Around the Web

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

  •  In Walker v. Dismas Charities, Inc., the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Free Exercise Bivens claim by an inmate serving part of his sentence in home confinement. The inmate sued individual employees of a government contractor that contracted with the government to supervise federal prisoners serving home sentences, alleging that his sentence violated his right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment
  • In Bates v. Paksereshtthe plaintiff was denied certification to adopt children through the Oregon Department of Human Services because she would not agree to use a child’s preferred pronouns and undertake other required acts that the state claims “affirm a child’s gender identity” because of her Christian beliefs. The court rejected plaintiff’s free exercise and free speech claims because she was not seeking certification to become a full parent, but instead sought certification “to house and care for a child under the state’s umbrella of protection.”
  •  In Tosone v. Way, suit was filed in the District of New Jersey in early October challenging the New Jersey requirement that candidates filing to run for public office sign an Oath of Allegiance that ends with “so help me God.” The Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Elections recently issued a Memo to County Clerks stating that candidates for public office now have the option of a solemn affirmation or declaration in lieu of an oath, and the phrase “so help me God” will be omitted. Counsel for plaintiffs then filed to voluntarily dismiss the suit.
  • in Grace Community Church- The Woodlands, Inc. v. Southern Montgomery County Municipal Utility District, Grace Community Church filed a complaint challenging a utility district’s requirement that the church pay a capital recovery fee of $83,780 rather than the actual cost of $24,900 to connect its new office building and auditorium to the district’s water system. The church alleges the fee is an unlawful tax on an otherwise tax-exempt organization, and it further violates Texas’ version of RFRA and the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.
  • The White House issued a Fact Sheet: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Takes Action to Address Alarming Rise of Reported Antisemitic and Islamophobic Events at Schools and on College Campuses.The Fact Sheet discusses recent initiatives taken by the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Homeland Security to prevent further antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents which have been taking place at schools and colleges since the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.
  • A New York Court of Claims judge serving as an active Supreme Court Justice is being investigated and no longer handling criminal cases after the justice asked a Muslim criminal defendant to remove her niqab–a religious garment that covers most of the face–at a plea hearing on October 24.

van Ooijen, “Religious Symbols in Public Functions: Unveiling State Neutrality”

This month, Intersentia Publishing will publish Religious Symbols in Public Functions: Unveiling State Neutrality: A Comparative Analysis of Dutch, English and French Justifications for Limiting the Freedom of Public Officials to Display Religious Symbols by Hana M.A.E. van Ooijen (LL.M, Utrecht University).  The publisher’s description follows.

Religious symbols are loaded with meaning, not only for those who display them. They have generated controversy in many circles, be they religious or secular, public or private, and within or outside academia. Debate has taken place throughout Europe and beyond, at times leading to limitations or bans of religious symbols. While this debate might seem whimsical in occasional flare-ups, it merits closer scrutiny, precisely because it is part of a long-running debate, it crosses boundaries and because it touches upon larger underlying questions.

This book singles out a particularly contentious issue: religious symbols in public functions and it focuses on the judiciary, the police and public education. It is often argued that public officials in these functions should be ‘neutral’ which consequently implies that they cannot display religious symbols. This book aims to unravel this line of thought to the core.

It disentangles the debate as it has been conducted in the Netherlands and studies the concept of state neutrality in depth. Furthermore, it appraises the arguments put forward against the background of three contexts: the European Convention on Human Rights, France and England. It critically questions whether state neutrality can necessitate and/or even justify limitations on the freedom of public officials to display religious symbols. Although this book is the result of an academic legal study, it can be read by students, academics, professionals, or anyone interested in the issue of religious symbols in public functions.