Kazakhstan Cracks Down on Religion

From the NYT, a report on Kazakhstan’s new religious association law, which requires religious organizations in that country to dissolve and re-register with the government. Associations with less than 50 members will not be able to register locally; those with less than 500 members will not be allowed to register regionally. The new law also bans prayer in the workplace. Kazakhstan used to present itself as a model of religious tolerance, but recent Islamist-linked attacks in the country have apparently caused the government to crack down. The law is expected to have a serious impact on minority religious groups, such as Christians, many of which fail to meet the new membership requirements. — MLM

Corley on Kazakhstan’s Proposed Religious Restrictions

Felix Corley (Forum 18 News Serivce) posted Kazakhstan: New Proposed Legal Restrictions on Religion Reach Parliament. The abstract follows. – JKH

The proposed new Religion Law which reached Parliament yesterday (5 September), if adopted in its current form, would impose a complex four-tier registration system, ban unregistered religious activity, impose compulsory religious censorship and require all new places of worship to have specific authorisation from the capital and the local administration. A second proposed Law imposing changes in the area of religion in nine other Laws would also amend the controversial Administrative Code Article 375, widening the range of “violations of the Religion Law” it punishes. The texts – seen by Forum 18 News Service – have been approved by Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Karim Masimov, but have not yet been published.

Turkey to Return Some Seized Properties to Religious Minorities

From Reuters’s valuable FaithWorld blog, a story about Turkey’s announcement Sunday that it will restore or pay compensation for real property it seized from minority religious groups in 1936.  In that year, Turkey required minority religious foundations to register their properties; the government seized several of these properties, including schools and hospitals, claiming that they were not being used.  Since 1974, a government decree has prevented minority foundations from registering new real property.

The European Court of Human Rights has condemned the seizure of these properties as illegal, and the European Union has been pressuring Turkey to return them.  Prior attempts to return the properties ran into nationalist Read more

Of Amusement Parks and Head Scarves

This controversy hit extremely close to my home.  A fight broke out yesterday at Rye Playland Park when a number of Muslim women were told by park staff members that they would not be permitted to wear their head scarves on certain rides.  The park had received a number of Muslim visitors who were celebrating the end of Ramadan.  A scuffle broke out after the refusal to allow some of the women to ride without removing their hijabs, and there was also some kind of report that a park employee touched one of the women.

The park has a safety policy against the wearing of any “headgear.”  I’ve been to Playland a number of times with my own family, and I’ve been required to take off my hat when I went on some of the faster rides. 

What makes this a possible constitutional question is that Playland Park is government owned and operated.  It is, in fact, the only such amusement park in the United States.  But I cannot see any way in which, should a law suit be brought against Westchester County, the plaintiffs would win.  This policy is clearly a law of general application, it is not targeted at any group, and it is overwhelmingly justified by serious safety concerns.  The rides to which the policy applies (and those that the Muslim customers report being barred from  riding) are extremely fast moving and jerky (I hate “Crazy Mouse” for this reason).  Any First Amendment claim would almost surely fail.  A sad episode nonetheless.  — MOD (picture of the excellent 1929 “Dragon Coaster” at Rye Playland Park) (x-posted MOJ).

Pew Forum Reports Rise in Restrictions on Religion

The well-regarded Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has updated its report on restrictions on religion around the world.  Pew counts not only laws and official policies that limit the exercise of religion, but also “social hostilities,” defined as private acts like mob violence and other sorts of intimidation.  Pew reports that restrictions on religion increased substantially for one-third of the world’s population in the three years between 2006 and 2009.  The Middle East/North Africa had the largest proportion of countries with a rise in government restrictions; Europe had the largest proportion of countries with a rise in social hostilities.  The full report is here.  — MLM