Monday, January 26, 2015

Should the Muslim call to prayer be allowed to play from Duke Chapel's bell tower?

         Duke University gave permission to students to begin a weekly Muslim call to prayer from the Duke Chapel on Friday January 16th but then canceled these plans after a significant amount of criticism and “credible security threats”. The 'adhan', is the chant would have been announced from the Chapel bell tower each Friday. The chapel’s description states it as, “a Christian church of uniquely interdenominational character and purpose, welcoming people of all faiths and circumstances,” and over the past years Muslim students have gathered to pray in the chapel’s basement.

After reading Duke's announcement, Franklin Graham, the president of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, began trying to force the university to reverse their decision by calling donors and alumni to withhold future donations. Graham states, “It’s wrong because it’s a different god,” and, “Using the bell tower, that signifies worship of Jesus Christ. Using (it) as a minaret is wrong.” The dean of the Duke Divinity School also raised concerns about the use of the chapel for the Muslim call to prayer. He states, “There are serious questions…about the wisdom and propriety of allowing Duke chapel to be used for this purpose. Despite some common beliefs and traditions, Christianity and Islam stand in significant theological tension with one another.”

Due to the vase number of calls the decision was overturned but the call to worship was announced in a different way. The members of the Muslim community gathered on the quadrangle outside of the chapel. This is a place where many interfaith programs and activities have been located. This video, from the Washington Post, shows the call to prayer on the quad as well as a few student reactions after the event.

This issue is relevant to our lives because colleges are supposed to be places to help foster tolerance, equality, and peace. College students are the people that are meant to lead the next generation and if universities are refusing to be tolerant of religious views, then they are sending the message that intolerance is acceptable and that some beliefs are more important than others. Duke’s decision to not allow the call to prayer to be heard from the bell tower shows that people, like Franklin Graham, are not willing to be part of a changed American society that accepts all religions. This issue was especially relevant because of the timing of the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper on January 7th 2015. Due to the view of Islam throughout the world,  many Muslims are not viewed with respect and equality as they deserve. The fact that Duke canceled the public call to worship shows that people still are afraid and intolerant of Islamic beliefs.

I think that Duke University should not have made the decision to cancel the call to worship from the bell tower. It is the responsibility of the world to stand behind the Muslim community and not ostracize them any further. If this church tower was not connected to a college in any form I would respect the decision to not allow the call to prayer to be announced because it is a church used for only one denomination. The Duke Chapel is connected to a prestigious university and publicly states that it welcomes people from all different types of religions. Since the chapel has been a location for Muslim prayers before, I do not see why the public call to prayer would be any different. Muslim students should not have to hide in the basement to pray and if they want to help unite their community they should be allowed to do so, especially on a college campus.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Does the removal of a hijab also mean the removal of constitutional rights?

The Dearborn Heights Police Department is now facing a lawsuit after a Muslim woman was forced to remove her hijab while being photographed after being arrested.  Malak Kazan was driving with a suspended license when a police officer pulled her over for a traffic violation and subsequently arrested her.  While she was being booked, the police officer asked her to remove her hijab, which is an optional Muslim head-covering worn to remain modest while in the presence of men who aren’t in her immediate family. Kazan explained that removing this would violate her faith and requested that a female officer instead help her, which would allow her to keep in line with her faith. This request, however, was denied, and the Kazan had to remove her hijab in front of the male police officer in order to be booked. She then decided to sue because they “denied her constitutional rights.”

This case is reminiscent of the recent Supreme Court case where the justices ruled a Muslim prisoner had the right to grow a short beard as a part of his religious faith. Much like that case, Kazan was attempting to exercise her right to practice her Muslim faith. Issues such as this are increasingly important as the United States adjusts to the ever-growing population of religious and ethnic minorities. While the United States has always prided itself on being very religiously tolerant, it seems like recent history puts this to the test much more than the first 200 years of this country did. With more immigration of different groups of people, the US has found itself in a place with more diversity than possibly imagined when it was founded. In regards to the Muslim faith, this has left the country and its tolerance at odds for a variety of reasons. First, there’s the fact that the Muslim religion has become linked to extremism and terrorism. Secondly, there are several more visible practices of the Muslim faith that have been seen as interfering with security practices, such as the growing of a beard in prison and wearing a hijab during a booking. The linkage between Muslims and extremist violence created in the first problem perhaps unfairly exacerbates this security concern. The interaction between law and religion is not one that occurs in a vacuum; as impartial and fair as we would like to believe the system is, personal and societal factors influence it.

