From CNN's Belief Blog: One fifth of the American population reports that it has no "religious affiliation," according to a newly released Pew research poll. Of this group, 88 percent are happy with their current status and not looking for a religious group to join. Check out other findings here.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank points out that what could be seen as portents seem to be gathering in a run-up to the Republican National Convention. There's the Sea of Galilee dip (last year, but we're just finding out now), what Todd Akin claims was a "lip slip," and what we hope is an Isaac Tampa, Florida "nip" rather than a full-fledged hurricane (hurricanes are nasty). Will some Republicans, Mr. Milbank asks, who seem willing to see signs and symbols when they consider that Dems have messed up, be equally eager to acknowledge omens in these recent, current, and future events? More here.
The Fifth Circuit has dismissed an inmate's appeal against a district court's ruling that his complaint against the warden, Dawn Grounds, and others in charge of the prison in which he is incarcerated is without merit. Apparently Courtney Royal, self-described "Vampsh Black Sheep League of Doom Gardamun Family Circle Master Vampire High Priest," believes that he cannot practice his religious (vampire) rituals in jail as constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. At least, that's what I, and Robyn Kagan of Findlaw, get out of his filing.
Says the court, in part:
Royal asserts, without further explanation, that he intends to raise on appeal issues involving summary judgment; religious items, food diets, and service; spirit advisor; black Bible; and "rugs, rode, [and] beads." He does not address the district court's certification that his appeal was not taken in good faith, nor does he address any of the district court's reasons for its certification decision. ... Accordingly, his challenge to the district court's certification decision is deemed abandoned.
The court furthers warns Mr. Royal that three attempts to file this kind of action constitutes a waste of a court's time. "Royal is cautioned that if he accumulates three strikes under [Sec]1915(g) he will not be able to proceed IFP in any civil action or appeal filed while he is incarcerated or detained in any facility unless he is under imminent danger of serious physical injury." The case is Royal v. Grounds et al., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 11478.
So, no Grounds for appeal. (One of the other named defendants goes by the name of Pierce, but I'll skip the obvious pun that comes to mind). Does all this mean Mr. Royal failed to stake a claim?
Rose Marks and several other members of her family say that they have real psychic powers, which allow them to help persons in distress and put them in touch with deceased loved ones. Federal prosecutors say Ms. Marks and her family are nothing more than scam artists who take victims' money, in some cases thousands of dollars. One person who says she lost money to Rose Marks, almost a million dollars, is the novelist Jude Deveraux. Ms. Deveraux says Ms. Marks, using the name Joyce Michael, became "the source of pain, deception and fraud while trapping Deveraux with threats and the promise of hope."
The defense attorneys in the case are raising a First Amendment free exercise argument, saying that their clients' beliefs in psychic powers and their other practices are part of a sincerely held religious belief. Federal judges in other circuits have held that states cannot prohibit individuals from telling fortunes for pay, for example. The First Amendment exists to protect speech that allows people to engage in discussion on important issues, or issues that they think are worthwhile. Because the First Amendment, one of our fundamental rights is implicated, a court applied the "strict scrutiny" standard, which requires that the government demonstrate that it has a compelling interest (an interest of the highest order) to suppress or limit the speech, and that it is doing so in the most limited way with the narrowest means available. The cases in which federal judges have upheld the rights of fortune tellers, astrologers, clairvoyants and other "crafty science" practitioners to "speak" under the First Amendment include Argello v. City of Lincoln (143 F.3d 1152 (8th Cir. 1998)),(upholding the right of the plaintiff to tell fortunes for pay). See also a prior Law and Magic post here.
However, while the First Amendment is liberal in its protection of speech and belief, it does not protect criminal conduct. What is at issue here may be instead a law of general applicability, a law that is neutral in terms of its application to everyone. If so, if it applies to everyone regarding of his or her beliefs or speech, then the defendants here have a much less convincing argument that they are being targeting for their religious beliefs. The judge in Trimble v. City of New Iberia makes just this point.
For purposes of plaintiffs' motion, the Court will accept the City's position and assume that consumer protection is a compelling state interest. Therefore, the validity of the Ordinance depends on whether it is reasonably necessary to achieve the City's compelling interest. Plaintiffs argue that consumer protection against fraud and unfair trade practices is already provided under state law in the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act, La. R.S. 51:1401 et. seq. Plaintiffs assert that to the extent fortunetelling and the like may be unfair or deceptive, they are already prohibited by state law. The Supreme Court has pointed out that the "existence of adequate content-neutral alternatives undercuts significantly" the government's position that its challenged legislation is reasonably necessary to achieve its interests. R. A. V., 505 U.S. at 395. If the City were concerned about protecting consumers who solicit the services of the plaintiffs, the City could have enacted legislation similar to the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Trimble v. City of New Iberia, 73 F. Supp. 2d 659 (U.S.D.C., W.D. La., Lafayette-Opelousas Div., 1999)(boldface added by editor).
