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April 4, 2014 0

Coalition Promotes Expanded Religious Accommodation In The Military

On Jan­u­ary 22, 2014 the Depart­ment of Defense (DoD) pub­lished an updated and revised Instruc­tion 1300.17–Accommodation of Reli­gious Prac­tices Within the Mil­i­tary Ser­vicesThe new guid­ance, which describes pol­icy, pro­ce­dures, and respon­si­bil­i­ties for the accom­mo­da­tion of reli­gious prac­tices in the Armed Forces, was designed “to ensure the pro­tec­tion of rights of con­science of mem­bers of the Armed Forces.”  The updated guid­ance sought to strike the proper bal­ance between mil­i­tary readi­ness and reli­gious free­dom for ser­vice mem­bers.   But it fell short in not pro­vid­ing a suf­fi­cient accom­mo­da­tion for some fun­da­men­tal aspects of minor­ity reli­gious practice.  120407-M-KX613-023.jpg

For exam­ple, the guid­ance lays out a for­mal process so that Jew­ish and Sikh sol­diers may request an accom­mo­da­tion for their required head cov­er­ings (a kip­pah or a tur­ban) and incor­po­rates groom­ing stan­dards that pro­vide a path for approval for beards.   How­ever, each sol­dier must still request an indi­vid­ual, case-by-case accom­mo­da­tion under the guid­ance – a daunt­ing and stress­ful prospect for some, with an uncer­tain out­come.   In the name of “…main­tain­ing uni­form mil­i­tary groom­ing and appear­ance stan­dards,” the effect is to exclude some indi­vid­u­als who would oth­er­wise wel­come the oppor­tu­nity to serve their coun­try in the military.  

In Jan­u­ary, the House Armed Ser­vices Sub­com­mit­tee on Mil­i­tary Per­son­nel held hear­ings on reli­gious accom­mo­da­tions in the mil­i­tary. ADL, the Sikh Coali­tion, and the ACLU, (among oth­ers) raised this issue in their state­ments.  And Holly Holl­man, Gen­eral Coun­sel for the Bap­tist Joint Com­mit­tee on Reli­gious Lib­erty, artic­u­lately described  the del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act fac­ing the mil­i­tary in address­ing reli­gious lib­erty concerns. 

Impor­tantly, more than 100 Mem­bers of Con­gress have weighed in on reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion in the mil­i­tary in a let­ter to the Pen­ta­gon, coor­di­nated by Rep. Joseph Crow­ley (D-NY).   

And this week ADL, the Sikh Coali­tion, and the ACLU coor­di­nated a let­ter to the Pen­ta­gon from an unusu­ally broad coali­tion of twenty-one national groups with real reli­gious lib­erty cre­den­tials and sub­ject mat­ter exper­tise.  The inter­faith coali­tion let­ter stated that the cur­rent guid­ance “need­lessly infringe on the rights of these reli­giously obser­vant ser­vice mem­bers and prospec­tive ser­vice mem­bers” and urged the Pen­ta­gon to fine-tune the Instruc­tion to bet­ter accom­mo­date reli­gious practices. 

The same com­mand struc­ture that pro­vides unique pres­sure to con­form within the mil­i­tary – and poten­tial for inap­pro­pri­ate pros­e­ly­tiz­ing and reli­gious coer­cion – also makes the direct involve­ment of the Pentagon’s lead­er­ship in pro­mot­ing effec­tive, uni­form guid­ance and solu­tions to this prob­lem crit­i­cally important. 

The sig­na­to­ries to the coali­tion let­ter are: 

Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee (AJC). Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State, Anti-Defamation League, Bap­tist Joint Com­mit­tee for Reli­gious Lib­erty, Becket Fund for Reli­gious Lib­erty, Chap­lain Alliance for Reli­gious Lib­erty, Chris­t­ian Legal Soci­ety, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Epis­co­pal Church, Forum on the Mil­i­tary Chap­laincy, Gen­eral Con­fer­ence of Seventh-day Adven­tists, Inter­faith Alliance, Mus­lim Advo­cates, National Coun­cil of Jew­ish Women, Sikh Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund (SALDEF), Sikh Coali­tion, South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Together (SAALT), United Methodist Church, Gen­eral Board of Church and Soci­ety, Union of Ortho­dox Jew­ish Con­gre­ga­tions of Amer­ica, Union for Reform Judaism

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March 11, 2014 2

President’s Civil Rights Nominee Rejected For Defending Civil Rights

Last week, on March 5, a major­ity of Sen­a­tors voted to block the nom­i­na­tion of Debo Adeg­bile, Pres­i­dent Obama’s choice to be the next Assis­tant Attor­ney Gen­eral for Civil Rights – replac­ing Tom Perez, now Sec­re­tary of Labor. The vote to refuse to con­firm Adeg­bile was 47–52 (with Major­ity Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) cast­ing a “no” vote in order to pre­serve the pos­si­bil­ity of bring­ing the nom­i­na­tion to the floor again).debo-adegbile

Adegbile’s nom­i­na­tion had attracted con­sid­er­able sup­port – includ­ing the Amer­i­can Bar Asso­ci­a­tion and a num­ber of lead­ing con­ser­v­a­tive advo­cates who had been on the other side of legal argu­ments with Adeg­bile in the past. The Anti-Defamation League was among 86 national civil rights, reli­gious, and law enforce­ment orga­ni­za­tions that had endorsed his nom­i­na­tion in a let­ter to Sen­a­tors

Adeg­bile was not defeated because he was unqual­i­fied for the post. To the con­trary, Adeg­bile, a vot­ing rights expert who had argued two cases before the United States Supreme Court, is one of the pre-eminent civil rights lit­i­ga­tors of his gen­er­a­tion. He had served as Direc­tor of Lit­i­ga­tion and, later, as Act­ing Pres­i­dent and Director-Counsel of the sto­ried civil rights orga­ni­za­tion, the NAACP Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund (LDF). 