With that being said, I believe this case did violate Kazan’s right to exercise her religion. While some may argue that the police were simply doing their job in booking her, it seems like doing this job was done at the sake of her right to freely exercise her religion. It is not that the police forced her to remove her hijab, but that she was forced to do so in front of unrelated men. As law professor Larry Dubin notes in the article, if she had done so in the presence of a woman it most likely would not have resulted in a lawsuit. This leads me to question the refusal of Kazan’s request for a female police officer.  Her right to free exercise would not have been violated if she had been able to remove her hijab in the presence of a female officer. Was there absolutely no female officer available to do the job or was the policeman just trying to finish the booking, which led him to violate Kazan’s religious rights? While it may make the job a little more difficult, I believe that the police department has an interest in making sure constitutional rights are protected, and if that means needing to find a female officer, effort should be put into doing so.

Another point of interest is the fact that other instances that relate to photo identification have been granted exemptions. For example, the article notes that hijabs have been allowed in some licenses and IDs. If other exemptions like this have been made, what makes it ok for a police officer to force the removal of her hijab in the booking process? One may argue that it may have been appropriate because she was arrested, but being arrested does that mean that US citizens automatically lose their constitutional rights. The hijab only covers the hair of the female so it is not something that would obscure Kazan’s face and make it harder to potentially identify her later.

The outcome of this case may have a wider impact that just the booking process. If a federal judge were to rule that hijabs could not be worn for this, other governmental agencies may use this leeway to then make Muslim women remove their hijabs for other forms of photo identification instead of continuing to grant them religious exemptions. If the court rules in favor of Kazan, however, then more protection may be granted to the free exercise of minority religions in the future.

Constitutional Cash?

Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) has recently passed a House Bill that allows public schools to be eligible for a mentorship program if they partner with a religious or faith based organization as well as a business. His 10 million dollar plan states that the faith-based component is mandatory and not optional as it was previously made to seem. The governor is making faith-based organizations seemingly more important than other types of organizations, which is a clear violation of the separation of church and state.
Secular schools must designate a faith organization as their partner in order to receive money for the program. Senior policy analyst for the Ohio Department of Education, Buddy Harris, noted that, "The faith-based organization is clearly at the heart of the vision of the governor." The governor is in a secular position and yet he is imposing his own views upon his constituents by making the religious element necessary. He said himself, "The Good Lord has a purpose for each and every one of them (students)…” His motives could not be more clear and yet he managed to pass his agenda.
Originally, religious based organizations were just considered potential partners for the mentorship program. The addition to the Bill that made the faith-based part mandatory came after the Bill itself had already passed through both chambers of the state legislature. Essentially, legislators did not vote on the faith based aspect being mandatory, they only voted on it being a potential option. Kasich has a responsibility, as a public official, to adhere to a certain degree of transparency. In my opinion, he did not act transparently in this instance. In addition, he acted in his own best interest, which he has made clear and his own best interest goes against the First Amendment.
I think that this addition to the Bill clearly violates the Establishment Clause. In order to receive government money, schools that are secular must partner with a religious organization. Having religious views is one thing but imposing them on those who may not have the same views is a violation of the First Amendment.
Although it does not favor one faith organization over another, the addition to the Bill still makes a religious organization a mandatory aspect of the program. In Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) the Lemon test was established in a unanimous decision. The Lemon test states that there must not be excessive government entanglement with religion and that there must be a secular legislative purpose. This addition to the bill directly breaches the Lemon test criterion.

To me, it does not make any sense to add a faith based program as a stipulation for a government program. I feel as though it is only a matter of time before there is a case to overturn this but I find it interesting that this was able to happen in the first place. It doesn’t seem Constitutional to have attached a religious stipulation in order for a secular school district to receive government funding.

The government and a Woman's Womb

This past Thursday, January 22, 2015, the house passed an anti-abortion bill. The bill was passed on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision which protected a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion. “The bill would prevent women from having their abortions covered by Medicaid; restrict a woman's ability to buy private insurance plans that include abortion coverage; and deny small businesses a tax credit, which they currently receive through the Affordable Care Act, if they include abortion care in their health insurance plans.” Learning of this recent bill reminded me of the heavily debated topic of what role the government plays in a woman’s life regarding her birth control and right to have an abortion. Not surprisingly the religious influences and support was very evident in this anti-abortion bill. 

Since June 28, 2012 when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act there has been an uprising in conversations surrounding this issue. For instance, just last year in 2014 the Supreme Court held a decision in favor of the privately owned company, Hobby Lobby. The decision exempted them from being required to provide certain forms of contraception to their female employees due to the owners religious beliefs that Plan B, Ella, Copper IUD and Mirena all terminate pregnancies rather than prevent them making them forms of abortion. As Christian’s, the requirement by the Department of Health and Human Services was violating the Green family’s (the owners) religious rights protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The Supreme Court did in fact rule with Hobby Lobby protecting their religious freedom and right to deny these services to their employees. 

Is Hobby Lobby acting within their constitutional rights by denying coverage of these forms of contraception? Whether or not one agrees with Hobby Lobby’s beliefs should not influence the answer to this question. As someone who believes that the government should not play a role in an individual’s personal life, I find the problem not to lie within the violation of religious rights but the very fact that they are imposing requirements on a privately owned company in the first place. For those who disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling there are other forms of voicing one’s discomfort than making it a constitutional matter and assuming the government has a place in the issue. One example would be boycotting the store. If you have a personal issue with Hobby Lobby not providing these forms of contraception, than do not shop at their store. The problem is that people rely too heavily of the United States Court systems to handle cultural and social  issues. However, as the court rightly decided, the requirements by the Department of Health and Human Services were unconstitutional and violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Hobby Lobby, as a privately owned company, has every right to refuse any form of contraception to their employees as they so choose. 

With this new bill being passed by the House republicans, a new question arises. Due to the strong religious influences on the nature of the bill protecting ‘life’ make the bill unconstitutional because it is violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment protecting the people from religion. Without the influence of religious morals, the question of pro life versus pro choice becomes more difficult to answer. It is my opinion that the bill is in fact unconstitutional and violating the First Amendment because of its religious implications. The government should not be able to make laws prohibiting a woman’s right to choose. In fact it should protect the right of freedom of choice. Just as the Supreme Court protected Hobby Lobby’s right to choose not to provide forms of contraception that were deemed to be “abortifacient”, they should also protect the rights of individuals to choose to use abortifacients or get abortions.

Religion in Public Education

Image retrieved  from CNS News which can be access here
CNS News reported on January 21st that Orange County (Fla) Public School System canceled the annual distribution of bibles on National Freedom of Religion Day. According to the news article Christian groups and the Florida Family Policy Council were prohibited from distributing bibles because that encouraged atheist and satanic groups to obtain the permission to distribute literature as well. According to the CNS article, which you be can accessed here, the Orange County System allowed bibles to be placed in common areas in schools were students had access to them if they pleased. Freedom from Religion Foundation  sued to have all religious materials banned from public schools however the court ruled against their claims. Therefore, Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a sue last year claiming an equal right to distribute literature in schools which was accepted by the court. For this year’s distribution, a satanic group entered a request to distribute literature, which resulted in Orange County cancelling all distributions and instead revising their current policy of acceptable literature in schools.

                This situation is a clear example of why it is necessary to maintain a separation between church and state. Public schools are property of the state therefore, this educational system should aim to have secular education, one that does not involve religion.  This public school system has become a battlefield for religious and non-religious organizations instead of a safe environment for children.  

                In 1971 a man named Alto Lemon sued Pennsylvania schools’ superintendent, David Kurtzman, under the claims that Kurtzman had violated his First Constitutional Amendment. Lemon argued that Pennsylvania’s reimbursement to religious schools for secular education was a violation of his First Amendment because the state was using tax payer’s money to fund religion. The Court ruled in an 8 to 0 decision that this was a violation of the First Amendment. In Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) the court concluded that there was excessive entanglement between church and state. Furthermore, the court made three points, first the state could only be involved if there was a secular purpose, second the state should neither promote nor inhibit religion and lastly that there should not be an entanglement between state and church.

 Orange County, however, is in violation of the decision made by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). By allowing the distribution of bibles in schools the state of Florida is permitting entanglement with the church. Additionally, the state established a religion in schools by allowing the distributions of only bibles, thus promoting Christianity. The state was not inclusive of other religions that were not Christianity. In fact, I am surprised that parents did not take it upon themselves to sue the school district for coercive religious literature.

Secondly, the refusal to remove the distribution of religious literature despite the fact that the Freedom from Religion Foundation had sued against it, was an example of religious inequality. The only place where a bible should be allowed, along with other religious literature, is in the library. Refusing to prohibit the distribution of bibles gives other religious organization the right to distribute their literature, thus neutralizing the institution. This was an inadequate decision, which endangers the secular education children should be receiving in schools.

                Schools should be an unbiased environment were children are free to express themselves and not be constantly harassed by religious affairs. Many would argue that Orange County is a predominately Christian district, therefore, making it acceptable to distribute bibles. However, I believe that this is an example of how the majority deprives the rights of non-Christians to freely go to school without any religious affiliations. Furthermore, if parents want their children to learn about their specific religious believes then, they should enroll their kids to private institutions where that religion is taught. If parents cannot afford these expenses, then they should take it upon themselves to teach their children their religion.

                Religion should be taught at home not in schools. Public schools are meant to be a safe ground for children. Orange County has exposed their children to numerous people approaching them to distribute literature about their religious belief. There is a compelling state interest in this case to remove all religious text from school in order to ensure the safety of the students. Note, this does not mean that I am against religion, it just means that religion should not be involved in public education. 

The Refusal of a Colorado Baker To Write Anti-Gay Message

    Earlier this week, in Colorado, a local baker name Marjorie Silva refused to bake a cake for a customer. Silva is the owner of Denver’s Azucar Bakery. The customer, named Bill Jack, asked Silva to bake a Bible shaped cake with anti-gay images and messages written on it. Originally, Silva had agreed to bake a Bible shaped cake. However, upon learning of these specific demands Silva refused to satisfy the requests of her customer. Reportedly, the request was for Silva to write, “God hates gays” on the cake with two men holding hands and a cross on top of them. As a compromise, Silva baked the caked and offered to give Mr. Jack icing and a pastry bag so he could write the words for himself. Mr. Jack was not satisfied with this compromise, and he filed a complaint with Colorado’s Civil Rights Division.
            When asked why she refused to write the message on the cake, Silva was quoted as saying, “It’s just horrible. It doesn’t matter if, you know, if you’re Catholic, or Jewish, or Christian, if I’m gay or not gay or whatever. We should all be loving each other. I mean there’s no reason to discriminate.” Ironically, that’s exactly what she is being accused of, discrimination. Silva whole-heartedly believes that she did nothing wrong, and has even gone so far as to say that Jack should be the one accused of discrimination, not her.  Mr. Jack alleges that Silva is blatantly discriminating against him based on what he refers to as his creed. In this case, Jack is using the word ‘creed’ to refer to his own religious convictions. The question is whether or not the government has a right to step in and force Silva to bake the cake because she is discriminating against Bill Jack for his religious beliefs.

          The Jack v. Silva case comes in wake of a similar Colorado court case in which courts ruled that baker Jack Phillips was obligated to bake a wedding cake for a same sex wedding or face a large fine that would surely put him out of business. Phillips had originally refused to bake a cake because he felt it was against his religious beliefs to endorse a same sex marriage. Now, for the next two years, Phillips will also be required to submit quarterly reports to the commission to confirm that he has not turned away customers based on their sexual orientation. I did not agree with this ruling and felt that the court should not be able to take away the right of private business owners to refuse service based on belief. I felt that this ruling violated the establishment clause by creating a law that prevented Phillips from freely exercising his religious beliefs. If the public did not agree with Phillips they have the right to protest or to boycott his bakery.
           If the courts equate these two cases they must be consistent with their original decision and compel Silva to bake the cake to Mr. Jack’s specifications. The precedent was set in the Phillips case that the government has a right to trump an owner’s beliefs and compel service if those beliefs encourage discrimination. If this precedent is applied to this case courts will say that Silva is discriminating against Jack for his religious beliefs which violates anti-discrimination laws.  
However, the courts may not equate the two cases. In the Phillips case, his religious beliefs guided his decision to not endorse a same sex marriage. This is blatant discrimination to all same sex couples which violates established law and gives the court the right to trump his religious convictions. In the Silva case, she allegedly discriminated against Mr. Jack for his religious beliefs. The difference between the two bakers is the requests of their clients. Silva has the right to discriminate against Mr. Jack because his religious beliefs lead him to request a hateful message to be printed on his cake. The courts may rule that because this message is discriminatory in nature Silva has the right to not serve Mr. Jack no matter his religious beliefs.  
      In my opinion, I believe that the court should rule against Mr. Jack. His message in itself is discriminatory and therefore I find it difficult to believe that the courts would force Silva to write the message. There is a distinct difference between Silva and Phillips. Phillips claimed his religious beliefs did not allow him to endorse a same sex marriage by baking a cake. This belief would allow him to discriminate against all homosexual couples in the future. This is why the courts ruled against him. Conversely, Silva’s convictions are actually preventing discrimination towards the LGBTQ community. However, her beliefs are in fact discriminatory towards Mr. Jack’s religious beliefs. I believe the courts will allow an exemption for Silva because Mr. Jack is utilizing his religious beliefs to explain his offensive cake design. The message the cake is displaying is discriminatory in nature, and although I do not believe that he should be prevented from displaying it I do believe that Silva should not be compelled to make the cake and that her compromise of providing Jack with the supplies is sufficient. I agree with Mark Silverstein, the legal director of the ACLU in Colorado when he says, “there is no law that a cake-maker has to write obscenities in the cake just because the customer wants it.” Although Silva is admittedly discriminating against Mr. Jack for his religious beliefs the court should rule in her favor because she did attempt to compromise and even if Mr. Jack’s religion guided him to request that message it is still hateful in nature and should not be forced upon Silva.