Incidentally, the First Amendment also does not necessarily protect speech "when it is the very vehicle of the crime itself." See Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, 128 F.3d 233 (4th Circ., 1997) at 244.
The case may depend on the language of the statute under which the defendants were charged as well as what the prosecutors can prove the defendants actually did.
On her April 8th State of the Union show, Candy Crowley asked both Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Mo), and Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, whether a "nonbeliever" could run (I assume she meant a realistic campaign) and even be elected to national office (President or Senator). Mr. Cleaver responded that he didn't think a "respectable atheist" would walk around with anything labeled "In God We Trust" in his pocket, a comment I don't understand. Is he saying that atheists don't or shouldn't use our national currency? The "In God We Trust" on the currency issue has been litigated, unsuccessfully. But he also said, if I understand him correctly that people who have the media's attention need to speak out about discrimination against nonbelievers. Mr. Reed responded that he thought it would be possible, and that he's optimistic about the electability of nonbelievers. Link to the segment here.
Another example of a sighting (and a siting) of an image of Jesus--this time during an Ash Wednesday meal. David Sandoval says he spotted the image on his mother's handmade tortilla. Also covered here at News4 (Albuerquerque, NM). Just as an aside, look at that menu at the Sandoval house: mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken and homemade tortillas--yum!
From today's New York Times, Eric Weiner's opinion piece on the Nones, those who aren't atheists, but aren't quite religious. They're undecided.They're still seeking. They're Seekers (my term, not his). Mr. Weiner offers his explanation of why, and what the Nones are looking for. He suggests it's rationalism, humor, a view of the world and their place in it that shows them how to find answers that reconcile the big questions with the little ones. And, he says, they don't like all the anger in the public square that we get now over the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause. After 275 years, is the age of the Enlighenment having a Renaissance?
Sarah Beresford has written an interesting piece on the justification for eliminating religious rites from marriage and divorce. It's available on the web in the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues. Below is the summary of her article.
This article explores some of the legal and religious aspects of marriage and divorce in England and Wales and America. It argues that legal marriage and divorce (if it is to continue to exist as a legal concept), should be purely secular and civil. In other words, there should be no religious involvement of any kind at the formation or demise of a legally regulated relationship such as marriage. This article further suggests that the state and the law should not facilitate or promote religiosity in marriage or divorce, nor should religious marriages should have any legal force. Instead of continuing to encourage religiosity in marriage and divorce, Law should instead look to ways of strengthening the secularisation of marriage and divorce.
Austrian Niko Alm has finally won the right to wear a pasta strainer not just where-ever, but while the cops take his photo for his driver's license. After three years of fighting the good fight, he has won the battle. As the BBC reports, Mr. Alm is a Pastafarian--a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and alleges that the strainer is part of his religious attire.
Mr. Alm isn't stopping here. He's driving on--to obtain recognition of the Church as an approved faith in Austria.
At 1:16 EST summer arrives in the US; folks have been celebrating at Stonehenge since the summer solstice began in the UK today. Things have been fairly quiet despite some drug busts. Jonathan Jones objects to the annual practice here, pointing out that the invented Druidic/hippie/Wiccan ritual bear no resemblance to anything we can discern that might have gone on at the place when it was built. So why allow the festival? "[B]ecause otherwise there would be public violence on Salisbury Plain."
Meanwhile, Penny English, University of Anglia Law School, both a lawyer and an archaeologist, investigates the legal and social questions involved here in her article Disputing Stonehenge: Law and Access To a National Symbol, published at 1 Entertainment Law 1 (Summer 2002).
I'd suggest that Stonehenge's meaning, whatever it might have been when its creators made it centuries ago, has certainly changed. The creators are gone and we are here. Many people who celebrate the summer soltice have now constructed and reconstructed meanings for it, some of them magical, and are fighting over what those meanings are, and how to reconcile them. Is the monument astronomical? Religious? Agricultural? Two of these? Three? None? To the people dancing and chanting on Salisbury Plain, it doesn't seem to matter. I don't think they're deconstructing Stonehenge so much as reconstructing meaning and creating their own magic. If they want to take the position that their meanings create a contemporary use for the monument, that's fine with me. If, however, they want to convince me that those meanings are the only meaning Stonehenge has, they have a long way to go.