In the latest issue of the Cato Supreme Court Review, there is a useful essay by Miguel Estrada and Ashley Boizelle discussing the upcoming Supreme Court term and some of the major cases that the Court will hear. As readers of the Forum are aware, one of these cases is Holt v. Hobbs, concerning a claim by an Arkansas prison inmate–who is serving a life sentence for burglary and domestic battery stemming from an incident in which he attempted to slash his girlfriend’s throat–that prison rules forbidding him to grow a 1/2 inch beard in accordance with his religious views violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. One interesting feature of the case is that the Solicitor General has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the prisoner. The authors comment:
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli filed an amicus brief in support of Holt’s challenge, calling the no-beard policy “religious discrimination” and “a substantial burden on religious exercise.” Interestingly, this brief was filed only a few months after the government’s reply brief in Hobby Lobby, which insisted that the requirement that employers provide their employees with no-cost contraceptives did not constitute a substantial burden on the religious beliefs of those employers. In the government’s view, prisons can advance their legitimate safety objectives in some other way that is more respectful of the inmate’s religious beliefs; the federal government, on the other hand, need not be troubled to accommodate the sincere religious beliefs of business owners.
The federal government’s differential treatment of these two cases is odd because RLUIPA was intended to make available to prisoners protections that replicate those available to the general citizenry under RFRA. Whatever the relationship between the two statutes, it would be bizarre if those whose liberty is restricted on account of proven antisocial behavior were better protected from the government’s incursions on their religion than members of the law-abiding public. Be that as it may, given the Supreme Court’s disposition in Hobby Lobby, we should not be surprised to see a ruling invalidating the no-beard policy as an unjustified burden on Holt’s religion.
Some interesting news stories from around the web this week:
- Women and girls as young as fourteen years old are leaving their homes in western countries to join Islamic fighters in the Middle East.
- The Supreme Court will hear an EEOC suit alleging that Abercrombie & Fitch discriminated against a Muslim job applicant because she wears a hijab, which does not comply with the retailer’s “look policy.”
- See here for a discussion of a similar case against Abercrombie in California last year.
- India prime minister Narendra Modi’s trip to the U.S. and visit with President Obama falls in the middle of a nine-day strict fast for Navratri, a Hindu festival.
- Britain’s leading interfaith organization, the Council of Christians and Jews, backed a statement by the two Chief Rabbis of Israel condemning a Christian-Jewish prayer vigil due to take place at Temple Mount and urging Jews not to participate because of the event’s “messianic” content.
- The head of an Orthodox Jewish organization in Brooklyn that cares for people with special needs has filed a court challenge to prevent medical authorities from taking one of his clients off of life support, claiming such a move would be contrary to the woman’s religious convictions. The woman’s brother claims that she did not have the mental capacity to hold religious beliefs and that the decision is rightfully his.
- Israel’s national airline, El Al, has been criticized for allowing ultra-orthodox Jewish men to disrupt flights by refusing to be seated next to women, in accordance with religious custom. A petition suggests the airline should make the accommodations necessary for religious observers to fly comfortably without pressuring women to move.
- The NFL’s official position is that Husain Abdullah should not have received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty after dropping to his knees and bowing in prayer following a touchdown during Monday night’s game.
- The Freedom From Religious Foundation and the American Humanist Association have asked a school district in Madison County, Georgia, to remove a monument with a religious inscription from a new high school football field based on what they claim is “the constitutional call for a separation between church and state.”
- The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of a Muslim Arkansas inmate who claims his religious rights are being violated by the prison’s refusal to allow him to grow a beard.
- The Episcopal Church will elect a new presiding bishop after the first female Episcopal leader announced she would not seek a second term.
- Biblical land-use laws deem this an agricultural sabbatical year, in which the land of Israel is supposed to lie fallow. This will present various challenges for Jews in Israel.
- Figures show that hate crimes against Muslims in London have increased by sixty-five per cent in one year.
This December, Lexington Books will release “Blasphemy and Defamation of Religions in a Polarized World: How Religious Fundamentalism is Challenging Fundamental Human Rights” by Darara Gubo. The publisher’s description follows:
The 21st century has been significantly shaped by the growing importance of religion in international politics resulting in rising polarization among nation states. This new dynamic has presented new challenges to international human rights principles. This book deals with some of these new challenges, particularly the growing demand by Muslim states for protection of Islamic religion from blasphemy and defamation. Member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), through resolutions at the United Nations, made efforts to introduce laws that globally protect Islamic religion from blasphemy and defamation. The bid by OIC member states faced opposition from Western countries. The conflicting claims of the two sides are discussed in this book. The book clearly shows the impact of blasphemy and defamation of religion laws on certain aspects of fundamental human rights principles.
This December, Oxford University Press will release “Mapping the Legal Boundaries: Religion and Multiculturalism from Israel to Canada” edited by Rene Provost (McGill University). The publisher’s description follows:
For several decades, culture played a central role in challenging the liberal tradition. More recently however, religion has re-emerged as one of the central challenges facing Western liberal societies’ conception of multiculturalism. Mapping the Legal Boundaries of Belonging explores the complex relationship between religion and multiculturalism and the role of the state and law in the creation of boundaries.
The intersection between religion, nationalism and other vectors of difference in Canada and Israel offer an ideal laboratory in which to examine multiculturalism in particular and the governance of diversity in general. The contributors to this volume investigate concepts of religious difference and diversity and the ways in which these two states and legal systems understand and respond to them. As a consequence of a purportedly secular human rights perspective, they show, state laws may appear to define religious identity in a way that contradicts the definition found within a particular religion. Both state and religion make the same mistake if they take a court decision that emphasizes individual belief and practice as effecting a direct modification of a religious norm: the court lacks the power to change the authoritative internal definition of who belongs to a particular faith. Similarly, in the pursuit of a particular model of social diversity, the state may adopt policies that imply a particular private/public distinction foreign to some religious traditions.