangerous because it ascribes power to the school to define what can and cannot be considered inspirational.  I believe there are implications to this bill that some have not thought through.  I believe we begin to play a dangerous game when we use students and their rights as a method of propagating a particular message in the public school.  In the end, I believe the we will see how the rights of students and their religious expression will come into question with implementation of this new bill.