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October 20, 2014 1

NC School District Continues Legally Questionable Bible Course

News reports about a ques­tion­able ele­men­tary school Bible course recently brought national atten­tion on the Rowan-Salisbury, NC pub­lic school sys­tem. Accord­ing to these reports, the classes are funded by reli­gious non­profit groups and include explicit reli­gious indoc­tri­na­tion. If true, these prac­tices raise seri­ous con­sti­tu­tional issues. nc-school-religion

Shortly after the Bible course made the news, the Rowan-Salisbury School Board held a meet­ing to con­sider whether the classes should con­tinue. Although the Board voted to review the course cur­ricu­lum, it appears that the classes will con­tinue pend­ing the review. In sup­port of con­tin­u­ing the Bible classes, Chair­man of the Rowan County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers Jim Sides report­edly stated: “I am sick and tired of being told by the minor­ity what’s best for the majority.”

Our nation’s pub­lic schools cer­tainly are not devoid of reli­gion. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that pub­lic schools can teach about reli­gion in an objec­tive and neu­tral man­ner, but they can­not teach or indoc­tri­nate reli­gion. For school offi­cials, mak­ing that dis­tinc­tion — par­tic­u­larly for a Bible course — is no easy task. Indeed, a let­ter ADL sent to the Rowan-Salisbury School Board in advance of its recent meet­ing noted that all reported legal deci­sions on Bible courses in pub­lic schools found con­sti­tu­tional violations.

ADL firmly believes that com­par­a­tive reli­gion classes are more appro­pri­ate for pub­lic schools. By its vote, the Rowan-Salisbury School Board appar­ently does not agree. But the Board needs to take a num­ber of impor­tant steps to ensure that its Bible course is con­sti­tu­tional and reli­giously inclu­sive. First and fore­most, it has to abide by the Supreme Court’s direc­tive, which requires a num­ber of prac­ti­cal steps.

For starters, the classes should be lim­ited to sec­ondary schools. When it comes to reli­gion in the pub­lic schools, the Courts are most pro­tec­tive of ele­men­tary school stu­dents because they are most impres­sion­able and vul­ner­a­ble to reli­gious coer­cion. Try­ing to craft a con­sti­tu­tion­ally per­mis­si­ble ele­men­tary school cur­ricu­lum is sim­ply unwork­able, and will undoubt­edly lead to more con­tro­versy and litigation.

The cur­ricu­lum also should be reviewed by a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies or another expert, and Bible course teach­ers should receive train­ing on Estab­lish­ment Clause and reli­gious diver­sity issues.

Chair­man Sides and the school board should keep in mind that our nation’s pub­lic schools serve all of our chil­dren, whether they are in the reli­gious major­ity or minor­ity. If a school makes the deci­sion to teach a Bible course, the cur­ricu­lum should be bal­anced and plu­ral­is­tic in nature. It can­not advo­cate one par­tic­u­lar reli­gion, or one bib­li­cal inter­pre­ta­tion or trans­la­tion over another.

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October 15, 2014 0

The Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act: Five Years Later

The Matthew Shep­ard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Pre­ven­tion Act (HCPA), enacted into law on Octo­ber 28, 2009, is the most impor­tant, com­pre­hen­sive, and inclu­sive fed­eral hate crime enforce­ment law passed in the past 40 years.Matthew_Shepard_and_James_Byrd,_Jr._Hate_Crimes_Prevention_Act

The HCPA encour­ages part­ner­ships between state and fed­eral law enforce­ment offi­cials to more effec­tively address hate vio­lence, and pro­vides expanded author­ity for fed­eral hate crime inves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tions when local author­i­ties are unwill­ing or unable to act.  Impor­tantly, the HCPA adds sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der, gen­der iden­tity and dis­abil­ity to the groups which pre­vi­ously had fed­eral pro­tec­tion against hate crimes – race, color, reli­gion and national origin.

For more than a dozen years, the Anti-Defamation League led a broad coali­tion of civil rights, reli­gious, edu­ca­tional, pro­fes­sional, law enforce­ment, and civic orga­ni­za­tions advo­cat­ing for the HCPA. The leg­is­la­tion was stalled by fierce oppo­si­tion from some con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions — and, for eight years, by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush — in large part because it pro­vided new author­ity for the FBI and the Jus­tice Depart­ment to inves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute cases in which mem­bers of LGBT com­mu­ni­ties were tar­geted for vio­lence.  Ener­getic sup­port by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder, Jr.  was essen­tial to achiev­ing final pas­sage of the measure.

