Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In The Satanic Temple, Inc. v. City of Boston, a Massachusetts federal district court affirmed Boston City Council’s refusal to invite a representative of The Satanic Temple (“TST”) to deliver an invocation. The court did not find evidence of discrimination against TST based on its religious beliefs, citing evidence that the councilors typically invited community-involved speakers serving their constituents, a qualification TST did not meet. While the court acknowledged the potential for abuse due to lack of formal written policy on selecting invocation speakers, it maintained that “the lack of a formal, written policy does not by itself create a constitutional problem.”
  • In Children of the Kingdom v. Central Appraisal District of Taylor County, a Texas state appellate court affirmed a $32,000 property tax assessment against a religious organization that did not apply for a tax exemption. The court rejected the organization’s claim that the exemption application requirement violated their First Amendment rights, stating it was a neutral and generally applicable requirement designed to maintain equality and uniformity in the property tax system.
  • In Salado v. Roman Catholic Diocese of El Paso, a Texas state appellate court determined that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine prevented the court from ruling on whether funds raised by parishioners to construct a new church were improperly used by the diocese. The diocese had chosen to merge the parish with another and transfer the $1.4 million in funds to the new joint parish. The court stated: “To resolve the dispute… would require this Court to interpret Canon Law and policies of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the rights and authority of bishops regarding the patrimony of a parish. Churches have a fundamental right “to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government[.]”
  • A lawsuit was filed in Oklahoma state court challenging the state’s Virtual Charter School Board’s approval of a state-funded, Catholic-sponsored charter school, St. Isidore’s. The plaintiff alleges that St. Isidore’s operation would violate the Oklahoma Constitution, Charter Schools Act, and Board regulations, particularly on grounds of religious discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and non-compliance with nonsectarian requirements.
  • A law mandating the display of the national motto, “In God We Trust“, in all public school classrooms across Louisiana has taken effect with the start of the new school year. Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the House Bill 8 into law, which passed without any opposition in the Republican-led state Senate and House of Representatives. The legislation applies to public post-secondary institutions as well.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed a law to change the date of Christmas celebrations from January 7, followed by the Russian Orthodox Church, to December 25. As stated in an attached explanatory note, this move is part of an effort to “abandon the Russian heritage” and align more with Ukrainian traditions and holidays. The law also adjusts the dates for two other Ukrainian patriotic holidays.
  • Ilya Solkan, a priest in a small village near Kyiv, Ukraine, was expelled by his parishioners for introducing politics into his pastoral care and expressing support for Kremlin’s policies. Solkan belongs to the branch of the Orthodox Church tied to the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, which is seen by many Ukrainians as a symbol of Russian influence. Amid escalating tensions due to war, Ukraine is experiencing a growing rejection of the church’s Moscow-linked arm, and more than 1,500 local churches have switched allegiance to the Ukrainian national church. Solkan, now unemployed and ostracized, continues to hold services at his home and is attempting to regain his position through a lawsuit. Meanwhile, the villagers have welcomed a new priest from Ukraine’s national church.

Communalism in the Indian Constitution

Liberalism privileges the individual and teaches that the state is legitimate when it honors individual rights–including the right to religious freedom. A much older understanding conceives the polity in terms of communities, including religious communities, and teaches that the state has a duty to coordinate relations among them justly. An interesting-looking new book from Cambridge, India’s Communal Constitution: Law, Religion, and the Making of a People, argues that both understandings prevail in contemporary India: a formal liberalism and a practical communalism. The author is constitutional scholar Mathew John (Jindal Global Law School, India). Here is the description from Cambridge’s website:

This book speaks to debates on law, constitutionalism, and the contested terrain of political identity in modern India. Set against the overwhelmingly liberal design of the Indian Constitution, the book demonstrates a tendency in the Constitution and its practice to identify the Indian people in parochial and communal terms. This tendency is identified as India’s Communal Constitution and its imprint on contemporary constitutional practice is illustrated by drawing on the constitutional practice as it addresses religious freedom, personal law, minority rights and the identification of caste groups. Thus, casting the Constitution and its practice as a field of contest, the aspiration to define the Indian people as a community of individual citizens is brought face to face with its antagonists. The most significant of these antagonists is the tendency to cast the Indian people as a collection of communities which this book examines and details as India’s Communal Constitution.