Around the Web

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

  • In St. Augustine School v. Underly, the 7th Circuit addressed a long-standing dispute over transportation benefits for private religious schools in Wisconsin. While a state statute allows these benefits for only one school from a single organizational entity in each district, the court had previously ruled that the state Superintendent wrongfully denied St. Augustine School these benefits. However, in the latest decision, the 7th Circuit declined to address federal constitutional issues the plaintiffs raised, emphasizing that the court would not provide an advisory opinion on an unnecessary theory, and upheld the district court’s declaratory judgment without an injunction or damages.
  • In Spirit of Aloha Temple v. County of Maui, a Hawaii federal district court ruled in favor of the Spirit of Aloha Temple regarding their special use permit on agriculturally-zoned land for religious purposes. The court decided the state did not meet the strict scrutiny standard, but other issues, including whether the denial imposed a significant religious burden, remained unresolved. The case emphasizes that under RLUIPA, there must be evidence of intent to discriminate when regulations are neutral.
  • The Catholic Archdiocese of Denver and two Catholic schools filed a lawsuit in Colorado federal district court against restrictions in Colorado’s universal preschool funding program. The suit, St. Mary Catholic Parish in Littleton v. Roy, argues that the program’s conditions infringe on their free exercise and free speech rights by not allowing preference for Catholic families and imposing non-discrimination requirements that conflict with Catholic teachings. The program’s rules also challenge the schools’ stances on matters of marriage, gender, sexuality, and biological sex-based regulations.
  • In Chesley v. City of Mesquite, a Nevada federal district court dismissed former police chief Joseph Chesley’s lawsuit against the city and its former city manager for circulating damaging rumors about him, including to his church members. Chesley claimed that the rumors and the city’s failure to stop them violated his free exercise rights by tarnishing his reputation within his church and hindering his worship experience. The court rejected this claim, noting that the subjective harm to his reputation didn’t amount to a “substantial burden” on his religious rights.
  • In Cristello v. St. Theresa School, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Catholic school that terminated an unmarried art teacher who became pregnant, due to her violation of an employment agreement to abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church, which agreement prohibited premarital sex. The teacher had claimed pregnancy and marital status discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The court determined that the school was protected by the LAD’s exception for religious organizations, asserting that such decisions can be made using neutral principles of law without entangling courts in religious matters.
  • Following accusations of blasphemy against a young Christian man, a mob in Faisalabad, Pakistan, attacked multiple Christian homes and churches, setting them ablaze. The outburst of violence was triggered when torn pages from the Quran with alleged blasphemous content were found near the Christian community, leading local religious leaders to call for protests.
  • The Nicaraguan government has seized the University of Central America, a prominent Jesuit-run institution, alleging it to be a “center of terrorism.” This move is the latest in a series of crackdowns on the Catholic Church, opposition figures, and academic institutions by President Ortega’s regime, with over 26 Nicaraguan universities confiscated since December 2021. The widespread confiscations and expulsions, targeting churches, civic groups, and opposition members, reflect a broader erosion of democratic norms and a suppression of civil society in Nicaragua.

Around the Web

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

  • The 9th Circuit heard oral arguments in Catholic Healthcare International, Inc. v Genoa Charter Township, Michigan, a RLUIPA case stemming from the organization’s construction of religiously symbolic structures on a property without the Township’s approval, contrary to the Township’s instruction that such construction would be classified as a special land use requiring specific approval.
  • In Kariye v. Mayorkas, a California Federal District Court dismissed a case brought forward by three Muslim plaintiffs who claimed their rights were violated by religious questioning at US ports of entry. Rejecting the plaintiffs’ Establishment Clause and Free Exercise claims, the court cited “historical practices” at the border and “maintaining border security” as compelling government interests.
  • Suit was filed in a Pennsylvania federal district court on behalf of two parochial school students and their parents challenging a school district policy that allows home school and charter school students to participate in the district’s extracurricular and co-curricular activities but does not allow private and parochial school students to do the same. The plaintiffs argue that the exclusion of religious parochial schools infringes on their free exercise and equal protection rights.
  • In In re Matyas v. Board of Education, a New York trial court dismissed a teacher’s objections to the Department of Education’s refusal to exempt her from its Covid vaccine mandate. The teacher, citing her Catholic faith and recent conversion to an unspecified Evangelical Protestant sect, argued that her religious beliefs prevented her from receiving any vaccination. The court ruled that she failed to demonstrate that the city’s vaccine mandate was based on religion or that her views on vaccinations were an established doctrine in either Catholicism or Evangelical Protestantism.
  • In a historic Vatican trial, prosecutor Alessandro Diddi is defending his charges against 10 figures, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, over alleged financial crimes. The trial exposes the alleged misuse of the Pope’s funds in speculative investments, such as a $390 million London real estate venture. Cardinal Becciu is additionally accused of misappropriating Vatican funds for personal use and paying ransom fees.
  • Iraqi security forces dispersed protesters seeking to reach the Danish Embassy in Baghdad, following reports of a Quran being burned in Denmark. The incident follows similar protests at the Swedish Embassy, which was set alight due to a planned Quran burning in Stockholm. Despite Denmark’s Foreign Minister condemning the act as an attempt to create division, he notes that burning religious books is not a crime in Denmark.

