Across the Country, the Federal Government Fights For Muslim Worship Spaces [Updated]

The government of the United States is suing the town of St. Anthony, Minnesota, a Twin Cities suburb with a population a little over 8,000, to force the town to allow development of an Islamic center in an area reserved for industrial development. It is a minor news story, but one that sheds light on broader legal and cultural trends. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

The federal government on Wednesday sued the small north-metro city of St. Anthony, contending that its City Council violated federal law in 2012 by rejecting a proposed Islamic center. …

“An injustice has been done,” U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said at a news conference in Minneapolis. “I will not stand by while any religious group is subject to unconstitutional treatment that violates federal civil rights laws.”

Actually, DOJ happily stood by when the city previously denied a Christian group the use of the same space. Mr. Luger didn’t mention that in his pretentious announcement.

The lawsuit alleges that the council’s decision to deny the Abu Huraira Islamic Center the right to establish a worship center in the basement of the St. Anthony Business Center violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act passed by Congress in 2000.

Like me, you probably have never heard of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. I haven’t studied it, but, according to the DOJ’s web site, it prohibits zoning laws that “treat churches or other religious assemblies or institutions on less than equal terms with nonreligious institutions.” So it may actually apply here. Although, of course, no one worried about that when a Christian group was being turned down.

Apparently the Religious Land Use statute is being used by the federal government around the country to force acceptance of Islamic centers, contrary to local zoning regulations:

It marks the first time federal prosecutors have sued a Minnesota city citing the law, although the Justice Department has filed similar suits elsewhere in the country on behalf of Islamic centers, according to a U.S. attorney’s office spokesman.

So what is going on here? Why did St. Anthony turn down the application to use the property in question as an Islamic center?

In June 2012, the council rejected Abu Huraira’s proposal, concluding that a religious and cultural center was incompatible with the site’s light-industrial zoning. …

On Wednesday, St. Anthony officials continued to defend the council’s action, saying that the rejection was based purely on zoning issues. It “was not based on discrimination at all,” said City Attorney Jay Lindgren.

“Religious uses of any type are allowed in the vast majority of the city,” he said. “They are just not allowed in the roughly five percent of the city reserved for industrial uses. … An industrial zone is designed to create jobs and be an economic engine.”

Once upon a time, that would have been considered a reasonable zoning decision. But now, the full weight of the federal government–that is, the Obama administration–has come down on the side of Islam. And Islam only:

Lindgren said that the city denied another Christian organization’s request in the past few years that was similar to that of the Islamic center.

It isn’t hard to understand what is going on here. While I wish the town of St. Anthony well, it is pretty obvious that they will be ground underfoot by the powers that be, i.e., Eric Holder’s Department of Justice. Not because the administration has any particular regard for religion in general, as Christians and Jews can readily attest–just look at the Obamacare regulations. Rather, because the administration wants to display favoritism toward Islam.

If an administration could be shown to consistently favor one religion over others, would that constitute a violation of the First Amendment? Of course. But, as with so many other Obama administration scandals, long before the judicial system could even begin to address the issue on its merits, the malefactors will be long gone.

UPDATE: While the U.S. Attorney’s office singled out “Islamic centers” as the beneficiaries of federal action under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a knowledgeable reader who works for the Becket Fund says that DOJ has actually been even-handed in applying the statute:

I hold no brief for the federal government – the Becket Fund is the firm that beat DOJ at the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case last Term and in the Hosanna-Tabor case two years before that. And we have a number of other religious liberty lawsuits pending against DOJ right now, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College cases.

