Judge finds District’s rules for hanging political posters unconstitutional

A federal judge on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional the District’s regulations for hanging political signs on the city’s lampposts.

U.S. District Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth’s opinion finds that the rules governing how long signs can be posted in the District violate the First Amendment, and it prevents the city from enforcing the regulations.

In his 58-page decision, Lamberth “lauds the District for opening its lampposts to political messages” but writes that “once the District opens up public property to political speech, it has a responsibility to be fair, even and precise in its regulations.”

At issue is a long-standing battle between the District and a grass-roots organization that was fined tens of thousands of dollars by the city for failing to promptly remove its posters from lampposts and electrical boxes after an anti-war march it advertised in 2007.

Two groups — the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation — argued that the city’s rules unfairly distinguished between different types of speech and initially favored signs promoting the election of individual candidates for public office.

In response to the lawsuit, the District has rewritten its regulations at least four times. City attorneys in the case said the regulations were designed to promote aesthetics and reduce litter, according to court documents.

But Lamberth wrote that the revised regulations still failed to apply a consistent, constitutional standard, in part because of the discretion the language gives to individual city inspectors.

Judge: DC transit system must allow anti-jihad ads; says ads must be posted by Monday evening

WASHINGTON — The D.C. transit system must allow a pro-Israel ad that equates Muslim radicals with savages, a federal judge ruled Friday. A spokesman for the Metro system said it would comply with the judge’s decision and that the advertisements would go up over the weekend.

“The result is absolutely correct,” said David Yerushalmi, a lawyer representing the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the organization behind the advertisements. “There simply was no way under the First Amendment jurisprudence that we have today that this ad should not have gone up when contracted.”

The one-page ruling from U.S. District Judge Mary Collyer follows a similar court order in New York that cleared the way for anti-jihad ads to go up in that city’s subway system last month. The ads read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

The transit system’s lawyers called the ad’s message “fighting words in the context of current events” and said the FBI was investigating a promise of violence if the ads ran in Washington. Still, the violence that roiled the region has largely abated since then, and there have been few reports of mischievous or hostile reactions to the ads since they appeared in New York.

Man Tied to Anti-Islam Video Held on Probation Charge

LOS ANGELES — Muslims across the Middle East outraged by an anti-Islam film made in America wanted swift punishment for the man behind the movie, and now Mark Basseley Youssef is behind bars. But he’s jailed for lying about his identity, not because of the video’s content.

Court documents show Youssef, 55, legally changed his name from Nakoula Basseley Nakoula in 2002, but never told federal authorities, who now are using that as part of the probation violation case against him.

Youssef was ordered jailed without bail Thursday until a hearing is held to determine if he violated terms of his supervised release on a 2010 bank fraud conviction. Prosecutors allege he used multiple aliases and lied to his probation officers about his real name.

Youssef, an Egyptian-born Christian who’s now a U.S. citizen, sought to obtain a passport in his new name but still had a California driver’s license as Nakoula, assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale said Friday. Youssef used a third name, Sam Bacile, in association with the 14-minute trailer for the movie “Innocence of Muslims” that was posted on YouTube. It portrays Muhammad as a religious fraud, womanizer and pedophile.

The case isn’t about Youssef’s First Amendment right to make a controversial film. Rather, Dugdale said, it’s about his failure to live up to his obligation to be truthful with federal authorities.

“The fact that he wasn’t using his true name with probation, that’s where the problem is,” said Dugdale, who noted federal authorities now will refer to Nakoula as Youssef.

Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles’ School of Law, said U.S. Central District Chief Magistrate Judge Suzanne Segal’s decision to order Youssef held without bail is supported by the evidence.

Provocative ads promoting defeat of ‘savage’ jihad appear in NYC subways, draw criticism

NEW YORK — Provocative advertisements equating Muslim radicals with savages appeared in New York City subways on Monday, drawing immediate criticism from some riders.

“It’s a terrible idea,” said Colby Richardson at a subway station in midtown Manhattan. “It’s going to spark controversy obviously when you deem one side savages and the other side civilized. “

The ads — reading, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” — went up in 10 stations across Manhattan after a court victory by a conservative commentator who once headed a campaign against an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site.

Many commuters in New York City were uncomfortable with a new series of subway ads that equate Muslim radicals with savages. The MTA was forced to put up the ads in the subway system after a lawsuit by anti-Islamic blogger Pamela Geller. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York initially refused to run blogger Pamela Geller’s ad, saying it was “demeaning.” But a federal judge ruled in July that it is protected speech under the First Amendment.

California Assembly to affirm campus speech rights after resolution against anti-Israel protests

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A state lawmaker on Wednesday promised to introduce a fix to an Assembly resolution that stirred controversy a day earlier because it urged California colleges and universities to crack down on demonstrations against Israel.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal said she would work on a resolution that affirms free speech rights on campus when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“I’m not sure what all it’s going to say, but I think it will boil down to a celebration of the First Amendment,” the Long Beach Democrat said in a statement. “And it will make clear in no uncertain terms that students in our universities should feel safe to have differing opinions.”

Lowenthal and 66 of the Assembly’s 80 lawmakers provoked a storm of criticism after they approved a resolution Tuesday that condemned anti-Semitism but also asked administrators at California’s public colleges and universities to combat anti-Israel actions.

Republican Assemblywoman Linda Halderman did not mention Israel when she introduced House Resolution 35, which is symbolic and does not carry policy implications.

Free-speech advocates and Muslim groups took umbrage because the resolution appeared to label criticism and protest of Israel as anti-Jewish hate speech. On Wednesday, several groups sent letters to lawmakers condemning the resolution, including the Council on American Islamic Relations, the National Lawyers Guild and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Anti-Islam Ads Remixed in San Francisco and New York

As my colleague Benjamin Weiser reported last month, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had violated the First Amendment rights of a pro-Israel group by refusing to run an ad that refers to Arabs as “savage” on 318 city buses.

The ad campaign was devised by Pamela Geller, the crusading anti-Islam blogger who fought to block the construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of the World Trade Center two summers ago. The full text of the ad, which refers to a statement by Ms. Geller’s intellectual hero Ayn Rand, reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” Then, between two Stars of David, the tag line appears: “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

While the judge gave the New York City transit system 30 days to consider its options for appeal, the ads have already appeared on the sides of buses in San Francisco, provoking anger from Muslims and supporters of the Palestinian cause.

As the local ABC affiliate in San Francisco reported, the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency took the unusual step of denouncing the ads and running huge disclaimers on the sides of the buses to disavow what a spokesman called the “repulsive” message from Ms. Geller’s group it was forced to accept.

Missouri To Vote On Prayer Amendment 2 Known As ‘Right To Pray’

ST. LOUIS — Missourians will vote on Tuesday (Aug. 7) on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that supporters say would protect residents’ right to pray in public, and if a recent poll is any indication, it could pass by a mammoth margin.

 

Supporters say the so-called “right to pray” ballot measure — known as Amendment 2 — better defines Missourians’ First Amendment rights and will help to protect the state’s Christians, about 80 percent of the population, who they say are under siege in the public square.

 

Opponents, meanwhile, say that the religious protections Amendment 2 would offer are already guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, and that it will open the door to all manner of unintended and costly consequences including endless taxpayer-funded lawsuits.

State Rep. Chris Kelly, a Democrat who opposed the original legislation, called Amendment 2 “a jobs bill for lawyers.”

 

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have questioned how disturbance or disruption would later be defined. What if one person’s “right to pray” intrudes on another’s right to abstain from prayer, or to pray according to the tenets of his or her own faith?

But Episcopal Bishop Wayne Smith of Missouri said prayer in public schools “becomes the vehicle for a sectarian agenda, typically Christian and typically Protestant, in violation of the no-establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.” Leading Jewish and Muslim groups also oppose the measure.

US State Reps Oppose Muslim Religious Schools

Louisiana State Rep. Valarie Hodges used to be a big fan of school vouchers. “I liked the idea,” she explained, “of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.” Hodges got a First Amendment reality check when she discovered that Christian schools wouldn’t be the only religious schools getting tax dollars.
“Unfortunately, it (vouchers) will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” she said in June. “We need to ensure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”
She is not alone. State Sen. Kevin Grantham of Colorado has worried out loud about the proliferation of mosques in America. Fresh from hearing an anti-mosque speech by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders (outspoken opponent of all things Islamic), Grantham said recently that “mosques are not churches like we would think of churches.”
In an apparent attempt to remove mosques from the First Amendment protection afforded Christian churches, Grantham claimed that Muslims “think of mosques as a foothold into a society, as a foothold into a community, more in the cultural and in the nationalistic sense. Our churches — we don’t feel that way, they’re places of worship, and mosques are simply not that.”

ISPU report: A First Amendment Analysis of Anti-Sharia Initiatives

Executive Summary

Ten years after September 11, 2001, the American Muslim community continues to be surrounded by a fear created and promoted mostly by a small group of anti-Muslim organizations and individuals. Collectively, these groups have spread their message in twenty-three states through books, reports, websites, and blogs. Other anti-Islam grassroots organizations have utilized this propaganda to “educate” their constituency. The Center for American Progress defines Islamophobia as an “exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from America’s social, political, and civic life.” This Islamophobia movement’s ability to influence politicians’ talking has made mainstream that which was once considered marginal, extremist rhetoric.

