The Freedom from Religion Foundation claims that it’s unconstitutional for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to tweet Bible verses, as he often does [complaint letter] The question of when officials’ social media feeds should be deemed governmental in nature as distinct from personal sidelines, and what exactly that should mean in practice, has been much in the news, especially since a federal court ruled that a county supervisor in Virginia acted improperly by banning some constituents from her Facebook page. Critics have similarly sued on the theory that President Trump’s @realdonaldtrump Twitter account is a government forum that may not block viewers based on the viewpoint of their likely responses. Eugene Volokh sorts out some of the issues and notes that the Supreme Court, including some of the most liberal members, have taken the view that elected officials are free to voice religious convictions in public speeches without fear of violating the Establishment Clause. Earlier here and here.
- “What is the essence of a two by four?” And how did class action lawyers manage to get into the act? [Coyote, earlier]
- Don’t: “Syracuse lawyer accused of making bomb threat to avoid court hearing” [John O’Brien, Syracuse Post-Standard]
- Texas: “Even if you’re not the biological father, you still owe child support that accrued before the DNA test” [Fernando Alfonso III, Houston Chronicle]
- Federalist Society podcast with Justin (Gus) Hurwitz, Michael Daugherty, and Devon Westhill on long cybersecurity battle between FTC and Daugherty’s company, LabMD [earlier]
- Judge rejects suit by student over grade in poetry class [Sari Lesk, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; U. of Wisconsin-Stevens Point]
- On Johnson Amendment (tax status of churches’ political speech) don’t expect a revolution [S.M. Chavey, Heartland, quoted]
Progressive clergy in Washington, D.C. sue Coca-Cola over community obesity [Caitlin Dewey/Washington Post, in a lengthy, uncritical piece that never addresses the issue of standing]
The Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, said he would appeal a two-year sentence for blasphemy over “his comment during an election campaign that people were being deceived if they believed the Quran forbids Muslims from voting for non-Muslims…The trial was a purely criminal one and the court disagreed that there were political aspects to the case, the lead judge said….Hardline Islamist groups, whose supporters were also gathered outside the courtroom, had called for the maximum penalty possible on the basis that Purnama’s comments had insulted the Quran.” [Independent, U.K.]
In 2015, following the lead of many other states, Virginia passed a “law that says women have a right to breast-feed anywhere they have a legal right to be.” The law provides “no exemption for religious institutions.” Now a mother and her attorney say Summit Church in Springfield, in the D.C. suburbs, had no right to ask her to use a private room to feed her baby during a service.
Personally, I’m fine with public breast-feeding no longer being categorized, as it once was, as an automatically shocking thing. But why is government dictation of how a church may arrange its rules for worship no longer categorized as an automatically shocking thing? [Michael Alison Chandler and Laura Vozzella, Washington Post] [adapted and cross-posted at Cato at Liberty; and welcome Mosaic Magazine readers]
Since the 1950s, a provision of federal tax law championed by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson has provided that 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, charities, and other sorts of non-profits, endanger their tax-exempt status if too much of their activity is devoted to supporting or opposing candidates for office. Some churches and conservative groups have campaigned to relax or repeal this rule, an idea now endorsed by presidential candidate Donald Trump. Paul Caron at TaxProf has a link roundup. More: Benjamin Leff.
Making the rounds, on Mental Floss and elsewhere, a story of how an overzealous lawyer for the Quaker Oats company sent a cease/desist letter to the Quaker Oaks (that’s “Oaks”) Christmas Tree Farm in Visalia, California, led by actual members of the Society of Friends and named after the tree under which religious services had been held for a time. The letter provoked this amusing and not un-peaceful response from William Lovett (“Our business is 100% owned and operated by Quakers. I suspect that your firm employs considerably fewer, if any, Quakers.”)
While the Deseret News sets the tale in 2012, it seems to have been in circulation longer than that, as seen in this 2006 posting. But since names in the story, including that of a lawyer for the food company, do check out as names of real persons, my guess is that the story is genuine.
- How the courts came to extend First Amendment protection to art, music, movies, and other expression not originally classed as “press” or “speech” [new Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher book via Ronald Collins]
- Cato amicus: church enterprises should be eligible for recycling program on same terms as secular businesses [Ilya Shapiro and Jayme Weber]
- “A Political Attack On Free Speech And Privacy Thwarted — For Now” [George Leef, Forbes on AFP v. Harris, earlier] Bill filed by Rep. Peter Roskam would keep IRS from collecting names of donors to nonprofits [Center for Competitive Politics]
- Newly enacted Tennessee conscience exemption for psychological counselors and therapists avoids some of the dangers of compelled speech [Scott Shackford, Reason]
- Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, benchslapped by Judge Richard Posner after sending credit card companies letters urging them to cut off dealings with Backpage.com, now seeks Supreme Court certiorari review [Ronald Collins, earlier here, here, and here]
- One problem with that Mississippi law: it gives extra protection to some religious beliefs about sex and marriage but not others [Popehat; my guest appearance on Mike Slater show, San Diego’s KFMB]
Notwithstanding its critics, religious arbitration has a role to play in a liberal legal order — in fact especially there, suggest John Corvino and Katherine Kim. “An important feature of liberal (i.e. free) states is to protect citizens’ moral agency, allowing them to align their actions with their moral convictions. Many citizens base their moral convictions on their religious beliefs. For these citizens, religious arbitration may provide an important opportunity to resolve disputes in accordance with shared values.” [University of Colorado philosophy blog What’s Wrong?, more on recent attacks on arbitration]
Sam Brunson, a Loyola (Chicago) professor specializing in tax law, searched IRS private letter rulings and sums up the results at the Mormon website By Common Consent (via Paul Caron/TaxProf, who assembles other links). For some academics’ views on whether the Bob Jones U. precedent (exemption denied to educational institution on grounds of race discrimination) will or should be pushed further into other areas, see Inside Higher Education and Caroline Corbin, SSRN (sex discrimination).
More on the Bob Jones U. case: Regulation magazine, Jan./Feb. 1982, more via Steven Hayward. More on the parsonage (housing) allowance, one bit of the tax code that does favor religious entities over otherwise comparable nonprofits: Ronald Hiner and Darlene Pulliam Smith/Journal of Accountancy, Erwin Chemerinsky/Duke (anti), Jonathan Whitehead and Becket Fund (pro). Journalists stirring the pot recently: Felix Salmon, Fusion; Mark Oppenheimer, Time.