On Global Politics and Interreligious Dialogue

Continuing our international and comparative theme in the book notes this week, this forthcoming book from Oxford, The Global Politics of Interreligious Dialogue: Religious Change, Citizenship, and Solidarity in the Middle East, looks interesting. The history of the Mideast contains episodes of peaceful interreligious exchange, like those described here, and interreligious strife. Let’s hope the sort of recent interactions the author, political scientist Michael Driessen (John Cabot University, Rome) describes continue. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Over the last thirty years, governments across the globe have formalized new relationships with religious communities through their domestic and foreign policies and have variously sought to manage, support, marginalize, and coopt religious forces through them. Many scholars view these policies as evidence of the “return of religion” to global politics although there is little consensus about the exact meaning, shape, or future of this political turn.

In The Global Politics of Interreligious Dialogue, Michael D. Driessen examines the growth of state-sponsored interreligious dialogue initiatives in the Middle East and their use as a policy instrument for engaging with religious communities and ideas. Using a novel theoretical framework and drawing on five years of ethnographic fieldwork, Driessen explores both the history of interreligious dialogue and the evolution of theological approaches to religious pluralism in the traditions of Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam. He analyzes state-centric accounts of interreligious dialogue and conceptualizes new ideas and practices of citizenship, religious pluralism, and social solidarity that characterize dialogue initiatives in the region.

To make his case, Driessen presents four studies of dialogue in the Middle East–the Focolare Community in Algeria, the Adyan Foundation in Lebanon, KAICIID of Saudi Arabia, and DICID of Qatar–and highlights key interreligious dialogue declarations produced in the broader Middle East over the last two decades. Compelling and nuanced, The GlobalPolitics of Interreligious Dialogue illustrates how religion operates in contemporary global politics, offering important lessons about the development of alternative models of democracy, citizenship, and modernity.

A New Book on Christian-Muslim Relations in Syria

With the news of this month’s devastating earthquake, the world is again turning its attention to Syria. The earthquake has deeply affected many of the world’s oldest Christian communities–as well as many of the world’s oldest Muslim communities. A timely book from Routledge, Christian-Muslim Relations in Syria: Historic and Contemporary Religious Dynamics in a Changing Context, explores the relationship between these two faith communities. The author is Andrew W.H. Ashdown, an Anglican priest with long experience in the country. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Offering an authoritative study of the plural religious landscape in modern Syria and of the diverse Christian and Muslim communities that have cohabited the country for centuries, this volume considers a wide range of cultural, religious and political issues that have impacted the interreligious dynamic, putting them in their local and wider context.

Combining fieldwork undertaken within government-held areas during the Syrian conflict with critical historical and Christian theological reflection, this research makes a significant contribution to understanding Syria’s diverse religious landscape and the multi-layered expressions of Christian-Muslim relations. It discusses the concept of sectarianism and how communal dynamics are crucial to understanding Syrian society. The complex wider issues that underlie the relationship are examined, including the roles of culture and religious leadership; and it questions whether the analytical concept of sectarianism is adequate to describe the complex communal frameworks in the Middle Eastern context. Finally, the study examines the contributions of contemporary Eastern Christian leaders to interreligious discourse, concluding that the theology and spirituality of Eastern Christianity, inhabiting the same cultural environment as Islam, is uniquely placed to play a major role in interreligious dialogue and in peace-making.

The book offers an original contribution to knowledge and understanding of the changing Christian-Muslim dynamic in Syria and the region. It should be a key resource to students, scholars and readers interested in religion, current affairs and the Middle East.

What Happened to the Arab Spring?

