Tag Archives: Free Exercise

Virginia state preachers free to preach… er, so long as they’re not Muslim

According to this report, the Virginia House of Delegates has approved a bill that removes a restriction previously requiring that chaplains for Virginia state police offer “ecumenical, non-denominational prayers” at official events.

Backers of the bill said it restored the chaplains’ right to religious freedom. But opponents said the bill violates the First Amendment by having the state advocate one specific religion.

[…]

Del. Charles W. Carrico, a retired State Police trooper, drafted the bill after State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty issued a directive to chaplains to offer generic prayers at department-sponsored public events such as graduations from the trooper training academy.

“I do not want to interfere with anyone else’s religion. I am a Christian and I will profess that,” said Carrico, R-Grayson. “The Christian faith happened to be the one under attack when this came about.”

Flaherty issued the guidance in response to a 2008 federal appeals court ruling upholding a Fredericksburg City Council policy against opening council meetings with prayers that mention Jesus.

The directive does not apply to chaplains in private venues such as funerals or in counseling grieving troopers or their loved ones.

[House Majority Leader H. Morgan] Griffith called opponents’ use of the same constitutional free-worship guarantees to argue that the bill is an impermissible state intrusion into religion “Orwellian doublespeak.”

Del. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said the bill blurs the distinction “between state-endorsed religion vs. the exercise of free religion by individuals.”

Ebbin, who is Jewish, said that when he attends a Christian church, he expects to hear prayers in Christ’s name and accepts them.

“When I go to a public event in a public-sanctioned forum, I do not expect to be excluded,” Ebbin said.

The bill is not that surprising, and will probably never be enacted, as Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will likely veto it, and even if he didn’t, it would likely be ruled unconstitutional anyway during the lawsuit that the ACLU has threatened.

First Amendment law professor Kathleen Bergin caught this article, and not so much for the law as the response by one dissenting, Democratic delegate:

Del. Lionel Spruill, who opposed the bill, made his disdain for Islam clear in a floor speech. In making a point about observing diverse religious traditions, he said Muslim relatives who visit his Christian church are asked to remove their traditional head coverings.
[…]

He said he has no problem with most clergy who offer the daily invocation at the start of each House session.

“From time to time we have certain people who come here, certain people who pray here, and depending on who it is, I’ll walk out that door, especially those in the Muslim faith I don’t care too much about,” he said.

Professor Bergin’s response:

Spurill’s vote against the bill wasn’t rooted in a concern about the crumbling wall that’s supposed to separate church from state, or protecting the state from the inevitable ACLU suit that would follow passage of the bill, but the mere prospect of including an Imam at an official police event.

[…]

I don’t understand why this part of the story hasn’t gotten more coverage (ok, so I do), but could we ever imagine an elected state official making such remarks about any other religion, and having it go virtually unnoticed in the national press?

Indeed, Delegate Spurill’s comments are awful, but they are a true example of exactly why the Establishment Clause exists to keep religion out of government.  (Interestingly, one could also use his comments as evidence for the other side–that if a chaplain comes to deliver a prayer that any particular state official or police officer disagrees with, he or she could just step out into the hallway.  Of course, it doesn’t often work that way.)

But this statute is also a poignant example of the “unseen” half of the Establishment Clause.  The Establishment Clause works not only to keep religion out of government, but also to keep government out of religion.  Because the Virginia state patrol has chaplains, it must pass regulations deciding to whom those chaplains may (or may not) pray at official functions, to avoid endorsing a religion and violating the First Amendment.  Yet, in doing so, the state “waters down” the practice of many of those chaplains’ faiths, at least in their official capacity.  This is why the original Lemon v. Kurtzman court was concerned about “excessive entanglement” with religion (although modern courts have shrugged off that concern). How can you have chaplains providing faith services to civil servants when the government commands what the scope of those services can be? Do the chaplains truly have a Free Exercise right to say “in the name of Jesus, Amen”? Is watered down prayers to the “Almighty Creator” better than no prayers at all? Are non-Christian police officers part of the “outgroup” when an “Endorsed” chaplain proselytizes? Or is it the chaplain’s “freedom of conscience” that is violated? And what about minority religious figures?  It seems that every time the government gets this involved in providing some sort of “religious tone”-especially before “official events,” this stuff happens.  There are no easy answers to these questions.  And it appears that Pres. Obama hasn’t learned this lesson, either.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under First Amendment, Law, Society

Up against bars, news stations, local merchants sure, but God? No.