The impact of the Islamophobia campaign upon the American public’s perception of Islam and Muslims has been very negative. Approximately half of all Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam. To date, dozens of bills have been introduced in more than half of the states to ban Sharia and/or international law. Some of these bills are overly broad, and some in essence would outlaw any organization that adhered to any Islamic jurisprudential school. The Muslim community pushed back, specifically because the regulations on common activities such as how to wash before prayer or how much money to give to the poor emanate from these same schools of thought and would cause great restrictions on their ability to practice their faith.

This report describes the broader climate of anti-Muslim sentiment, as promoted by anti-Islam grassroots organizations, and examines the various manifestations of this hate in light of the First Amendment. More specifically, this report analyzes the anti-Sharia bills and ballot measures proposed by numerous states and determines the extent to which they comply with free exercise and establishment principles and jurisprudence.

Key Findings

 

The American legal system has built-in safeguards

The crucial feature of any kind of arbitration is that an arbitrator, whether religious or not, has no ability to enforce the arbitral decision; only state or federal courts have that power. Moreover, there is an array of carefully crafted safeguards in place to protect individuals.  For example, arbitral decisions are annulled when there is evidence that the arbitrator completely disregarded the law or when the arbitrator refused to consider material evidence. Courts also review the arbitral decision to ensure that arbitrators are neutral, that the resulting arbitral decisions are neither grossly unfair nor undermine public policy, and that the parties agreed to take part in the arbitration of their own free will.

The anti-Sharia laws violate constitutional principles

The First Amendment to the American Constitution includes two Religion Clauses, the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Together, these Clauses provide guidelines for the relationship between the government and religion.

For one, the government may not officially choose among religions, or between religion and non-religion, in creating law. A significant purpose of the Religion Clauses is to protect religious groups from the overreaching of the state. They protect minority religions from state interference, which could arise where a religious (or secular) majority uses the democratic process to punish a minority, and they protect all religions, popular or unpopular, from state encroachment into purely religious matters.  Moreover, the government may not generally prevent a person from believing and advocating a religious message; nor may the government prevent behavior simply because it is religious in nature.

Oklahoma’s “Save Our State Amendment,” the only anti-Sharia initiative to be challenged in court thus far, is a good example of how these laws violate the above-mentioned constitutional principles.  The legislative history and the actual text of the Amendment make clear that its purpose is to treat Muslims differently than members of other faiths—it seeks to outlaw use of Sharia principles but does not mention principles of any other faith. It also places numerous burdens on Muslims’ religious exercise.  For example, if the Amendment were to become law, it would be impossible to enforce a will that is based on Sharia principles or to engage in Sharia-based arbitration.  This unequal treatment of Muslims and burdens on their free exercise contradict core Religion Clause principles.

Broader Implications

When religious freedom is limited for one group, it necessarily affects religious freedom for all groups. Although anti-Sharia measures name Sharia specifically, if allowed to stand, they can limit the freedoms of Christians, Jews, and other faith groups in the United States who turn to religious arbitration as the preferred method of dispute resolution.

Recommendations

1.      Clarify the meaning of Sharia: The American Muslim community should engage the broader public on Sharia’s meaning and role. It should articulate what this word means generally and what it means to them specifically—that is, the articulation of the concept should not be merely theoretical but explained in concrete terms.

2.      Differentiate Sharia from laws in Muslim-majority countries: Even more to the point, the American Muslim community should differentiate the ways Sharia is applied in differing cultural contexts. It is important to emphasize that the way it is applied in some Muslim-majority countries is very different than what is possible, or even preferable, in the American context. How does the American legal and social framework shape the application of Sharia law?

3.      Disseminate information on religious arbitration and the First Amendment: Legal think tanks should organize lay-accessible information sessions on the First Amendment and religious arbitration. Many Americans are unaware that religious law is incorporated into the American legal system. How does this work in the case of Sharia? In the case of other religious laws? Americans need answers to these questions.

ADL criticizes new bullying guidelines

WASHINGTON — The Anti-Defamation League is taking issue with a new, broadly supported pamphlet on balancing anti-bullying policies and religious speech in public schools.

The pamphlet, written chiefly by the American Jewish Committee, was released on Tuesday (May 22) with endorsements from groups ranging from the National Association of Evangelicals to the National School Boards Association to the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

On Thursday (May 24), the ADL, a Jewish civil rights group, criticized the pamphlet for suggesting that “bullying erupts in the aftermath of disagreements over political or religious speech.” What actually happens most frequently, the ADL said, is “the intentional targeting of an individual with less physical or social standing for physical, verbal, and emotional abuse.”

But to the ADL, the pamphlet sends mixed messages and contradicts state laws and federal guidelines on bullying by emphasizing students’ First Amendment rights over schools’ responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for all students, especially those who may be particularly vulnerable to bullying.

The pamphlet, entitled “Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools,” was produced by the Washington-based Religious Freedom Education Project/First Amendment Center.