So I am not writing because I think DOJ does a good job protecting religious freedom—far from it. But RLUIPA land use litigation is one area where DOJ gets it largely right. If you look at this somewhat incomplete list, you will see that DOJ has a pretty good cross-section of religious land use cases, including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim houses of worship:

http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/caselist.php#rluipa

DOJ has taken the side of rabbinical schools in Rockland County, NY, and Baptist churches in Arizona, among many others. So it is inaccurate to characterize DOJ’s RLUIPA work as focusing only or primarily on Muslims, as your post does. And since this is one area of religious liberty law where DOJ gets it mostly right, I don’t think you will advance the religious liberty of any group – Christians, Jews, Muslims, or non-believers – by painting an inaccurate picture of how RLUIPA works, or how it has been enforced. In fact you are more likely to increase your readers’ opposition to religious liberty statutes like RLUIPA that are good for our country, not least because they restrict government power.

… I’ve litigated RLUIPA cases across the country, frequently on behalf of Christian and Jewish houses of worship, but on occasion also Muslim or Buddhist ones.

Knowledgeable criticism is always welcome, so thanks. If our reader is correct, and he is obviously knowledgeable, it was coincidence that there was no legal action when the city turned down a similar request from a Christian group. Or, more likely, the Christians never complained, while in this instance, Minnesota’s Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked DOJ to investigate.

HuffPo Has a Scoop: Conservative Candidates Appreciate the Support of Conservative Donors!

Someone–possibly an attendee, possibly a member of the hotel staff–audio taped a Koch-sponsored conference that was held in California last June. This, I take it, was one of the twice-a-year seminars that Koch puts on, by invitation, for conservative donors and others. Three Republican Senate candidates, Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner, participated in a panel titled “The Senate: A Window of Policy Opportunity for Principled Leaders.” Whoever recorded the event gave the audio to a far-left web site that shared it with the Huffington Post, which wrote about the event here.

HuffPo tries to make something out of the fact that conservative donors support conservative candidates, but it is slow going. If you listen to the audio tape–I don’t recommend it–it is essentially impossible to make out what anyone is saying. Still, I am happy to take HuffPo’s translation on faith. So, for example, Tom Cotton uttered these ostensibly scandalous words:

Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state [inaudible] building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state involved in their communities.

That’s it? Seriously? And that is the best that HuffPo could extract from the audio!

The moral of the story is that when conservatives talk among themselves, they say exactly the same things that they say to other audiences. Unlike liberals. I have participated in two of the Kochs’s semiannual conferences, so I have a pretty good idea what goes on. The Koch seminars are extraordinarily high quality (despite my participation) and draw from the best in the worlds of politics, business and media.

There is little that is, or needs to be, secret about the proceedings. After I spoke at the Koch event in January 2012, I posted a summary of my talk on cronyism, with the slides that I used for the seminar audience, on Power Line. Personally, I would love to see the Koch seminars televised. They would be a wonderful source of education for those who otherwise depend on left-wing news sources.

The idea that it is somehow scandalous that conservative donors support conservative candidates, and the candidates appreciate it, is a non-starter even on the left. Thus, HuffPo itself notes:

Part of the reason Cotton, Ernst and Gardner appeared before the conservative donors was that deep-pocketed Democrats have been spending against them. A trio of environmental groups has spent heavily on Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley’s Iowa Senate campaign. The super PAC Next Generation Climate, created by hedge fund founder and dedicated environmentalist Tom Steyer, has spent $3 million in Iowa and roughly $1 million in Colorado, according to a super PAC official. Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic candidates, has spent $550,000 in support of Braley and an additional $1.5 million against Ernst, $2.6 million against Gardner and $1.94 million against Cotton, according to Federal Election Commission data. And more spending is possible: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has consistently outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee this election cycle.

“We’ll raise somewhere between $10 and $12 million in my campaign,” Gardner told the crowd. “My opposition is going to raise somewhere between $15 and $20 million.”

It is the Democrats who lead the way in political spending, and Republicans are always struggling to keep pace. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, a Democrat, covers the story–such as it is–but the Post’s headline is: “A bunch of Republican Senate candidates spoke at a Koch Brothers conference. So what?”

So what? A good question.

Francois Hollande changes his spots

In The Leopard, his great novel of 19th century Sicily, Giuseppe di Lampedusa writes about “that highly profitably grey area of the extreme left of the extreme right.” It seems that Francois Hollande, the Socialist President of France, hopes to profit in the area of the extreme right of the extreme left.

