Legal Briefs (June/July 2003)

Legal Briefs

Study: Faith-based Not Better

A study released in May by researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis found no proof that religious charities do a better job of providing social services.

Studying 2,830 people who went through religious and secular job training programs in two Indiana counties, the researchers found no difference in job replacement rates or starting wages between secular and religious programs. However, clients of faith-based groups worked fewer hours on average and were less likely to receive health insurance.

The study is based on the first two years’ data in a three-year project funded by the Ford Foundation.
Unveiling Photo ID’s

Florida Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe ruled on June 11 against the request by converted Muslim Sultaana Freeman to keep her face veiled for her state driver’s license photograph. Thorpe said “having access to photo image identification is essential to promote” the state’s “compelling interest in protecting the public.”

Freeman, whose case was brought by the ACLU of Florida, wears a black niqab that shows only her made-up eyes. When she was arrested in 1998 on a domestic battery charge, she and her husband cited religious reasons for hindering child welfare workers, who were investigating bruises on twin foster children under their care. The twins were removed from the Freeman home.

Women Fight Veil

Sheikh Mohammed Al-Fartousi, Baghdad’s most powerful Shiite cleric, announced on May 23 he would impose a “hand of iron” in enforcing a new fatwa banning alcohol, closing cinemas, and veiling women.

More than 1,000 Shiite protesters marched in Baghdad on May 19 against the American presence in Iraq and supporting the influential council of Islamic clerics.

As ayatollahs compete for authority and influence, Iraqi women are begging for freedom and a chance to live without wars and embargo. “I want to move freely, live a joyful life out in the open,” a hairdresser told the New York Times in May. “I don’t want a government of religion.”

Similarly, clerics are pushing for the veil in Afghanistan. A council of Islamic scholars recently urged Afghan women to wear the hijab, “and it shouldn’t be too tight,” said Fazil Ahmed Manawi, deputy chief of the Supreme Court.

A prime minister in Pakistan’s Islamist-ruled North West Frontier Province submitted a bill in May proposing that all women be forced to wear head-to-toe veils, known as “purdah,” in public. “It is the order of Allah, in his holy book the Koran, that all women should be veiled,” said Pir Mohammad Khan.

Historic Churches Get Tax Money

Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced on May 27 that the nation’s historic preservation program “will end a discriminatory double-standard” and make churches eligible for federal subsidy.

She announced that the first church to receive federal grant money for refurbishment will be Old North Church in Boston, where the two lanterns were placed to signal Paul Revere that the British were coming. The 280-year-old church, which is still active and has a congregation, will receive $317,000 in public money to repair and restore windows and “make it more accessible.”

HUD Permits Discrimination?

The Bush Administration stepped up its campaign to allow religious groups receiving federal housing aid to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion.

“If an organization considers it important to hire within their religion, we don’t think the federal government should substitute its judgment for theirs,” said Frank Jimenz, chief of staff to HUD Secretary Mel Martinez.

Six HUD programs have regulations that can be changed administratively.

The nondiscrimination policy of two other HUD programs–the Community Development Block Grant Program and HOME Investment Partnerships Program–is in the statutes and may only be repealed by Congress.

In January, HUD proposed allowing religious groups and churches to apply for federal funds to erect and refurbish buildings where religious activities are held, so long as social services are also provided.

In early May, the House passed a bill reauthorizing a job training program which removed a provision prohibiting religious grantees from workplace religious discrimination. The Workforce Investment Act provides $6.6 million in job training and services at government centers serving more than 19 million people.

Religious Head Start

A House panel voted on June 12 to approve a bill letting federally funded preschool programs refuse to hire teachers based on faith.

The House Education and Workforce panel on education reform voted to exempt religious groups from the bill’s anti-discrimination clause.

“Faith-based organizations cannot be expected to sustain their religious mission without the ability to employ individuals who . . . practice their faith, because it’s that faith that motivates them to serve,” said sponsor Rep. Mike Castle, R-DE.

The bill, creating a pilot program in eight states to overhaul Head Start, is regarded as the first step in dismantling the 38-year-old program.

Baptist Feet Firmly in Mouths

About 7,000 believers convened in Phoenix in mid-June for the notorious annual Southern Baptist Convention, which announced an initiative to “liberate” gays from homosexuality via Jesus.

Showcased was former Muslim-cum-Baptist minister Rev. Ergun Caner, who told delegates: “I went from worshipping a false, dead idol to knowing the one true living sovereign Lord.”

Rev. Jerry Vines, who at last year’s gathering infamously called Muhammad a “demon-possessed pedophile,” received a standing ovation for his sermon denouncing the “culture of perversity” and for positing that “All religions are not equally true.”

Previous conventions have attracted ridicule for boycotting Disney, for issuing a booklet in 1999 saying “Hindus are living in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism,” and for such pronouncements as “God almighty did not hear the prayers of a Jew.”

Hundreds of Canadian kindred spirits the same week gathered outside Ontario Superior Court in Toronto, to protest the June decision by the Ontario Court of Appeals to legalize same-sex marriages.

Evangelist Ken Campbell, B.C., told 600 demonstrators:

“We believe that SARS will cease when the AIDS parade is cancelled. Lord God have mercy on this city and upon the nation.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation