Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | litigation

Well, the practical effects of this judgment may be absurd but it does, at least, have the virtue of honesty:

When Rupert Dickinson, the chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest property firms, left his BlackBerry behind in London while on a business trip to Ireland, he simply ordered one of his staff to get on a plane and deliver the device to him. For Dickinson’s then head of sustainability, Tim Nicholson, the errand was much more than an executive indulgence: it embodied the contempt with which his boss treated his deep philosophical beliefs about climate change. In a significant decision today , a judge found Nicholson’s views on the environment were so deeply held that they were entitled to the same protection as religious convictions, and ruled that an employment tribunal should hear his claim that he was sacked because of his beliefs.

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Feb/09

18

Miscellany, February 18

  • “UC Berkeley Website on Evolution Sued for Violating Establishment Clause”. Sued almost certainly without success: the Ninth Circuit has rejected the claim, although the litigant is seeking Supreme Court review. [Citizen Media Law]
  • Nancy Friedman:

    You know about those atheist ads on buses in the UK, right? (“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life.”*) Now you can generate your own bus slogan. Beancounters shows us how it’s done. And Christa Allan alerts us to the lookalike poster (real? generated?) in an English bus stop: “There’s probably no bus. So don’t just stand here, start walking.”

    *They call it atheist. I say the “probably” makes it agnostic.

  • Okay, I take back the last several disobliging things I’ve said about the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. In a letter to the Arkansas legislature, they called for the repeal of the state’s (unenforced and unconstitutional) ban on religious unbelievers’ holding office, an anachronism also on the books, apparently, in Tennessee and Texas. “Arkansas atheists have the same rights as religious believers, to hold office and testify in court and state laws to the contrary should be stricken from the books”. All credit to them for standing on principle (via). More: Somin @ Volokh.
  • “The Michigan Law Review’s companion journal First Impressions has published an online symposium on Liability for Exercising Personal Belief Exemptions from Vaccination.” [Concurring Opinions] As a libertarian, and one who’s highly suspicious about letting the government intrude into the family, I’m generally inclined to side with the parents against most of these government intrusions, misguided though I think they usually are in refusing vaccination (whether for religious or nonreligious reasons). That doesn’t mean I’d defend the family-religious-liberty principle to the very end of the line, with, say, the argued right to reject lifesaving blood transfusions for an infant on religious principle. Pluralism and coexistence of multiple communities is ardently to be pursued, but should not amount to a suicide pact.

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Rev. Jeremiah Cummings of Orlando wants $50 million from Lionsgate for his unflattering portrayal on screen, saying Bill Maher and his filmmaking team did not level with him about the kind of movie they were making. However, as Matthew Heller notes, similar remorse suits over Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” mostly flopped, with eight of nine thrown out before the discovery stage (cross-posted from Overlawyered).

Jan/09

14

Miscellany, January 14

  • Tattoo-parlor Calvinism at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, blazing new trails in quien-es-mas-macho discipleship. P.S. DH and I independently noticed this story and posted on it only minutes apart. Read his post.
  • Latest in Michael Newdow’s suit over religious references in the President-Elect’s Oath of Office: he sent a process server to the home of Chief Justice John Roberts to serve him with the papers personally. Ann Althouse thinks part of Newdow’s rudeness is that he’s stepping on someone else’s event:

    Now, I’ve broken my silence on the atheist’s case about the oath. I don’t really want to talk about these attention-seekers, even though I teach Religion & the Constitution, because I resent the way they cause many people to despise the Establishment Clause and to think atheists are litigious louts. I detest the idea that Obama’s magic moment — turning into President — has been intruded upon by people doing PR for their crusade.

  • No, we don’t intend to link to every sex scandal involving a highly placed “faith-based outreach” political operative. Only the outstandingly juicy and tawdry ones. Besides, there wouldn’t be space.
  • Check out our Ayn Rand open thread, which is up to 155 comments, and where the conversation headed off in some (to me, at least) unforeseen directions.

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Jan/09

3

Obama oath-of-office lawsuit

Per Religion Clause, Michael Newdow’s lawsuit “asks the court to enjoin the Chief Justice– who will administer the oath of office– from adding ‘so help me God’ to the constitutionally prescribed presidential oath (Art. II, Sec. 1). It also asks the court to declare unconstitutional the use of clergy to deliver an invocation and benediction.” It does not seek to forbid Obama from saying the words if he wishes, however. Newdow is the guy who unsuccessfully sued against the “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and he filed similar lawsuits over the 2001 and 2005 inaugurations, so there are elements of both “pounding his head against a wall” and “old news” here, but Eugene Volokh and Richard Esenberg have some observations worth reading.

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The Thomas More Law Center has filed a lawsuit claiming that the federal government is violating the First Amendment’s ban on establishment of religion by rescuing the giant insurer American International Group because, as one sliver of the broad range of business it does around the globe, AIG offers “Sharia-compliant” insurance products (also called “takaful”) structured to avoid the payment of interest and thus keep from violating Islamic religious law. First Amendment authority Eugene Volokh is scathing, if in a diplomatic way, about the lawsuit’s defects, diagnosing it as based on a kind of super-expansive Brennanite separationist theory, assuming that it is based on any coherent theory at all.

Dis-interest-ed insurance

Dis-interest-ed insurance

The fact is that offering some products that are of special appeal to Muslims does not amount to supporting Islam any more than offering a wider choice of meatless entrees during Lent amounts to supporting Christianity. Given the action’s likely unsuccess in court, it’s hard to see what point it could have other than to stick a symbolic thumb in the eye of devout believers in Islam. First Amendment blogger Marc Randazza finds the suit “patently frivolous and based more in a hostility toward Islam than a true belief in a separation of church and state.”

What is the Thomas More Law Center? Established by Domino’s Pizza magnate and big-time conservative Catholic Tom Monaghan, it bills itself as “a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan,” and on its website as “The Sword and Shield for People of Faith”, though not to be sure faith of the Muslim variety; it “defends and promotes America’s Christian heritage and moral values, including the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life.” The center’s attorneys “have appeared regularly on national radio and television programs including the FOX News Channel (O’Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes, FOX & Friends), MSNBC (Dan Abrams), the Dr. Laura Show, O’Reilly Radio Factor, and hundreds of Christian radio networks.” In its best-known case so far, it suffered a solid defeat defending the introduction of “Intelligent Design” theory in the schools of Dover, Pennsylvania. Despite that setback, it apparently remains quite the little beehive of litigation, “handling over 259 legal matters in 43 different states“. One wonders if this new suit is typical of the quality of those actions.

Financial products geared toward particular kinds of believers are a classic capitalist adaptation to market demand, and you’d think “People of Faith” would be better served by encouraging the law to accommodate such products rather than stamp them out. Earlier this year I wrote for the Manhattan Institute’s magazine City Journal about a pending lawsuit in which the National Fair Housing Alliance is suing the GuideOne Mutual Insurance Company because the company offers an optional policy rider called “FaithGuard” that covers various risks associated with church participation and volunteering. The fair housing group claims that by offering a line of coverage that is unlikely to offer much value to religious nonbelievers, the insurer is somehow engaging in religious discrimination in violation of federal law. I found that position absurd, destructive, and indeed an entrenchment on the legitimate interests of religious believers. Is the Thomas More lawsuit any less so?

P.S. Welcome readers of the Washington Post’s “Political Browser“, which picked this post in its selection of “What’s Good on the Web”. Several readers, including Not a Potted Plant, point out that Islam-friendly financial products commonly are set up to avoid investments in enterprises involved in alcohol, sexuality, and the like, which you’d think would make a group like Thomas More at least a little more sympathetic to them. And one of Prawfsblawg’s small contingent of conservative contributors, Prof. Rick Esenberg of Marquette, writes: “There are certain cases that you just know are going nowhere. This is one of them.”

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Dec/08

13

Washington Christmas display, cont’d

In one of the first posts at this site, Bradlaugh noted the flap in Washington state about how Gov. Christine Gregoire had supposedly — in Bill O’Reilly’s words — “insulted Christians all over the world” by ordering/allowing the adding of a plaque with an in-your-face atheist message to the holiday decorations (which included a Nativity scene) at a state office building.

Who brought the red tape?

Who brought the red tape?

Most of us, including me, took exception in one way or another to the atheist plaque or at least its wording, and I speculated that Gov. Gregoire’s office might have responded to the atheist group’s request in some way more likely to engender peace among all believers and good will toward men at the holiday season (more).

Well, I should have realized at the time that all public controversies are more complicated than Bill O’Reilly makes them sound, and in particular I of all people should have been more alert to ask the question “Who was suing or threatening to sue whom?”

Now I read this from Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

The governor has no choice, folks. There is a legal settlement, negotiated by the ADF, that requires that all individuals and groups have equal access. This was done specifically to get access for a nativity scene. This reminds me very much of the school in Virginia, where a Christian group sued the school to be allowed to send fliers home with students. Then the next year, when a humanist group used the same process to advertise a humanist summer camp, they were outraged.* They’ve used equal access arguments to get their foot in the door, then they want to slam that door on others.

The ADF stands for Alliance Defense Fund, one of the hyperlitigious Christian Right lawyer strike forces that I expect to be covering often on this site. And while Gov. Gregoire is a liberal Democrat, the state’s highly regarded Republican attorney general, Rob McKenna, released a joint statement with the governor explaining why the state felt that it had no choice and incidentally making clear who the litigious party was in all this: the ADF.

Americans United also covers the controversy:

The ADF was ecstatic over the settlement, so it seems rather funny that this year, when an atheist group wanted to [avail itself of the settlement’s terms and] display its own sign, that suddenly O’Reilly wants to point his finger at the governor, not his allies who started this mess.

It still seems faintly incredible to me that the ADF could sue to force the insertion of a Nativity scene in a state office building whose managers would have preferred innocuous holly-and-candy-cane displays.** But clearly I should be paying more attention to this area of the law.

*P.S. See comments, in which a commenter notes, and Brayton agrees, that this wording is faulty and should not have identified the group that filed the original school lawsuit as the same group that was outraged over its later implementation.

