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.

Around the Web

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

  • In Greene v. Teslik, the 7th Circuit dismissed a Protestant inmate’s complaint that prison officials violated the Free Exercise clause by denying his access to prayer oil. The court concluded that the officials were protected by qualified immunity. The court remanded the prisoner’s Establishment Clause claim for further development at trial, however.
  • In Harmon v. City of Norman, Oklahoma, the 10th Circuit affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of challenges to the city’s disturbing-the-peace ordinance brought by anti-abortion activates who demonstrate outside abortion clinics. The court reasoned, in part, that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the city ordinance.
  • In Ravan v. Talton, the 11th Circuit held that a Jewish plaintiff should have been able to move ahead with RLUIPA claims against a food service, and First Amendment Free Exercise claims against two food service workers, for denial of kosher meals on seven different occasions while he was in a county detention center. The court stated that “the number of missed meals is not necessarily determinative because being denied three Kosher meals in a row might be more substantial of a burden on religion [than] being denied three meals in three months.”
  • Becket, a non-profit religious freedom law firm, has petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari in Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia v. Belya. The petition comes after the 2nd Circuit denied a bid by the Church to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought by a former priest who claims he lost an appointment to become the bishop of Miami due to false accusations of fraud and forgery by church officials. In a 6-6 ruling, the court declined to reconsider the ruling made by a three-judge panel last September, with dissenting judges arguing that the decision would infringe on church autonomy.
  • The West Virginia Legislature passed the Equal Protection for Religion Act. The bill prohibits state action that hinders a person’s exercise of religion, unless there is a compelling governmental interest, and the least restrictive means are used. The bill passed the Senate in accelerated fashion after it voted 30-3 to suspend its rules that normally require three readings before a vote. 
  • The Department of Labor has rescinded a Trump-era rule that broadly defined the religious exemption in anti-discrimination requirements for government contractors and subcontractors. The DOL criticized the 2020 rule for increasing “confusion and uncertainty” and for raising a “serious risk” of allowing “contractors to discriminate against individuals based on protected classes other than religion.” The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has emphasized that a qualifying religious organization cannot discriminate against employees based on any protected characteristics other than religion.
  • At a New York Public Library interfaith breakfast, Mayor Eric Adams delivered remarks in which he argued against a separation of church and state in American society. Adams’ chief adviser, Ingrid Lewis-Martin, declared at the event that the mayor’s administration “does not believe” it must “separate church from state.” Adams stated that many societal issues can be traced to a decline in faith. “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools,” the mayor said.

Around the Web

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

Writeup of Last Week’s Event in Trent

Last week’s gathering at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trent, Italy


The Fondazione Bruno Kessler has posted this report of our conference on tradition and traditionalism in American and Russian thought. The conference, at the Fondazione’s headquarters in Trent, Italy, was a very worthwhile event. The discussions revealed significant differences, and some similarities, in how American and Russian scholars perceive tradition and tradition’s proper role in law and politics.

For me, the most interesting discussions were those that revealed the differences among us. From the American side, some of us were concerned with carving out space for traditional communities in the larger society; others were more interested in placing tradition at the center of legal debate. Some argued that tradition is already more central to that debate than it sometimes seems.

On the Russian side, some participants took the Russian Church’s recent advocacy of traditional values as a serious critique of liberalism, one that resonates with consistent themes in Orthodox thought. Others, by contrast, argued that “traditional values” are a recent, post-Soviet construct, even a pretext.

The Postsecular Conflicts Project will publish an online collection of participants’ essays later this year. Meanwhile, let me say thanks again, on behalf of the Center, to Kristina Stoeckl, Pasquale Annicchino, Marco Ventura, and their very capable staffs, for being such good hosts. Let’s do it again soon!

“Patriarch Kirill in His Own Words” (Hatfield, ed.)

In recent years, the Russian Orthodox Church has taken the lead in asserting an Orthodox approach to human rights, one that focuses on the moral value of tradition and which differs in significant respects from the secular human rights model. In close coordination with the Russian government, the Church, and especially its leader, Patriarch Kirill, has promoted its vision of human rights in international fora, including the UN’s Human Rights Council, often to the consternation of Western human rights advocates.

It’s imperative for students of human rights law to understand the Church’s model and its appeal to tradition–an appeal that differs in significant ways from Western understandings of tradition. In fact, next month in Trento, the Center will co-host a conference on the different meanings of tradition in American and Russian thought; more on this to come. Meanwhile, here’s a new book from the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press on Kirill’s thought, Patriarch Kirill in His Own Words, edited by the seminary’s president, Chad Hatfield. The description is from the publisher’s website:

KirillProfiles8__77148.1479225081.300.300Patriarch Kirill shepherds the largest flock in the Orthodox world in a time of great transition and growth. In the past century Russia experienced the greatest persecution of Christians in history. But the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and in the years following the fall of the Soviet Union the Church in Russia has been reborn and has grown beyond all expectation.

