Federal appeals court says RLUIPA is unconstitutional
The battle over the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 continues, this time with a major setback to the law. Last Friday, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law is "unconstitutional because it has the primary effect of advancing religion."

Four Ohio prisoners—a white supremacist, a Norse pagan, a Wiccan, and a Satanist—had sued the state under RLUIPA, alleging that they were denied religious literature and an opportunity to conduct religious services. The state said that the prisoners were simply gang members using the law "to claim religious status in order to insulate their illicit activities from scrutiny."

The court ruled that such a shield "giv[es] religious prisoners a preferred status in the prison community," and that it unconstitutionally grants "greater protection to religious rights than to other constitutionally protected rights."

While the 6th Circuit's decision is limited to the "institutionalized persons" sections of the law, the score is now 2-1: the 9th Circuit and 7th Circuit courts of appeal have upheld RLUIPA. Another case is pending in the 4th Circuit, appealing a negative ruling from a U.S. District Court judge.

All this means that there's a good chance that the Supreme Court will have to hear one of these RLUIPA cases to get everyone on the same page.

If you're really interested in the battle over this law, which also has huge implications for church battles against city zoning, among other issues, check out the Becket Fund's site wholly devoted to the subject.

The missing piece
The Religion Newswriters Association recently announced that Jeff Sheler would serve as its new president. Yes, the same Jeff Sheler known for his excellent religion reporting over at U.S. News & World Report. But no longer. Though he was responsible for several of the magazine's best-selling issues ever, the magazine included him in a recent round of layoffs.

That means that staffing for religion writers at top newsweeklies has fallen to its lowest levels in more than 50 years, the RNA's Debra L. Mason noted. The only full-time religion reporter is Time's David Van Biema—but the RNA says that his job is only "primarily" on faith.

U.S. News's Sara Sklaroff told the RNA not to worry: some "incredible generalists" on staff will maintain its level of religion news. But an incident this week shows the magazine could use a full-timer. The publication just released the bookazine Mysteries of Faith, a collection of its religion articles. Among the inclusions was a 2000 cover story, "The Mormon Way," retitled "In John Smith's Steps." Uh, might they be referring to Mormonism founder Joseph Smith? Oops. Then there's this new caption on a photo: "A statue of Joseph Smith flanks the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City."

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"The caption manages to contain two errors in 13 words," notes the Deseret Morning News (that's actually Brigham Young in front of the Mormon Temple). "At least they got the city right. Heck, the temple might have suddenly been moved to Denver."

Then there's some religion called "Catholism" in the table of contents.

"Somebody took a snooze at the keyboard," magazine spokesman Richard Folkers explained. "Yeah, there are all the excuses about having a small staff that's overworked and all that, but the bottom line is we're paid not to have this happen."

Of course, the truly sad story about this reduction in staffing won't be in the typos the magazine makes, but the important stories that it misses by not having a religion reporter constantly pounding the pavement on the religion beat.

More articles

Politics and law:

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10 Commandments, Roy Moore:

  • Ethics trial of Alabama judge to begin | It would take a unanimous vote of the Court of the Judiciary to remove Moore, who is halfway into his six-year term (Associated Press)

  • Ala. attorney general wants Moore out | Bill Pryor said chief justice should be removed because he "intentionally and publicly engaged in misconduct, and because he remains unrepentant for his behavior" (Associated Press)

  • Are we a Christian nation? | Justice Moore's actions can be interpreted as telling us that, as a Judge, he believes we are a Christian Nation. As an individual, he has the right to make such a declaration. As a Judge, he is clearly running "afoul" of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land (Stuart F. James, The Chattanoogan, Tenn.)


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  • Phoenix missionary to preach in Cuba | Phoenix resident Dana Pankey makes his fourth trip to Cuba on Sunday, where he plans to work with Christian churches across the Communist-ruled island through Nov. 19 (The Arizona Republic)

Messianic Judaism:

Anglican fallout:

  • Walkout divides N.H. church | Protesters back gay bishop's critic (The Boston Globe)

  • Gay Episcopal bishop begins his ministry | Robinson says he wants the church to seek out the disenfranchised and speak out on moral issues (Associated Press)

  • Anglican head seeks 'middle way' | Issue of gay bishop is test for Williams (The Washington Post)

  • Pittsburgh Episcopalians seek autonomy | One of the most conservative Episcopal dioceses in America passed an amendment Saturday aimed at allowing the diocese to ignore some of the national church's policies (Associated Press)

  • Diocese bars gay bishop's allies | Fort Worth Episcopal Bishop Jack Iker said Saturday that he will not allow the Episcopal Church's highest-ranking official to minister in the Fort Worth diocese because of that official's role in helping consecrate an openly gay bishop (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

  • Gay bishop says maybe time has come for Episcopal split | "Maybe it is time that we took a look at that and, I hope it won't be true but it might be, that we might ought not to try to hold together if indeed we go about this Christian endeavor so differently," Robinson said in an interview with the PBS television show "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly." (Religion News Service)

  • California bishops split on anointed gay peer | Angry words over whose church is the real church (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • Schisms are nothing new, but this one could be profound | Policy changes such as this can be forever (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

  • Lambeth's options are severely limited | The move by many Anglican leaders across the globe to sever links with Robinson is justifiable. However, the rush with which they did it exposed their own folly of ignoring a veritable problem that has haunted the church for over three decades now (Francis Ayieko, The Nation, Nairobi)

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  • Roman Catholic bishops to meet in D.C. | They're discussing the restoration of trust, measures on proper religious observance, and church thinking on war and peace (Associated Press)

  • Bishops to debate same-sex unions | The nation's Roman Catholic bishops will debate a document today that opposes same-sex unions and exhorts state governments to recognize only marriages between men and women (The Washington Times)

  • Also: Bishops asked to oppose same-sex unions | The document would reinforce church teaching that gay sex is a sin (Associated Press)

  • Vatican ponders morality of biotech foods | Two Jesuits told a Vatican biotech conference Tuesday that tinkering with God's creation by making new plant species went against church teaching, adding a moral voice to a debate dominated by scientific, political and economic interests (Associated Press)

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Clergy abuse:

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Science and religion:

  • Can science prove the existence of God? | What is for some the ultimate question — Does God exist? — has become a matter of how much further the domain of the unknown will continue to contract, and if it will ultimately evaporate ?(The New York Times)

  • Is evolution truly random? | To many scientists, it would seem impossible to re-evolve anything like life on earth today, given how life has been shaped by accidents large and small. But 12 flasks of bacteria in East Lansing, Mich., are beginning to challenge such notions (The New York Times)

  • How did life begin? | Researchers are a long way from reconstructing any plausible path for the origin of life (The New York Times)

  • Richard Dawkins attacks religion again | "If we come back in a thousand years, we would have our minds blown away by what science has discovered in the meantime, whereas religion or spirituality or mysticism will have discovered nothing more. They never have discovered anything." (Seed, via The New York Times, last item)

  • Doctor mixes faith with medicine | Lawry puts his beliefs in practice (Iowa City Press-Citizen)


  • Bono records with Christian artists | Sparrow Records will release "In the Name of Love: Artists United for Africa" on Jan. 27 (Religion News Service, third item)

  • Christian music fights segregation | Toby McKeehan and Kirk Frankin say their I Have a Dream tour is the first time a black gospel artist and a white Christian artist have ever toured together (The Denver Post)

  • Rookie choir wins award | Students were making their Gospelfest debut after starting a group at Lynwood High (Los Angeles Times)

  • Earlier: Eager young choir finds itself an amazing place | The Chosen Generation, formed less than a year ago, is a finalist in the annual Gospelfest (Los Angeles Times)

  • Rock opera sends Christian message | Artistically, Jesus has appeared in many guises during the past 2000 years. Still, there has been nothing quite like Hero (The Orlando Sentinel)

  • Johnny Cash tribute honors music, legend | The Rev. Billy Graham was among several people to send recorded messages of love, saying he expects to join Cash and June Carter Cash in heaven soon (Associated Press)

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