P.P.S. The settlement indicates that the sequence of events was as follows: 1) Capitol had been allowing “holiday tree” with no apparent sectarian content; 2) in effort to be even-handed, authorities granted request to add menorah; 3) presence of menorah allowed ADF to sue arguing that sectarian symbols were on display so that nativity had to be added too.

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Dec/08

11

Presidential medal for Charles Colson

President Bush just bestowed Presidential citizenship medals on 24 recipients, including key Religious Right figures Charles Colson (Prison Fellowship) and Robert George (Princeton). Colson, of course, is the Watergate felon who had a repentance and religious conversion; “after serving his sentence,” notes AP, “Colson founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, which conducts outreach to prisoners, ex-convicts, crime victims and their families.” Colson’s prison reform efforts have been praised from many quarters, often in extravagant terms, and I have no doubt that some portion of that praise is deserved, as with his efforts to call attention to abusive prison conditions (seldom a popular cause for a conservative to take up). At the same time, as David Plotz noted in a good 2000 Slate profile:

Secular admirers overlook the central fact about Colson’s work: He is a hard-core evangelist. Colson seeks to convert prisoners to Christianity, not necessarily to rehabilitate them. If they repair their lives, all the better, but souls matter most. This fact shadows Colson’s ambitious Inner Change project. Colson’s volunteers run the daily lives of about 200 Texas inmates. From dawn to dusk, the inmates attend prayer meetings, Bible study, and chapel. All activities are explicitly evangelical and Protestant. Though Inner Change is being widely praised and imitated, Muslims in the program complain of ostracism, and civil libertarians are alarmed at the project’s aggressive promotion of Christianity.

People interested in good governance are probably more willing to countenance church-state blurring in prison and corrections than in most other realms of government action, if only because the “normal” outcomes are so grim that you’d think mixing in religiosity could hardly make matters worse. If you can pull in a cadre of law-abiding outsiders who care about prisoners’ welfare, is it really so terrible if a certain amount of sermonizing and conversion-pressure goes on, as at an old-style Skid Row mission? So I’ve never managed to get very agitated about the arguable church-state violations. On the other hand, I get much more worried at reports (like this from 2003 by Mark Kleiman, also in Slate) that the program’s reputed success depends on cherry-picking statistics and cooked numbers: “Overall, the 177 entrants [in Colson’s much-lauded Texas program] did a little bit worse than the controls.”

At any rate, Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings and Megan McArdle at The Atlantic are now engaged in a controversy over whether Colson was an appropriate pick for the Medal. Hilzoy recites some of the crimes Colson committed as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man”, when he was among the hardest and nastiest of a hard and nasty crew:

The one episode that will always sum up Chuck Colson for me is his plan to firebomb the Brookings Institution.

This naturally evokes comparisons to Bill Ayers, to which Megan McArdle’s response is: c’mon, Colson’s repented of his Nixon-era crimes, in what even most of his critics admit is a sincere way. And he served time. He would never firebomb the Brookings Institution now, or so much as toss a water balloon into its lobby. Is there to be no forgiveness, no prospect of regaining public stature through later acts of idealism?

I’m not sure what to think of all this. I know several scholars at Brookings, and haven’t always entirely agreed with the thrust of their work, but I don’t think it’s ever occurred to me to express my disagreements in as drastic a fashion as Colson did. (In the press coverage of his presidential medal, no reporter seems to have called anyone at Brookings to get a reaction.) But maybe bygones should be bygones.

What I know bothers me about Colson is what he is now: a seasoned wheeler-dealer who takes a hand in almost all of the theological Right’s most deplorable causes, from attacking Darwin, misrepresenting science and getting creationism into the schools (he’s been a prolific advocate of so-called Intelligent Design), through hysterical and hectic attacks on secularism (which he blamed for the Enron financial scandal; no doubt he’s dusting off the theory to explain today’s financial crisis); and on through pertinacious and frivolous litigation, as in a case I’ve written about at my main site, in which Colson’s been a leading promoter of prolonged and meritless litigation in a custody case for the purpose of making anti-gay points. The case is one in which a client represented by the misnamed religious-right group Liberty Counsel has obstinately persisted in violating a valid court order; I see (via Box Turtle Bulletin) that the U.S. Supreme Court has now declined for the fifth time to hear an appeal by Liberty Counsel trying to stave off its loss in the Miller-Jenkins case.

For a while after his conversion, Colson was praised for a rhetorical style that came across as softer and more conciliatory than many of his colleagues. But that’s changed too; now he preaches culture war with the best of them. I know he was a hard and ruthless man when he served Nixon, and I see little evidence to indicate that he is anything but a hard and ruthless man now. I wish I could believe that he got a medal despite all these aspects, but I much fear that his candidacy reached the President’s desk because of them.

[Note added: while Colson has admitted to many other Watergate crimes, he’s reportedly disputed the accuracy of at least some of the Brookings accusations, which emerged as part of other Watergate figures’ testimony and have since then been widely reported in many mainstream publications as fact.]

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