This unprecedented renewal continues under Patriarch Kirill’s pastoral guidance. In this book we encounter the patriarch’s vision for the Church’s mission and public life, including her relationship with the state. We also find the penetrating words of a spiritual father who offers counsel on how we can fight the passions and acquire the virtues, who gives guidance on how we can find our way in the midst of modern temptations, confusions, and distractions. At the very center of Patriarch Kirill’s vision we encounter Christ, who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2.4).

Lecture: “An (Un)Orthodox View: Religions and Politics in Russia Today” (Apr. 19)

On April 19, the King’s College McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, the King’s Public Policy and Research Institute, and the Wyoming Valley Interfaith Council are co-sponsoring a lecture titled “An (Un)Orthodox View: Religions and Politics in Russia Today” given by Catherine Cosman (retired senior policy analyst for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) at the William G. McGowan School of Business. A brief description of the event follows:

King's CollegeCatherine Cosman, recently retired senior policy analyst for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, will discuss religious liberty in Russian and its impact on foreign policy at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, in the Burke Auditorium at King’s College.

The free public lecture, titled “An (Un)Orthodox View: Religions and Politics in Russia Today,” is co-sponsored by the KING’S McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, the King’s Public Policy and Research Institute, and the Wyoming Valley Interfaith Council.

After 70 years of official Soviet atheism, Russia is now home to a great variety of religions. While the Russian Constitution says that the country is a secular state, the religion law preface claims four religions as “traditional”: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. The Russian government, particularly the Kremlin, relies almost solely on the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (MPROC) as its official religious bulwark. Cosman’s talk will examine some of the reasons for the Kremlin’s focus on the Moscow Patriarchate and how this focus both affects other religious communities and plays out in Russian international politics.

Cosman joined the staff of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2003. Her areas of responsibility include the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Organization on Security and Cooperation (OSCE). She previously served on the staff of the U.S. Helsinki Commission as senior analyst on Soviet dissent.

She also worked with emerging independent labor unions for the Free Trade Union Institute, especially in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In Estonia, she was the Senior Expert of the OSCE Mission, focusing on the integration of the Russian minority. She managed the Central Asian and Caucasus grants program at the National Endowment for Democracy and edited “Media Matters” and “(Un)Civil Societies.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in history from Grinnell College, Cosman earned a master’s degree and an ABD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Brown University. She also studied at the Free University of Berlin and the All-Union Institute of Cinematography in Moscow.

The Burke Auditorium is located in the William G. McGowan School of Business on North River Street. Parking will be available in on-campus lots. For more information, please contact Dr. Bernard Prusak, director, McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, at (570) 208-5900, ext. 5689.

More information on the lecture can be found here.

Burgess, “Holy Rus'”

In February, Yale University Press will release Holy Rus’: The Rebirth of Orthodoxy in the New Russia by John P. Burgess (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows:

new-rusA fascinating, vivid, and on-the-ground account of Russian Orthodoxy’s resurgence

A bold experiment is taking place in Russia. After a century of being scarred by militant, atheistic communism, the Orthodox Church has become Russia’s largest and most significant nongovernmental organization. As it has returned to life, it has pursued a vision of reclaiming Holy Rus’: that historical yet mythical homeland of the eastern Slavic peoples; a foretaste of the perfect justice, peace, harmony, and beauty for which religious believers long; and the glimpse of heaven on earth that persuaded Prince Vladimir to accept Orthodox baptism in Crimea in A.D. 988.

Through groundbreaking initiatives in religious education, social ministry, historical commemoration, and parish life, the Orthodox Church is seeking to shape a new, post-communist national identity for Russia. In this eye-opening and evocative book, John Burgess examines Russian Orthodoxy’s resurgence from a grassroots level, providing Western readers with an enlightening, inside look at the new Russia.

Vovchenko, “Containing Balkan Nationalism”

In August, the Oxford University Press will release “Containing Balkan Nationalism: Imperial Russia and Ottoman Christians, 1856-1914,” by Denis Vovchenko (Northeastern State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Containing Balkan Nationalism focuses on the implications of the Bulgarian national movement that developed in the context of Ottoman modernization and of European9780190276676 imperialism in the Near East. The movement aimed to achieve the status of an independent Bulgarian Orthodox church, removing ethnic Bulgarians from the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This independent church status meant legal and cultural autonomy within the Islamic structure of the Ottoman Empire, which recognized religious minorities rather than ethnic ones.