Instead, oppo­si­tion to Adeg­bile was focused, almost exclu­sively, on the fact that the LDF became coun­sel for Mumia Abu-Jamal dur­ing his tenure. Abu-Jamal was con­victed of killing Philadel­phia police offi­cer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Far from “seek­ing to glo­rify an unre­pen­tant cop-killer,” as Sen­ate Minor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell wrongly asserted, LDF lawyers had not argued that Abu-Jamal was inno­cent or wrongly con­victed. They argued, in post-conviction appeal pro­ceed­ings, that his death sen­tence had been tainted by jury instruc­tions that were flawed and improper – an argu­ment that pre­vailed in the courts.  Adeg­bile was involved in the case tan­gen­tially, in a super­vi­sory capacity.

As the con­tro­versy over Adegbile’s LDF involve­ment in the Abu-Jamal appeal grew, the Pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Bar Asso­ci­a­tion felt it nec­es­sary to write to Sen­a­tors to remind them how the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in Amer­ica is sup­posed to work: 

I was alarmed to learn that there is some oppo­si­tion to Mr. Adegbile’s nom­i­na­tion based solely on his efforts to pro­tect the fun­da­men­tal rights of an unpop­u­lar client while work­ing at the Legal Defense Fund. His work, like the work of ABA mem­bers who pro­vide thou­sands of hours of pro bono legal ser­vices every year, is con­sis­tent with the finest tra­di­tion of this country’s legal pro­fes­sion and should be com­mended, not condemned.

Fol­low­ing his defeat, many com­men­ta­tors have rightly labeled the Senate’s treat­ment of Adeg­bile unfair, con­trast­ing his involve­ment in rep­re­sent­ing a highly unpop­u­lar defen­dant with sim­i­lar legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion by for­mer Pres­i­dent John Adams and Chief Jus­tice John Roberts – who both, famously, rep­re­sented indi­vid­u­als charged with mur­der.  In 1770, John Adams rep­re­sented British sol­diers indicted for mur­der­ing five peo­ple in what would later be called the “Boston Mas­sacre” dur­ing British occu­pa­tion of the colonies. Six of the sol­diers on trial, includ­ing their com­mand­ing offi­cer, were acquit­ted of the charges, and two oth­ers were con­victed on manslaugh­ter.   And when he was in pri­vate prac­tice, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice John Roberts rep­re­sented a Florida death-row inmate who, with two co-defendants, had been con­victed of killing eight peo­ple in 1978. 

The defeat of Debo Adegbile’s nom­i­na­tion sends a deeply dis­turb­ing mes­sage to lawyers who might now think twice before affil­i­at­ing with advo­cacy groups or serv­ing jus­tice by rep­re­sent­ing con­tro­ver­sial fig­ures or causes.

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February 24, 2014 0

Governor Jindal’s Dubious Comments on Religious Liberty

Accord­ing to Louisiana Gov­er­nor Bobby Jin­dal, there is a “Silent War on Reli­gious Lib­erty” in America. 

In recent remarks at the Ronald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Library, the Gov­er­nor claimed that this war is being “waged in our courts and in the halls of polit­i­cal power.”  Although “churches in Amer­ica are not being burned to the ground, and Chris­tians are not being slaugh­tered for their faith,” he con­tends that this blood­less war “threat­ens the fab­ric of our com­mu­ni­ties, the health of our pub­lic square, and the endurance of our con­sti­tu­tional governance.”  bobby-jindal

Exhibit A in the Governor’s speech evi­denc­ing this pur­ported silent war is the Hobby Lobby case cur­rently pend­ing before the U.S. Supreme Court.  In that case, the Gov­er­nor is sup­port­ing own­ers of for-profit, sec­u­lar cor­po­ra­tions who are chal­leng­ing the Afford­able Care Act’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date on reli­gious free­dom grounds.

The man­date would require these cor­po­ra­tions to pro­vide employ­ees with com­pre­hen­sive health insur­ance, inclu­sive of pre­scrip­tion birth con­trol, or pay a mod­est tax.  From the Governor’s per­spec­tive, these cor­po­rate own­ers should be allowed to impose their reli­gious beliefs about con­tra­cep­tion on thou­sands of employ­ees who likely have diverse reli­gious views on the subject.

Exhibit B is a series of legal cases against bak­eries, florists and other wed­ding ser­vice providers who have refused on reli­gious grounds to pro­vide ser­vices to same-sex cou­ples.  Here too, Gov­er­nor Jin­dal over­looks the fact that many of these cou­ples find sup­port for their mar­riages in their reli­gious tra­di­tion, and could legit­i­mately claim that their reli­gion is being denigrated.

In his speech at the Rea­gan Library, the Gov­er­nor also said “… the fact is that our reli­gious lib­er­ties are designed to pro­tect peo­ple of all faiths.”  Stand­ing alone, this would be a forth­right state­ment on our nation’s cher­ished con­sti­tu­tional val­ues.  How­ever, given the con­text of his speech, this remark lacks cred­i­bil­ity.  The Governor’s appar­ent sup­port for cer­tain Chris­t­ian view­points being imposed on our plu­ral­is­tic work­force, mar­ket­place, and soci­ety erro­neously sup­ports the use of the Con­sti­tu­tion as a sword to advance the majority’s reli­gion rather than a shield to pro­tect the rights of reli­gious minori­ties or the non-religious.  It is unfor­tu­nate that the Governor’s sup­port for reli­gious free­dom seems selec­tive rather than universal.

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