There have been numerous posts around the blogosphere about the NFL’s annual witch hunt for IP infringers (LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION’s Ron Coleman has a particularly good ones) who either (a) use the words “Super Bowl” in connection with a good, service or promotion, or (b) attempt to display the Super Bowl game itself on a television larger than 55 inches, or charge for admission to a “Super Bowl” viewing.

The Big Game? (I swear I havent copied this logo, and I disclaim any perceived affiliation with the NFL!)

"The Big Game"? (I swear I haven't copied this logo, and I disclaim any perceived affiliation with the NFL!)

Well, the NFL may be able to sue bars for putting the game on too big of a screen, or threaten injunctions against retailers who want to say something like “your Super Bowl party snack headquarters”, but it gets stopped in its tracks when it goes after God.  From this report from OneNewsNow (a division of the “American Family News Network”):

Churches can show the Super Bowl on big-screen TVs without fear of violating copyright laws.

In 2007, many churches cancelled Super Bowl parties after the National Football League (NFL) warned an Indiana church that it would be illegal to show the game on anything larger than a 55-inch screen. But members of Congress threatened to change copyright laws, and the NFL dropped the restriction beginning with this year’s Super Bowl.

[…]

“These organizations may show the game on any monitor, and we only ask these organizations to not charge admission — the game’s on free TV — and to hold the party at a location they usually use for other large gatherings,” [an NFL spokesperson] explains. According to the guidelines agreed to, churches may take up a donation to defray the cost of the event, if they desire.

That’s right, at least according to this report, members of Congress threatened to change copyright law to allow churches to show the Super Bowl on big screen TVs.  Because nothing says America like football and God, together under one roof.

Now, I’m all for churches showing the Super Bowl.  In fact, I belonged to a church that had a “SOUPER Bowl” party (a soup and sandwich potluck before the game started), and even though the broadcasting of the game was not part of the itinerary, I’m sure some people stayed at the church, and maybe even brought out the projection TV to show the game on a wall in the fellowship hall.  But why can’t the Fraternal order of Eagles do it? If anyone says that our country is secular, just look at the decision the otherwise IP-stodgy NFL has made here.

Further, why can’t my wife’s evite for our party have the words “Super Bowl” on the graphic, or even the Super Bowl logo? It’s certainly a descriptive  fair use (most likely a “traditional” fair use, although the “nominative” fair use exceptions may also apply) to describe the purpose for our events.    Perhaps Ron Coleman put it best:

It’s the overselling that’s offensive, because of course the NFL has a trademark right to SUPER  BOWL.  But like all IP owners, the league has set up a campaign not only to protect its legitimate rights but a buffer of illegimate intimidation-based quasi-rights around the real thing.

This buffer zone not only establishes a zone of litigation-based (not legal-based, litigation-based) early warning triggers around the real rights, such that any would-be infringer on the trademark would have to traverse the hopelessly expensive no-man’s land of illegitimate litigation threats.  It also has an even more insidious effect of actually causing an expansion of the original right itself.  It does this by actually enhancing the perceived “untouchability” of the real trademark, i.e., its isolation in the market, cinching the future results of consumer surveys and other indices (including, of course, the claim that mark holder “vigorously enforces” its rights) that could be used in a future trademark infringement or dilution claim. This is a privilege Congress, but far more so the judiciary, the latter of which almost never enforces the extant, if weak, fee-shifting provisions of the Lanham Act, have reserved exclusively to wealthy trademark owners.

So when you go to watch The Big Game this Sunday, at your church, at your home or at a purveyor of libations, please, take a moment, and enjoy the spectacle of intellectual property rights that abound.

… Oh, and call it the Super Bowl, just once. But maybe think twice before watching it on Frank’s 2000-inch TV.

Leave a comment

Filed under First Amendment, Law, Society, Trademarks

Afghanistan newspaperman charged with blasphemy & lessons learned by Bush?

Professor Friedman’s Religion Clause blog has this report from the AFP:

[I]n Afghanistan, the editor of a small Kabul newspaper, Payman Daily, was arrested Tuesday on blasphemy charges. A a council of Islamic clerics and a government media disciplinary commission found that an article the newspaper published was “an insult to Islam.” The article, not written by the newspaper staff but was taken from an Afghan website, argued that no religion– including Islam– was divinely revealed. The paper, even before the editor’s arrest, had apologized for publishing the article. Punishment for blasphemy can range from a reprimand to the death penalty.