The HCPA has proven to be a valu­able tool for fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors.  The Depart­ment of Jus­tice has brought more than two dozen cases over the past five years – and has suc­cess­fully defended the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the Act against sev­eral con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenges.

Enact­ment of the HCPA also sparked a wel­come round of police train­ing and out­reach – and the devel­op­ment of a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant new hate crime train­ing and pre­ven­tion resources, includ­ing an updated Hate Crime Model Pol­icy pre­pared by the Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Police.

Yet, much work remains to be done.  Hate crimes remain a seri­ous national prob­lem. In 2012 (accord­ing to the most recent data avail­able) the FBI doc­u­mented more than 6,500 hate crimes – almost one every hour of every day. The most fre­quent were moti­vated by race, fol­lowed by reli­gion and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.  Of the crime moti­vated by reli­gion, more than 60 per­cent tar­geted Jews or Jew­ish institutions.

Unfor­tu­nately, more than 90 cities with pop­u­la­tions over 100,000 either did not par­tic­i­pate in the FBI 2012 data col­lec­tion pro­gram or affir­ma­tively reported zero (0) hate crimes. That is unac­cept­able. As FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey said in remarks to the 2014 ADL Lead­er­ship Sum­mit, “We must con­tinue to impress upon our state and local coun­ter­parts in every juris­dic­tion the need to track and report hate crime. It is not some­thing we can ignore or sweep under the rug.”

The fifth anniver­sary of the HCPA pro­vides an impor­tant teach­able moment.  It is a fit­ting occa­sion for advo­cates, the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion, and Con­gress to pro­mote aware­ness of the HCPA, to report on the progress our nation has made in pre­vent­ing hate vio­lence, and to reded­i­cate our­selves to effec­tively respond­ing to bias crimes when they occur.

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October 13, 2014 0

Supreme Court Inmate Beard Case Illustrates True Purpose Of Federal Free Exercise Laws

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argu­ments in a case (Holt v. Hobbs) brought by an obser­vant Mus­lim inmate chal­leng­ing an Arkansas Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions (“DOC”) pol­icy bar­ring beards worn for reli­gious rea­sons.  ADL had joined a friend-of-the-court-brief filed by a coali­tion of reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions in sup­port of the inmate.   Given the facts of the case, the ques­tions and answers at oral argu­ment, and the Court’s overly broad read­ing of a fed­eral law sim­i­lar to the one at issue in this case, there likely are five jus­tices who will side with the inmate.holt-v-hobbs

Forty state prison sys­tems allow inmates to wear beards with­out lim­i­ta­tion, and another three allow beards with some lim­i­ta­tions.  But the DOC pro­hibits inmates from wear­ing half-inch beards for reli­gious reasons.

The inmate – Gre­gory Holt – chal­lenged the beard pol­icy under the Reli­gious Land Use and Insti­tu­tion­al­ized Per­sons Act (“RLUIPA”).   It is sis­ter leg­is­la­tion to the Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act (“RFRA”), the law at issue in the trou­bling Hobby Lobby deci­sion where the Court found that the Afford­able Care Act’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date “sub­stan­tially” bur­dened the reli­gious exer­cise of a for-profit cor­po­ra­tion.  Both statutes apply strict scrutiny – the most robust con­sti­tu­tional stan­dard – when neu­tral laws or gov­ern­ment rules sig­nif­i­cantly bur­den reli­gious exercise.

At the argu­ment, DOC’s attor­ney jus­ti­fied the beard pol­icy based on pris­oner misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion and hid­den con­tra­band con­cerns.  But he could not cite to an exam­ple of either.  The attor­ney also had dif­fi­culty explain­ing why the Court should give def­er­ence to the pol­icy when inmates are per­mit­ted to have quarter-inch beards for med­ical rea­sons, wear their hair to the mid­dle of the neck, and grow Afros with­out lim­i­ta­tion, all of which arguably could pose the same concerns.

This case reflects the true pur­pose of both RLUIPA and RFRA: to shield reli­gion from gov­ern­ment bur­dens — not detri­men­tally impos­ing reli­gious beliefs on oth­ers as was the case in Hobby Lobby.  Based on DOC’s fail­ure to show a mate­r­ial effect on prison secu­rity, the Court should find in favor of Mr. Holt.  Allow­ing him to wear a short beard upholds his reli­gious lib­erty with­out impos­ing his faith on or caus­ing harm to others.

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