Legal Advocacy History

2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010

2004

Hindu Temple Society of North America v. New York Supreme Court
(U.S. District Court, Eastern District of NY)
 
Case Summary
In 2004, the Hindu Temple Society of North America faced a hostile takeover attempt by six dissident members. The dissidents filed a lawsuit in New York State Court, seeking an order putting them in charge of the Temple’s religious activities. In response, the State Court ordered a restructuring of the Temple, and appointed a non-Hindu referee to preside over the daily management of the Temple, including applying a congregation type structure similar to that found in a Baptist Church. This required the court appointed referee to determine, among other things, who qualifies as a “member” and whether a member need be Hindu.
 
Subsequently, the Hindu Temple Society of North America filed a federal lawsuit against the Supreme Court of New York for injunctive relief, in order to stop the Court from interfering with the Temple’s internal religious affairs.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF filed an amicus (friend of court) letter, representing a broad religious coalition, to support the Temple Society’s request for injunctive relief. In particular, the letter asked the Court to allow the Temple to govern itself according to Hindu religious tradition. It specifically argued that the State Court’s intrusion into all aspects of the Temple’s administration was a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, which guarantee the free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law. Furthermore, the amicus letter maintained that the state-sponsored referee’s actions in determining the method by which the Temple structures and governs itself, represents a “potentially hostile interference into the sanctity of the Hindu Temple.”
 
Outcome
In 2008, after four years of litigation, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Hindu Temple Society, and against the state’s ability to interfere in the free exercise of religion. The decision was consistent with HAF’s position in its amicus letter, and found that the Temple could not be treated as if it were a congregation of believers similar to a Baptist Church.
 
Van Orden v. Perry
(U.S Supreme Court)
 
Case Summary
The case was originally brought by Thomas Van Orden against Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, in 2003. In his lawsuit, Van Orden asked for the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the Texas State Capitol grounds, alleging that the monument was a government endorsement of one particular religious faith, and thus violated the separation of church and state under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court decided to hear the case after the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the monument could remain in place.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF file an amicus (friend of court) brief on behalf of a group of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain organizations, to present a non-Judeo Christian perspective on the placement of the Ten Commandments monument on government property. The brief argued that the public display of the Ten Commandments on State Capitol grounds indicates an unconstitutional government preference for Judeo-Christian theology, and violates the separation of church and state, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It went on to assert that the religious precepts contained on the monument vary significantly from the non-Judeo-Christian concepts regarding the nature of God and the relationship between man and God. And as a result any public display of the Ten Commandments on government property would imply the political and social exclusion of non-Judeo-Christian religions, including Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains.
 
In filing the amicus brief, HAF was represented on a pro bono basis by the law firm of Goodwin Procter LLP.
 
Outcome
The Supreme Court issued concurrent rulings in two similar Ten Commandments cases, Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County v. ACLU. In McCreary County, the Court ruled that a framed display of the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky courthouse was unconstitutional as it has the express purpose of promoting the Judeo-Christian faith. This ruling was consistent with HAF’s position that the public display of the Ten Commandments endorses one particular religious faith over another. On the other hand, in Van Orden, the Court ruled that the monument on the Texas Capitol grounds did not violate the Constitution because, when considered in context, it conveyed a historic and social meaning rather than a religious endorsement. Despite the Court’s judgment, a dissenting opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens cited HAF’s amicus brief. Specifically, Justice Stevens wrote that the monument violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by, "prescribing a compelled code of conduct from one God, namely a Judeo-Christian God, that is rejected by Hinduism, as well as nontheistic religions, such as Buddhism."

2005

Simpson v. Chesterfield County
(Writ of Cert to U.S. Supreme Court)
 
Case Summary
This case involved the practice of legislative prayer to open sessions of Board of Supervisors meetings in Chesterfield County, Virginia. The practice began after the Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that legislative bodies could open sessions with a non-sectarian prayer or invocation, without violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, Cynthia Simpson, a member of the Wiccan faith, was denied the opportunity to lead the prayer at a Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors meeting because she did not practice a religion “within the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
 
Ms. Simpson filed suit and the lower court ruled in her favor ordering the County to change the policy to, "include all faiths or to stop using the policy altogether." The county appealed, however, and the Fourth Circuit Court reversed the lower court holding that such discrimination was permissible under current case law. Following the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision, Ms. Simpson filed a petition for rehearing with the same court, which was denied. Subsequently, she filed a petition for Writ of Certiorari, or a request to review the case, with the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF filed an amicus brief, co-signed by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Association of American Indian Affairs, as well as the Interfaith Alliance, in support of Ms. Simpson’s petition with the Supreme Court. The amicus brief argued that the Circuit Court's ruling contradicts the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by allowing the government to discriminate among religions, and make arbitrary theological conclusions about non-Judeo-Christian traditions. HAF further noted that Chesterfield County’s policy gave selective privileges to members of the Judeo-Christian faiths, while excluding all others, including Hindus and Buddhists, among others.
 
HAF was represented by the Washington, D.C. law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe and Maw, LLP, and was supported by a number of Hindu and Jain organizations.
 
Outcome
Despite affirmative predictions from legal experts on the U.S. Supreme Court granting Writ of Certiorari, the Court denied Ms. Simpson’s petition, and refused to hear her case. Consequently, the decision of the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court remains in effect, and thereby allows Chesterfield County to continue discriminating against non-Judeo-Christian faiths in legislative prayer. The case, however, provided HAF with another opportunity to present a Hindu American perspective on issues involving religious discrimination and the government’s endorsement of one particular faith over others.
 
Cutter v. Wilkinson
(U.S. Supreme Court)
 
Case Summary
This case involved a group of Ohio prisoners with non-mainstream religious beliefs, who were denied access to religious literature and the opportunity to conduct religious services in prison. The prisoners filed a lawsuit, alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which provides stronger protections for religious freedom and accommodations for an individual’s religious beliefs in prison. A federal District Court dismissed their lawsuit, and the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them, finding that the RLUIPA was an unconstitutional Act.
 
HAF Involvement
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an amicus (friend of court) brief on behalf of HAF and a diverse coalition of religious and civil liberty organizations, in support of the constitutionality of RLUIPA. HAF and its coalition partners did not take a specific position on the actual case itself, and only argued that RLUIPA is a constitutional law. The amicus brief maintained that the Act does not favor or establish any particular religion, but rather prevents the government from interfering in an individual prisoner’s ability to freely practice his/her religion. The brief further argued that the Act is only meant to accommodate religious beliefs, and does not inconvenience or burden the interests of others. And RLUIPA is no different than other laws meant to accommodate a person’s religious beliefs, and is consistent with the country’s long history of providing religious accommodations.
 
Outcome
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (Ohio prisoners), and their right to conduct religious services and access religious literature in prison. The Court also found that the RLUIPA provisions that apply to prisoners are constitutional, and do not establish or endorse a particular religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This was consistent with the position taken by HAF and the diverse coalition in their amicus brief.
 
The Supreme Court subsequently sent the case back down to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to further decide the specifics of the case. The Appeals Court also ruled that the RLUIPA provisions, providing religious accommodations to prisoners was constitutional.
 
Gonzales v. O Esprito Centro Uniao Do Vegetal
(U.S. Supreme Court)
 
Case Summary
O Centro Espirita Benficiente Uniao do Vegetal (UDV), is a religious organization merging aspects of Christianity and native South American belief systems. As part of their religious practices, members consume hoasca tea in guided religious ceremonies. Hoasca is a Brazilian plant based drug containing dimethyltryptamine, which is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). As a result, the government prohibited its use by the church’s members in religious ceremonies. Subsequently, O Centro Espirito filed a lawsuit, claiming that the government infringed upon their rights of religious freedom under both the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law intended to protect a person’s ability to freely practice his/her religion without government interference.
 
A U.S. District Court sided with O Centro Espirito, and ruled that the government could not prohibit the use of hoasca in religious ceremonies under the RFRA, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF joined a diverse coalition in filing an amicus (friend of court) brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, in support of the O Espirito church. The brief stated that providing religious accommodations to private persons in their religious practice is a key aspect of a democratic society. Specifically, the brief maintained that the RFRA requires the government to make exceptions to the Controlled Substances Act, and therefore the government should allow the use of hoasaca by O Espirito Church members during religious ceremonies. Moreover, the brief argued that making exceptions to laws in order to accommodate religious beliefs does not in any way endorse or establish a particular religion, and therefore does not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
 
Outcome
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of O Centro Espirito, and found that the government can grant a religious accommodation for the use of hoasaca in religious ceremonies. Furthermore, the Court stated that the government failed to show a compelling reason to place burdens on the church member’s ability to freely practice their religion. The decision was consistent with the amicus brief submitted by HAF and other co-signatories.

2006

Hindu American Foundation, et al. v. California State Board of Education
(California Superior Court, Sacramento)
 
Case Summary
In 2005, a number of concerned Hindu parents, along with two independent Hindu groups, the Vedic Foundation (VF) and the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), participated in the California textbook review process by proposing several edits and corrections for sixth grade social studies textbooks that dealt with India and Hinduism. The SBE, however, began an ad hoc closed door process when considering textbooks edits concerning India and Hinduism. As a result, HAF filed a lawsuit against the California State Board of Education (SBE) in California Superior Court in Sacramento, alleging that the fair and open process required by law was not followed in adopting textbooks that introduce Hinduism to sixth grade students. Specifically, the SBE did not follow adopt its own regulations pursuant to the State’s Administrative Procedures Act and contravened the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. HAF also argued that because the adoption process was tainted, the resulting depiction of Hinduism was inaccurate and portrayed Hinduism as inferior to other faiths, namely Buddhism, and for that reason, the adoption process should be started anew. HAF was represented by the law firm of Olson, Hagel and Fishburn, LLP of Sacramento, California.
 
HAF Involvement
In 2006, HAF filed suit against the California State Board of Education (SBE) contending that the procedure through which the SBE had reviewed and approved revisions in sixth grade textbooks was not conducted in accordance with California law and the SBE’s own internal administrative rules.
 
Outcome
The Court ruled partially in favor of HAF. While it held that the textbooks did not portray Hinduism innaccurately, therefore allaying any reason for reopening the textbook adoption process, it held that the SBE had been using illegal procedures to review and approve revisions in sixth grade textbooks under the State’s Administrative Procedures Act and its actions contravened the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. The decision required the SBE to revamp and readopt its entire curriculum frameworks and instructional materials adoption process. Moreover, as the prevailing party, the SBE was required to pay HAF’s legal costs for the 2006 lawsuit.
 
Many education advocates have called HAF’s lawsuit one of the most important cases in recent history, as it effectively halted the SBE’s decade long ad hoc misuse of power.
 
American Atheists, et al v. Utah Highway Patrol Assoc.
(U.S. Court of Appeals, 10th Cir.)
 
Case Summary
In honor of deceased highway patrol officers, the Utah Highway Patrol Association (UHPA) decided to erect roadside monuments in the form of Christian crosses. American Atheists, an organization dedicated to maintaining the separation of church and state, filed a lawsuit, claiming that such monuments violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits government endorsement of one particular religion over another. A U.S. District Court for the District of Utah trial rejected the American Atheists’ claims, and the case was subsequently appealed.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF filed an amicus (friend of court) brief along with a number of diverse religious and secular organizations, in support of the plaintiff, American Atheists. The brief argued that the state-sponsored roadside display of the cross used to honor fallen highway patrolmen, was religious in nature, and not merely a “secular symbol of death.” It specifically noted that the cross has always been seen as a distinctly Christian religious symbol, and its placement on public land sends an exclusionary message that the government favors Christians over non-Christians. Additionally, the brief stated that the State’s characterization of the cross as a secular symbol offends Christians, who attribute a deeply religious meaning to it, as well as non-Christians. As a result, the use of the cross as a memorial violated the separation of church and state, as protected under the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
 
Outcome
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiff, American Atheists, and issued a judgment consistent with HAF’s position. In particular, the Court stated that the crosses conveyed a message of government endorsement of Christianity to a reasonable observer, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
 
The State of Utah recently filed a petition for Writ of Certiorari, or a request to hear the case, with the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
Village of Angelica v. Voith
(NY Supreme Court, Appellate Division)
 
Case Summary
The Voiths, who live in the Village of Angelica, located in the Appalachian foothills, raised cows on their property consistent with their religious beliefs. The Village of Angelica, however, prohibited the Voiths from raising cows on their private property under a local ordinance barring cattle on lots smaller than 10 acres. The couple kept their cow, Chintamani, on a nearby farm but later moved her and her calves to their property. In addition, they also leased an additional twelve acres in an attempt to comply with the law, but village officials still denied their application for a permit.
 
The Voiths then took the Village of Angelica to court, alleging that their religious rights had been violated. The trial court, however, ruled against the Voiths, and refused to allow them to bring up religious rights issues. The Voiths appealed the decision to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.
 
HAF Involvement
On April 2, 2006, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), along with other Hindu, Jain and religious freedom groups, filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of the Voith family’s right to keep cows on their property according to their religious beliefs. The brief argued that the Village of Angelica ordinance was being used to discriminate against the Voiths, and interfere with their ability to practice their religion.
 
The brief further stated that the Voiths kept the cows on their property consistent with the Hindu belief of goraksha (cow protection) and for the religious procession known as padayatra. It also described the role of cows in traditional Hindu society.
 
Outcome
The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Village of Angelica, and against the Voith family’s right to keep their cows on their private property, despite their religious beliefs. The Court specifically ruled that Stephen and Linda Voith failed to comply with the Village of Angelica ordinance, and that the case “has nothing to do with religion.” Although the judgment was a setback for religious freedom, the case provided HAF the opportunity to educate the court about Hindu beliefs and advocate on behalf of issues that may impact the broader Hindu American community.

2007

Borden v. East Brunswick School District, East Brunswick
(U.S. Court of Appeals, 3rd Cir.)
 
Case Summary
For 23 years, East Brunswick football coach, Marcus Borden, led his team in an overtly Christian prayer prior to games. After receiving complaints from students, East Brunswick school officials issued guidelines indicating that students may engage in “voluntary team prayer,” but teachers or coaches may not participate. Coach Borden, however, continued to participate in student prayers by kneeling and bowing his head with them. When the school district ordered him to cease these activities, Coach Borden filed a lawsuit, claiming that his First Amendment rights had been violated. The District Court held that Coach Borden’s conduct of kneeling and bowing his head was not an endorsement of any religion. The School District filed an appeal with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF filed an amicus (friend of court) brief with other religious and civil rights organizations, including American Atheists, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), in support of the School District’s policies. The brief stressed the Coach’s actions in kneeling and bowing his head in prayer with his students prior to a game, was religious in nature, and thus an endorsement of a particular religious practice, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Moreover, rather than fostering team unity, as Coach Borden argued, the team prayer had a coercive impact on players of minority religions. Therefore, the School District was correct in prohibiting him from engaging in such activities.
 
Outcome
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the high school's guidelines prohibiting Coach Borden or any other teacher from participating in or leading student prayers. The Court’s opinion found that given the Coach’s history of overtly religious conduct in leading team prayers, his act of kneeling and bowing his head with his team, was an endorsement of religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Specifically, it stated that, "a reasonable observer would conclude that Borden is showing not merely respect when he bows his head and takes a knee with his teams and is instead endorsing religion." As a result, the judgment vindicated HAF’s position, and a victory for religious liberty.
 
Town of Foxfield v. Archdiocese of Denver
(Colorado Supreme Court)
 
Case Summary
In 1998, the Archdiocese of Denver opened a church rectory and small chapel in the town of Foxfield, Colorado. After complaints from a few neighbors living on nearby properties, the town’s Board of Trustees adopted a zoning ordinance effectively restricting religious activities at the church rectory and chapel. The unusual ordinance declared it unlawful to have more than five motor vehicles parked more than fifteen minutes within one thousand feet of any private residential property on more than two occasions during any 30 day period.
 
The ordinance further required written complaints from at least three neighbors. Shortly after the ordinance was enacted, the Town of Foxfield filed a lawsuit in District Court against the Archdiocese claiming it had the requisite number of complaint. The lawsuit requested a permanent injunction and a declaratory judgment against the Archdiocese, seeking to halt its activities at the rectory and chapel. In response, the Archdiocese alleged that the ordinance violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), Colorado’s “Freedom to Gather for Worship Act,” and the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF, along with sixteen diverse religious and civil rights organizations, submitted an amicus curiae (friend of court) brief to the Colorado State Supreme Court defending the constitutionality of the federal RLUIPA, which provides stronger protections for religious freedom and accommodations for an individual’s religious beliefs. The brief argued that zoning ordinances in general, similar to Foxfield’s, impose a heavy and unnecessary burden on religious exercise, and discriminate based on religion or a particular denomination. This reflected a view shared by HAF along with organizations representing the Christian, Jewish, and Sikh faiths.
 
HAF and their coalition partners were represented by the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty in writing and presenting the amicus brief.
 
Outcome
After the District Court initially ruled in favor of the Town of Foxfield, a Colorado Appeals Court handed a major victory to the Archdiocese. Specifically, the Appeals Court issued a judgment allowing the Archdiocese to proceed on its claims that the ordinance violated religious freedom under the RLUIPA. And the Colorado Supreme Court then denied a petition for review by Foxfield, thereby upholding the Appeals Court decision in favor of the Archdiocese. The Supreme Court and Appeals Court rulings were a victory for religious freedom, and consistent with HAF’s position.
 
Saraswati Mandiram v. G&G, LLC and G&G, Epping, LLC
(New Hampshire Supreme Court)
 
Case Summary
This case surrounded eviction proceedings instituted against the Saraswati Mandiram, a New Hampshire based Hindu Ashram (monastery), and the ashram’s head priest, Pandit Ramadheen Ramsamooj. In response to the eviction proceedings, Pandit Ramsamooj alleged that Virginia based lender, G&G, LLC engaged in fraudulent lending practices. He filed a lawsuit against G&G LLC, specifically arguing that G&G breached its contract with the ashram by violating and failing to abide by the terms of their mortgage agreement.
 
The Saraswati Mandiram serves Hindus living in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts, and its ability to stay open is vital to its capacity to serve Hindus as a functional house of worship.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF filed an amicus (friend of court) brief in the Supreme Court of New Hampshire in support of the Saraswati Mandiram, to provide the Court with background information on Hinduism, the role of ashrams, and the significance of temple worship to Hindu practice Specifically, the brief laid out three major arguments: 1) A Hindu monastery is a spiritual sanctuary that plays a central role in the practice of Hinduism; 2) A temple is essential to the practice of Hinduism because of its inherent sanctity and setting as a place of worship; and 3) The presence of the Saraswati Mandiram is crucial to the Hindu-American community’s ability to practice its religion.
 
Outcome
The Supreme Court of New Hampshire partially ruled in the Saraswati Mandiram’s favor by reversing the lower court’s decision to completely dismiss the lawsuit. In particular, the Supreme Court stated that the Mandiram should be allowed to present its claim that G&G breached its fiduciary duties, and sent the case back to the Rockingham County Superior Court to rehear the case.

2008

American Atheists, Steven Walker, et al v. City of Detroit Development Authority and St. John's Episcopal Church
(U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Cir.)
 
Case Summary
In preparation for the Super Bowl, the Detroit Development Authority (DDA) created a development program that provided government funds to properties that refurbished or repaired their buildings. Under this program, the DDA provided government grants to all eligible organizations, including three churches, one of which was St. John’s Episcopal Church. American Atheists filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, claiming that the DDA, as a government agency, cannot provide grants to any religious entities, especially churches. The lawsuit alleged that DDA’s program was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as it made government support available to religious places of worship.
 
The U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the DDA and St. John’s Episcopal Church, and American Atheists filed an appeal with U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
 
HAF involvement
HAF, along with a number of other organizations, filed an amicus (friend of court) brief in support of American Atheists et al. The brief argued that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which safeguards religious freedom, prohibits direct government aid to construct or repair places of worship. The brief further maintained that government aid cannot be used to repair or maintain even allegedly secular aspects of churches, because it would lead to excessive government involvement in determining what is secular and what is religious. And in this case where aid was offered to churches, which are religious institutions, it is impossible to separate secular aspects from religious ones.
 
Outcome
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against American Atheists, stating that the DDA program did not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Court found that the program benefits were equally available to all organizations, regardless of whether religious or secular, and as a result, did not advance or endorse religion. Despite the Court’s decision, HAF’s brief represented a Hindu American voice, and articulated concerns of government support for religious institutions, such as churches.
 
Daniel Girmai Negusie v. Michael Mukasey, Attorney General
(U.S. Supreme Court)
 
Case Summary
Daniel Negusie, an Eritrean citizen, and Protestant Christian, was denied asylum by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), for his alleged role as a prison guard in carrying out persecution of fellow Protestant inmates on behalf of the Eritrean state. Mr. Negusie appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), who upheld the INS decision to deny his application for asylum. Subsequently, Mr. Negusie’s petition to have his case reviewed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was denied, and he filed a petition for Writ of Certiorari, or a request to review the case, with the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Negusie argued that he was coerced to persecute fellow Protestant Christian believers, and as a result was a victim rather than a persecutor.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF joined a coalition of diverse religious groups, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in filing an amicus (friend of court) brief in support of Daniel Negusie. The brief argued that Mr. Negusie, a religious Christian, was forced by the Eritrean government to participate in persecution of his fellow Christian believers, and by doing so violated his own conscience and moral values. This type of religious persecution contradicts the American concept of freedom of belief, and should be recognized under American asylum law. HAF’s amicus brief further contends that the actions of the Eritrean government is common to other human rights violators, who routinely engage in religious persecution by forcing believers of many different faiths to commit abhorrent acts against their conscience. As a result, Mr. Negusie should have been treated as a victim and granted asylum.
 
Outcome
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Negusie, and ordered the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to reconsider his asylum application. Specifically, the Supreme Court ordered the BIA to interpret the asylum provisions while giving consideration to the fact that Mr. Negusie was coerced by the Eritrean State into persecuting fellow Protestant Christians.
 
The Court’s judgment affirmed the position of HAF’s amicus brief, which argued that American asylum laws should recognize whether a person has been forced or coerced to commit acts of religious persecution.
 
Summers, et al v. Adams
(U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina)
 
Case Summary
The South Carolina state legislature passed a statute that authorized issuance of license plates featuring the words “I Believe” along with the image of a cross superimposed on a stained glass window. The legislature, however, did not propose or make available a similar specialty plate for any other faith. Furthermore, state legislators proposed the legislation to generally recognize Christianity, rather than on behalf of a particular organization as required by South Caroline state law.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF, along with several Christian and Jewish leaders and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee sued South Carolina state officials, alleging that the license plates gave preferential governmental treatment to one particular faith community (Christianity), in contravention of the First Amendment’s promise of equal treatment of all faiths. The lawsuit further alleged that the license plates violated the separation of church and state under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In the lawsuit, HAF and its coalition partners were represented by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
 
Outcome
HAF and its coalition prevailed in its lawsuit, after a federal court ruled that the Christian license plate mandated by the state legislature violated the separation of church and state. The ruling was hailed as a victory for religious liberty, and upheld the rights of non-Judeo-Christian religious communities, including Hindus.

2009

A.A. v. Needville Independent School District
(U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Cir.)
 
Case Summary
In keeping with his Native American religious beliefs, Adriel Arocha (A.A.) kept his hair uncut and braided. The Needville school district in Texas’s Fort Bend County, however, prohibited A.A. from keeping his hair uncut under the terms of the School District’s dress code and grooming policy. A.A., through his parents, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, claiming that the School District policy violated his religious rights under the U.S. Constitution and Texas state law. The District Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, A.A., finding that the School District policy violated a sincerely held religious belief, and thus was invalid. The School District subsequently appealed the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF, along with a number of religious and interfaith organizations, filed an amicus (friend of court) brief in support of the plaintiff, A.A. The brief expressed concerns about the Needville School District’s conclusion that the plaintiff’s religious practice of keeping their hair uncut and braided was not based on a sincerely held religious belief. And that a religious belief may be sincerely held even if not commonly practiced or compelled by a religious authority or central document. Consequently, the brief argued that the plaintiff’s free exercise of religion should have been protected under the U.S. Constitution and Texas state law.
 
In the amicus brief, HAF also articulated concerns about the ability of civil court judges to decide what constitutes a sincerely held religious belief, since in Hinduism, many practices are very personal, not commonly practiced, or compelled by any religious authority.
 
Outcome
The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiff’s right to keep his hair in accordance with his religious beliefs. Moreover, the Court held that the School District’s policy offended a sincerely held religious belief, and was invalid under Texas law. The decision was also consistent with HAF’s position, as laid out in its amicus brief.

2010

ACLU of Ohio v. DeWeese
(U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Cir.)
 
Case Summary
In 2000, Judge DeWeese, a judge in Richland County, Ohio, hung posters of the Ten Commandments and Bill of Rights in his courtroom. The poster of the Ten Commandments was found to be an unconstitutional promotion of religion by a government official. Subsequently, in 2006, he hung another poster entitled the “Philosophies of Law in Conflict” in his Richland County courtroom. The poster was presented as a secular philosophical and legal theory, but made several references to Judeo-Christian religious concepts, including the Ten Commandments, and mentioned “God Almighty.”
 
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio filed a lawsuit in 2009 against Judge DeWeese in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Ohio, alleging that the display was an endorsement of religion, and thus a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The District Court ruled in favor of the ACLU, and Judge DeWeese appealed the decision.
 
HAF Involvement
HAF filed an amicus (friend of court) brief in 2010, along with a number of other organizations, supporting the ACLU’s position that Judge Deweese’s display of the “Philosophies of Law in Conflict” poster in his courtroom was a religious display, and therefore a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. In particular, the poster made explicit reference to “Almighty God” and mentioned the Ten Commandments as “moral absolutes,” invoking Judeo-Christian concepts. Consequently, it cannot be considered a secular display, as Judge Deweese argued.
 
The brief further pointed out that Judge DeWeese made earlier attempts to display the Ten Commandments next to the Bill of Rights in his courtroom, but they were found to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. And given that history, the “Philosophies of Law in Conflict” poster was a poor attempt to disguise a religious display in the form of a supposedly secular exhibit on philosophical and legal theory.
 
Outcome
On February 2, 2011, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiff, ACLU of Ohio, and found that the “Philosophies of Law in Conflict” poster was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Court’s written judgment specifically noted that the poster contained overtly religious messages in a state courtroom, thereby indicating the Judge’s endorsement of religion. This was consistent with HAF’s position, as articulated in the amicus brief.