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Brian Johnson Wins Injunction; Distributes Bibles at Pride Fest

25 Jun

This is obviously a little tardy, but an important update to a previous post. Brian Johnson was  granted a temporary injunction by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed him full access to pass out Bibles on the grounds of the Twin Cities Pride Festival this past Sunday. The district court decision stayed by the injunction can be found here.

Lawsuit Claims Hebrew National Hot Dogs not Kosher

19 Jun

In a story that’s been getting some national press, various media outlets, including Reuters, report that a group of consumers have filed a lawsuit in Minnesota Federal District Court contending that hot dogs and other products sold under the Hebrew National brand are not actually kosher. As a result, the consumers allege that ConAgra misled consumers.

According to the American Jewish World, the complaint in the case, Wallace et al v. ConAgra Foods Inc, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, No. 12-01354, was filed in May, although it picked up national attention today from various outlets, including Gawker.

It will be interesting to see the extent to which, if any, the district court will wade into the intricacies of Orthodox Jewish law.

Monday Roundup

12 Jun
  • Two men from Bemidji made their first appearances Friday in connection with a May 25 cross burning. According to the PiPress, one man was charged with felony stalking/harassment and the other was charged with felony aiding and abetting stalking/harassment.
  • Representative Keith Ellison from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District criticized the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen’s United decision in an op-ed that ran today in The Huffington Post and its local Patch affiliates. Ellison used the peace to promote his so-called “Get Corporate Money out of Politics Amendment.”
  • And finally, Dan Browning of the Strib is reporting that Judge Micheal Davis denied a Wisconsin man’s request for an injunction that would force the Minneapolis parks board to allow him  to hand out Bibles at the 40th Annual Twin Cities Pride festival in Loring Park this summer. I’ll post a link to the decision when I find a copy online. This battle has been on-going for years and I doubt that we’ve heard the last of it…
27 Mar

So we took a little break…

Anyway, on March 19 the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth District (which includes Minnesota) handed down Sisney v. Reisch. In Sisney, the 8th Circuit agreed with a South Dakota federal district court that ruled that Sisney, a Jewish prisoner, was not entitled to compensatory damages for authorities’ refusal to permit him to erect a succah in the recreation yard so that he could observe the Jewish holiday feast of Sukkot. According to the opinion, Sisney’s attempts were denied on grounds that the structure would present safety and security issues.

Sisney’s suit, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleged such a denial was a violation of his First Amendment free exercise rights. In denying his  motion, the Eighth Circuit panel cited previous United States Supreme Court caselaw holding that “”prison officials may not deny an inmate ‘a reasonable opportunity of pursuing his faith comparable to the opportunity afforded fellow prisoners who adhere to conventional religious precepts.’” Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972).

(H/T Religion Clause)

Random Links

9 Feb

Here’s a few quick hitters for those of you out there who care about First Amendmenty things going on here in the land of Ten Thousand Lakes:

  • A bunch of news outlets reported on a group of 35 Minnesota Rabbis who signed on to a letter opposing the ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. MPR reported that the group was made up of members of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, which represents “conservative, reform and reconstructionist clergy from 15 congregations around the state.” According to the American Jewish World News, it looks like the group will be pretty active in opposing the measure.
  • That Rolling Stone piece about Anoka and its bullying issues we mentioned before has been causing some rumblings in the local media.  Lori Sturdevant over at the Strib thinks the piece went to far in attempting to connect the suicides with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. Local media guru Dave Brauer over at MinnPost does not agree with her.
  •  There’s been a few updates on the case of William Melchert-Dinkel, the former nurse from Fairbault who went online and encouraged two depressed people to kill themselves. Melchert-Dinkel was found guilty in Rice County District Court of aiding the suicides of a British man and a Canadian woman last year. His attorney is in the process of appealing the conviction. According to a February 7 AP story, Assistant Rice County Attorney Benjamin Bejar said in his appellate brief that First Amendment protections are not absolute and don’t cover words encouraging another person’s lawless conduct. I didn’t go over to St. Paul to read the briefs for myself, because, heck, this is just a blog that nobody reads, but we here at the Void are watching this one pretty closely and we’ll keep you posted as events unfold.
  • There’s been some rumblings in the press about the saga of Robin Hensel, a Little Falls resident who, according to the Brainerd Dispatch, was barred from keeping protest signs in her yard because they violated a city signage ordinance. Hensel went on to complain that a “Support our Troops” banner on the American National Bank building violates the same policy. This has apparantly caused quite the ruckus in Little Falls. The Strib’s John Tevlin wrote a spirited defense of Hensel, and Eric Black over at MinnPost wrote a spirited defense of Tevlin’s spirited defense of Hensel.

Santorum to Speak During Sunday Service at Eden Prairie Church

3 Feb

Patch is reporting that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum will be speaking at an Eden Prairie church on Sunday morning, two days before the Minnesota caucuses. According to Patch and MinnPost, Santorum will speak during the 9:30 a.m. worship service at Grace Church in Eden Prairie on Sunday, Feb. 5.

For what it’s worth, I couldn’t find any information about Santorum’s visit on the church’s web site.

Political views notwithstanding, there are plenty of issues implicated when religious institutions and candidates for public office intersect. It’s important to note that the IRS does not strictly prohibit these types of appearances, although they have some helpful suggestions. Pages 9-10 of IRS Publication 1828 lists a bunch of recommendations that churches hosting candidates should bear in mind if they hope to retain their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status (I assume Grace Church is a 501(c)(3). Although Guidestar didn’t specify, it’s mentioned in the church’s bylaws).

According to the IRS, a church must not “participate or intervene” in a political campaign. In accordance with this requirement, the IRS has a long checklist for churches hosting a candidate. Among other things, the IRS thinks a church needs to provides equal opportunity to other candidates seeking the same office, indicate no support of or opposition to the candidate (this should be explicitly stated when the candidate is introduced and in all communications about the candidate), insure no fundraising occurs, and maintain a nonpartisan atmosphere on the premises or at the event where the candidate is present. Interestingly enough, the church is also not supposed to mention the individual’s political candidacy or the upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate’s attendance at the event.

Of course, it’s important to remember the IRS doesn’t get the last word on what the First Amendment allows, as other organizations are quick to point out. Now, I doubt that this Sunday’s Santorum visit will lead to a Constitutional law showdown between Grace Church and the IRS , but one can always hope…