One day later, in his farewell address, President Bush had this to say about his perceived success in Afghanistan:

Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored Al-Qaeda and stoned women in the streets, to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school.”

I guess I have a few thoughts:

  • No matter how bad it gets in the U.S.  No matter how much civil rights groups complain about the “police state” that America has become.  No matter how much religious separatist groups complain that the First Amendment Establishment Clause has been trampled upon, we’re not Afghanistan.  In America, you can seriously, honestly debate fundamental truths of existence (such as whether democracy is the best form of government, whether God exists, whether war is justified) whether or not your ideas are serious or based in reality (like whether global warming is real, whether aliens are running the government, or Elvis is alive) and you won’t be charged with “sedition” or “blasphemy” or any other crime created by governments frightened of their own people and new ideas.  Of course, if you act on some of those ideas (by, say trying to overthrow the government by military force) you may not be so lucky.  But, except for direct threats to public officials’ lives, in America, you pretty much cannot be imprisoned for what you say, or what you repeat. And even if we are descending into a “police state,” we are a long way from having clerics charge our newspaper writers with blasphemy.
  • It’s a shame that President Bush doesn’t realize the difference between what American democracy is and what the Afghan state is like.  Bush specifically noted that women were being “encouraged” to get an education in Afghanistan, when, just a few days earlier, came reports of girls who had acid thrown in their face because they attempted to attend school. And this newspaper editor is not being harassed by terrorists; he’s being charged, formally, pursuant to the law that is currently in effect.  State-sponsored persecution based upon a challenge to a religious belief.  Is that a successful campaign in nationbuilding in Afghanistan?

Leave a comment

Filed under First Amendment, Law, Society

“I don’t know how God can offend anybody,” New Jersey town wins Establishment Clause “No Doi” award

From the Poccino Record:

A nearly six-decade tradition of reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the start of Town Council meetings has ended.

The tradition, begun in 1952, stopped Monday night after a single resident’s objection. It’s the end of a popular tradition that pleased more than it dismayed, according to the five council members, all of whom described themselves as saddened by the change but resigned to the realities of court precedent.

“According to our counsel, (the prayer) is a violation of the First Amendment,” said Councilwoman Helen LeFrois.

No doi. But the article gets better:

It’s not the first time the Lord’s Prayer has been publicly questioned in Newton. In March 1995, the council began debating the values of switching the tradition to a secular prayer because a Jewish councilman, Robert Shapiro, had been elected to the council.

Shapiro adamantly supported the Lord’s Prayer tradition [?!??-ed.] and the recitation continued. Shapiro, who now lives in Florida, said he was disappointed to hear the controversy being brought up again.

“These are the traditions our country is founded upon,” he said, citing the mottos that dot U.S. government buildings — and even its currency.

“It says, ‘In God We Trust.’ That’s a lot older than the Newton Town Council,” Shapiro said.

[Actually, “In God We Trust” as the “U.S. Motto” is not older than the Newton Town Counsel, unless TV is older than the Newton Town Counsel, and it is not older than the city, which has a “rich historic heritage dating back to 1751“. – ed.]

Ray Storm, a three-time Newton mayor and four-term councilman, said he was discouraged by the abandonment of tradition, even if it was due to court precedent.

“In my mind, I don’t know how God can offend anybody,” Storm said. [No comment. –ed.]

I am not intending to demean anyone’s religion, or their particular view of God.  But the recital of the prayer Jesus taught while hanging on the cross, slowly dying at the hands of the Romans and Jews, is sectarian.  The leaders of the town are calling upon a particular God to give them particular guidance on governmental powers is nearly as close to “establishment of religion” as you can get.  While there may be a zone of religious activity permissible by the Constitution–in fact, the counsel members may even have a First Amendment Free Exercise right to provide personal declarations of faith, a Christian prayer before a counsel meeting doesn’t fit.  It’s actions like this that bring counter-actions, like Michael Newdow’s latest suit to stop President-Elect Obama from saying “so help me God” during the inauguration.  More on that action later.


Leave a comment

Filed under First Amendment, Law, Society