Denis Vovchenko shows how Russian policymakers, intellectuals, and prelates worked together with the Ottoman government, Balkan and other diplomats, and rival churches, to contain and defuse ethnic conflict among Ottoman Christians through the promotion of supraethnic religious institutions and identities. The envisioned arrangements were often inspired by modern visions of a political and cultural union of Orthodox Slavs and Greeks. Whether realized or not, they demonstrated the strength and flexibility of supranational identities and institutions on the eve of the First World War. The book encourages contemporary analysts and policymakers to explore the potential of such traditional loyalties to defuse current ethnic tensions and serve as organic alternatives to generic models of power-sharing and federation.

Putin and the Pope

How have you been?

From Crux’s John Allen, here is an interesting and provocative article on today’s scheduled meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis. Surprisingly, Allen writes, on some issues, the two men have “forged an improbably strong partnership.”

One of those issues is the persecution of Mideast Christians. While Western nations have temporized, refusing even to acknowledge the sectarian dimension of the crisis–ISIS’s actions have nothing to do with religion, apparently–Putin has made himself the champion of the region’s Christians:

“As regards the Middle East and its Christians, their situation is dire,” Putin said in April. “The international community is not doing enough … this is the motherland of Christians. Christians have lived there from time immemorial, for thousands of years.”

In some corners of the Middle East, such as the Syrian region of Qualamun, Russia actually has floated the idea of granting citizenship to pockets of Orthodox Christians, effectively offering them a security blanket.

Now, talk is cheap. And Putin’s motivations are not wholly humanitarian. By offering itself as the protector of Mideast Christians, most of whom are Orthodox, Russia can exert influence in the region. (France has traditionally put itself forward in the same role, although France tends to focus on Catholics). Speaking out for Christian minorities also increases Putin’s credibility as the representative of traditional Christianity, which no doubt wins him admirers in the developing world, where Christianity is expanding, often in conflict with a rising Islam. And, of course, championing the cause of Orthodox Christians increases his political appeal in Russia itself.

Still, whatever his motives, Putin has focused on the suffering of Christians as Christians, and that is something many leaders in the West are apparently reluctant to do. It is also a stance, Allen writes, that appeals to Pope Francis:

Since Francis’ election in March 2013, meanwhile, no social or political issue has engaged the pontiff like the plight of persecuted Christians, especially in the Middle East.

In March, he demanded that the world stop trying to “hide” the reality of anti-Christian violence, and he’s also argued that the shared suffering of Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants alike is the basis for a contemporary “ecumenism of blood.”

Allen notes that the conflict in Ukraine will pose obstacles for any real partnership between Russia and the Vatican. Ukrainian Catholics believe that Pope Francis has taken too soft a line in that particular crisis. Francis has described the conflict as an unfortunate disagreement between Christians, while Ukrainian Catholics tend to see it as the result of Russian provocation, which they wish Francis would denounce. In particular, Ukrainian Catholics resent what they see as bullying and duplicity on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly the Moscow Patriarchate.

As I say, an interesting and provocative piece.

Destivelle, “The Moscow Council (1917–1918): The Creation of the Conciliar Institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church”

In May, the University of Notre Dame Press will release “The Moscow Council (1917–1918): The Creation of the Conciliar Institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church” by Hyacinthe Destivelle, O.P. (Oriental Section of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican). The publisher’s description follows:

By the early twentieth century, a genuine renaissance of religious thought and a desire for ecclesial reform were emerging in the Russian Orthodox Church. With the end of tsarist rule and widespread dissatisfaction with government control of all aspects of church life, conditions were ripe for the Moscow Council of 1917-1918 to come into being.

The council was a major event in the history of the Orthodox Church. After years of struggle for reform against political and ecclesiastical resistance, the bishops, clergy, monastics, and laity who formed the Moscow Council were able to listen to one other and make sweeping decisions intended to renew the Russian Orthodox Church. Council members sought change in every imaginable area—from seminaries and monasteries, to parishes and schools, to the place of women in church life and governance. Like Vatican II, the Moscow Council emphasized the mission of the church in and to the world.

Destivelle’s study not only discusses the council and its resolutions but also provides the historical, political, social, and cultural context that preceded the council. In the only comprehensive and probing account of the council, he discusses its procedures and achievements, augmented by substantial appendices of translated conciliar documents.

Tragically, due to the Revolution, the council’s decisions could not be implemented to the extent its members hoped. Despite current trends in the Russian church away from the Moscow Council’s vision, the council’s accomplishments remain as models for renewal in the Eastern churches.