church and state hi res_newWritten by Don Byrd

The church-state news this week includes updates to 3 stories I have been following here at Blog From the Capital. Read on!

School Vouchers in North Carolina Unconstitutional
A judge in North Carolina has now ruled unconstitutional the state’s new “opportunity scholarship” (aka school voucher) program. If you have followed this story you know that state officials have been in a race to distribute the funds to parents before the judge’s ruling, after the state’s Supreme Court lifted a preliminary injunction halting the program earlier this year.

The judge however has now halted the program once again, citing numerous constitutional deficiencies, including that it “allows funding of nonpublic schools that discriminate on account of religion.” An appeals court has declined to intervene, prompting state officials to ask the Supreme Court to allow immediate funding distribution pending appeal of the decision.

Appeals Court Rejects Christian Evangelists’ Free Speech Claim
Christian evangelists who targeted an Arab festival in Dearborn, Michigan lost an appeal to the 6th Circuit in their lawsuit claiming religious freedom rights were violated when they were ejected by police. The evangelists’ confrontational approach was met with some violent response and argued the police decision to remove rather than protect them was a First Amendment violation. The Appeals Court, like the lower court before it, disagreed.

The Court noted that the evangelists “intended to incite the crowd to turn violent.” Once it did, the “threat of violence had grown too great to allow them to continue proselytizing.” You can read the 2-1 decision here.

Amish Hate-Crime Conviction Overturned
The 6th Circuit overturned the hate crimes conviction of a group of Amish who forcibly cut the hair of members of their community and family. In initially sentencing the group’s leader, Samuel Mullet, Sr., to 15 years in prison, the judge said he had “terrorized and traumatized” fellow Amish adherents, ruling the First Amendment does not protect such violent retribution. You can read an earlier post here on the trial, which took place 2 years ago.

The Appeals Court, however, found the judge had given improper jury instructions on the hate crimes charge. (Read the opinion here.) Specifically, the judge said the victim’s religion must be a “significant factor” in the crime to find the defendant guilty. The 6th Circuit disagreed, saying the judge should have instructed that the victim’s religion must be the “but-for” cause. The NYTimes reports on the development here. Church-state scholar Marty Lederman argues the decision is troubling.