Years ago, when the media was filled with optimistic treatments of the Arab Spring, I remember reading a quote from a Mideast bishop, who remarked that there was no such thing as an Arab Spring, “only Winter.” Certainly the Arab Spring hasn’t worked out terribly well for the region’s Christians. It hasn’t been a great success for others, either. A new book from Yale, however, has a more optimistic assessment of the future of the movement. Readers can judge for themselves. The book is The Levant Express: The Arab Uprisings, Human Rights, and the Future of the Middle East, by University of Denver professor Michelene Ishay (international relations). Here’s the description from the Yale website:

The enormous sense of optimism unleashed by the Arab Spring in 2011 soon gave way to widespread suffering and despair. Of the many popular uprisings against autocratic regimes, Tunisia’s now stands alone as a beacon of hope for sustainable human rights progress. Libya is a failed state; Egypt returned to military dictatorship; the Gulf States suppressed popular protests and tightened control; and Syria and Yemen are ravaged by civil war. Challenging the widely shared pessimism among regional experts, Micheline Ishay charts bold and realistic pathways for human rights in a region beset by political repression, economic distress, sectarian conflict, a refugee crisis, and violence against women. With due attention to how patterns of revolution and counterrevolution play out in different societies and historical contexts, Ishay reveals the progressive potential of subterranean human rights forces and offers strategies for transforming current realities in the Middle East.

McHugo on Sunni and Shia Islam

9781626165861We’re a little late getting to this one, but earlier this year, Georgetown University Press published an interesting looking book on a religious divide that gets insufficient attention from Americans: A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is by John McHugo (University of St. Andrews). The Sunni/Shia divide forms the background for many contemporary conflicts in the Mideast, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran. An understanding of the conflict is thus essential to appreciating the politics of the region. Here’s the description of the new book from the Georgetown website:

The 1,400-year-old schism between Sunnis and Shi’is is currently reflected in the destructive struggle for hegemony between Saudi Arabia and Iran—with no apparent end in sight. But how did this conflict begin, and why is it now the focus of so much attention?

Charting the history of Islam from the death of the Prophet Muhammad to the present day, John McHugo describes the conflicts that raged over the succession to the Prophet, how Sunnism and Shi’ism evolved as different sects during the Abbasid caliphate, and how the rivalry between the Sunni Ottomans and Shi’i Safavids ensured that the split would continue into the modern age. In recent decades, this centuries-old divide has acquired a new toxicity that has resulted in violence across the Arab world and other Muslim countries.

Definitive, insightful, and accessible, A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is is an essential guide to understanding the genesis, development, and manipulation of the schism that for far too many people has come to define Islam and the Muslim world

Robson, “States of Separation”

In April, the University of California Press will release “States of Separation: Transfer, Partition, and the Making of the Modern Middle East,” by Laura Robson (Portland State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Across the Middle East in the post–World War I era, European strategic moves converged with late Ottoman political practice and a newly emboldened Zionist 9780520292154movement to create an unprecedented push to physically divide ethnic and religious minorities from Arab Muslim majorities. States of Separation tells how the interwar Middle East became a site for internationally sanctioned experiments in ethnic separation enacted through violent strategies of population transfer and ethnic partition.

During Britain’s and France’s interwar occupation of Iraq, Palestine, and Syria, the British and French mandate governments and the League of Nations undertook a series of varied but linked campaigns of ethnic removal and separation targeting the Armenian, Assyrian, and Jewish communities within these countries. Such schemes served simultaneously as a practical method of controlling colonial subjects and as a rationale for imposing a neo-imperial international governance, with long-standing consequences for the region.

Placing the histories of Iraq, Palestine, and Syria within a global context of emerging state systems intent on creating new forms of international authority, in States of Separation Laura Robson sheds new light on the emergence of ethnic separatism in the modern Middle East.

Around the Web this Week

Here is a look at some law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

Silinsky, “Jihad and the West”

New from Indiana University Press, Jihad and the West: Black Flag over Babylon, by Mark Silinsky (US Department of Defense). The publisher’s description follows:

9780253027016_medU.S. Department of Defense analyst Mark Silinsky reveals the origins of the Islamic State’s sinister obsession with the Western world. Once considered a minor irritant in the international system, the Caliphate is now a dynamic and significant actor on the world’s stage, boasting more than 30,000 foreign fighters from 86 countries. Recruits consist not only of Middle-Eastern-born citizens, but also a staggering number of “Blue-Eyed Jihadists,” Westerners who leave their country to join the radical sect. Silinsky provides a detailed and chilling explanation of the appeal of the Islamic State and how those abroad become radicalized, while also analyzing the historical origins, inner workings, and horrific toll of the Caliphate. By documenting the true stories of men, women, and children whose lives have been destroyed by the radical group, Jihad and the West presents the human face of the thousands who have been kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered by the Islamic State, including Kayla Mueller, who was kidnapped, given to the Caliphate’s leader as a sex slave, and ultimately killed.

Cockburn, “The Age of Jihad”

From Penguin Random House, a new book arguing that American policy contributed to the rise of the Islamic State, The Age of Jihad, by journalist Patrick Cockburn. The publisher’s description follows: