The Supreme Court and the “Ministerial Exception”: Protecting Freedom of Religion? or Permitting the Disguise of Employee Discrimination?

By Anjalee Daryani, Albany Government Law Review

On January 11, 2012, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision concerning religious liberty.  The Court recognized for the first time a “ministerial exception,” precluding employment discrimination claims in the context of “the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers.”[1]  The case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was instituted on behalf of a teacher who was employed by a Lutheran school and had been fired for threatening to file a lawsuit for the church’s violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).[2]  The Supreme Court acknowledged that the interference by states into a religious groups’ employment decision, would be an intrusion on the internal governance of a religious organization, and as a result would be infringing upon their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.[3] Continue reading “The Supreme Court and the “Ministerial Exception”: Protecting Freedom of Religion? or Permitting the Disguise of Employee Discrimination?”

U.S. Laws Lethal to Palestine’s Statehood Bid

By Kat Fina, Albany Government Law Review

On September 23, 2011, after a century of conflict and amid threats from the United States, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, submitted Palestine’s request for statehood to the United Nations.[1]  Mr. Abbas asked the United Nations General Assembly to stop the occupation of his country and to recognize the self determination of his people.[2]  Mr. Abbas declared Palestine’s request to allow for the independent state of Palestine with a capital of Jerusalem and territories consisting of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[3]  As Mr. Abbas held a copy of the letter requesting membership, General Assembly members gave a standing ovation, and Palestinians gathered in the streets of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to cheer their leader and wave the Palestinian flag.[4]  Continue reading “U.S. Laws Lethal to Palestine’s Statehood Bid”

The Ghost, The Building, The Battle

Jason St. James, Albany Government Law Review Member

On September 11, 2001 the collective consciousness of the United States of America was forever shattered.  Gone was the visage of invincibility, replaced by feelings of disbelief, heartache, shock, and awe, the likes of which had not been felt since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  While almost seven decades separate these catastrophic events, one common thread still exists: the spirit of America was underestimated.  In the wake of the unimaginable, President George W. Bush stated, “[o]ur enemies have made the mistake that America’s enemies always make.  They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness.  And now, they see defeat.”[1] Another conflict now looms on the horizon.  This battle is not being waged by the use of arms, but through a clashing of ideals.  The ambitious Park51 Project acts a lithmus test of U.S. resolve to learn and move past the 9/11 tragedy.

Park51, originally designated as the “Cordoba House,” is a proposed fifteen-story Muslim community center located approximately two city blocks from the World Trade Center site[2] in Lower Manhattan. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Soho Properties Chairman and CEO, Sharif El-Gamal, are heading the project.  The Park51 Project has been controversially referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” because it will contain a Muslim prayer space capable of holding between 1000–2000 people.[3] However, the community center design also includes a 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, child care area, library, culinary school, art studio, food court, and a September 11 memorial.[4] The proposed community center will be replacing an 1850’s Italian-style structure that was being used as both a Syms and Burlington Coat Factory, until the building was damaged during the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.[5] One possible obstacle to the construction was the discussed conferment of landmark status upon the current 1850’s building, but on August 3, 2010, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9–0 against granting landmark status and historic protection to the building, thus clearing the way for the building’s demolition.[6]

Continue reading “The Ghost, The Building, The Battle”

Super Bowl Commercial Raises First Amendment Concerns

Fatin Haddad, Government Law Review member

            According to FOX News, a commercial that is approved to air during the Super Bowl is stirring up quite a controversy.[1]  College football phenomenon, Tim Tebow, and his mother are scheduled to appear in a pro-life commercial during the Super Bowl.[2]  The commercial is being funded by a conservative, Christian group—known to the public as Focus on the Family—and the message is a recounting of Mrs. Tebow’s decision between her life and the life of her unborn child, which turned out to be her Heisman Trophy winning, star quarterback and heartthrob son Tim Tebow, despite doctors’ suggestions to abort the pregnancy due to the serious risk of death she faced in carrying the child to term.[3] 

          While Mrs. Tebow was pregnant with her son Tim she went on a mission trip to the Phillippines and contracted a serious infection which doctors feared would kill her if she did not abort the pregnancy.[4]  She made the choice to carry the child to term, despite the risk of her own death, but yet her son was born and grew to be one of the most talented college football quarterbacks of his time.  This true story will be the content of the commercial, and the underlying message is said to be—by Focus on the Family—focused on “celebrating families.”[5]  Pro-choice women’s groups, such as Women’s Media Center, however, seem to think differently as they have voiced concerns that this commercial may lead to anti-abortion retaliation in the form of violence towards “reproductive health providers and their patients,” and should therefore be banned.[6]  Several groups have joined the cause, rallying together to petition CBS to ban the commercial as well.[7]  

         The argument made by the women’s groups, who are protesting against the commercial, is primarily based on the fact that CBS has had a “long history” of banning political advertisements; however, CBS replied that it has changed its policies recently and thus the commercial is consistent with its current standards.[8]  In light of the current dilemma regarding the highly controversial topic of abortion—which has historically divided Courts, politicians, and even every day citizens—there are Constitutional considerations that make for an interesting perspective on which way the scale of freedom of speech should tip between the women’s rights groups and the Tebows.

Continue reading “Super Bowl Commercial Raises First Amendment Concerns”