As Steve noted, Hollande has dissolved his government and appointed a new cabinet. Most notably, Hollande has named Emmanuel Macron, a 36-year-old ex-Rothschild banker, as economy minister.

During the 2012 election campaign, Hollande declared that his “real enemy is the world of finance.” Now, he has named a leading member of that enemy world to guide his economic policy.

Macron, for his part, reportedly said of Hollande’s signature election pledge to impose a 75 per cent marginal income tax rate, “It’s Cuba without the sun.” As France tries to move forward with its centrist ex-banker economy minister, there probably will be little economic sun, but at least it won’t be Cuba.

Macron has developed decent ties with French business leaders while serving as Hollande’s economic adviser. They appreciate the fact that he is that rare Socialist official with experience in the private sector.

Bruno Cavalier, chief economist at French broker Oddo Securities and major critic of Hollande, immediately praised Macron’s appointment. “It shows that the economic policy designed to be favorable for business is not negotiable,” he said.

In truth, as his supporters on the left have found out, everything is negotiable with Hollande — this leopard changes his spots. In fact, many of Hollande’s supporters on the left may be well on the way to becoming former supporters.

Therein lies the danger of Hollande’s move. He is, of course, unpopular on the right; now he will be unpopular on the left. It’s questionable whether he could survive a vote of confidence/no-confidence. However, as I understand it, he probably won’t face one because he has retained his Prime Minister, Manuel Walls (also a non-leftist).

What will be the economic policy of the Hollande-Macron team? It will consist primarily of tax cuts for business (with no shifting of the burden to households), spending cuts, and attempts to break up monopolies.

Will Hollande profit in this area of “the extreme right of the extreme left”? I doubt it. The French economy seems stuck for the foreseeable future.

But Hollande’s move to the center, Bill Clinton style, probably makes better political sense than a move back to the left, Barack Obama style. Hollande lacks Obama’s political skills and is considerably less popular than Obama, even now. Hollande’s move also has the virtue of improving policy.

Hollande can cling to power until the 2017 elections and hope that, somehow, the French economy improves considerably before then. If it does, he will receive credit for having moved boldly.

Walls, his up-and-coming Prime Minister, will be seen, correctly, as peripheral. Macron will be a hero, but he is too young to challenge Hollande in 2017.

Is The Left Approaching a Kool-Aid Moment?

We noted here the other day (“Propping Up Obama”) the agony of the left over Obama’s miserable performance of late. But there are other signs that leftism is falling apart just about everywhere.

Item: Leftist French President Francois Hollande has dissolved the government and is trying to reform a new government that is a few micrometers closer to the center in the interest of minimal reform to get the economy growing. From the AP:

France has had effectively no economic growth this year, unemployment is hovering around 10 percent and Hollande’s approval ratings are sunk in the teens.

This is what happens when you run out of other people’s money. Funny how that always seems to happen to socialists. It’s what we call bad luck.

Item: There’s suddenly a hot race for president of Brazil with the rapid ascent of a new Socialist Party candidate, Marina Silva, who replaced the previous boring party standard bearer who did the party a favor by dying in a plane crash. According to the Wall Street Journal, Silva would beat the incumbent president Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party in a runoff.

Wait—stop the tape! Brazil has a Workers Party and a Socialist Party? Why do you need both? I thought all socialist parties were on the side of workers, by definition. That’s why there’s always been a Socialist Workers Party, no?  What next: The Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea?

Thatcther Socialism copyI guess this is what happens when you run out of other people’s money: thieves fall out among themselves on how to divide up the dwindling spoils. Should be fun to watch. Almost as much fun as watching Argentina thrash around—once the fourth richest nation in the world a century ago before the country caught the socialist bug. Maybe it was just bad luck, like those decades of Soviet grain harvests.

Not to worry. I’m sure Venezuela or Cuba can send them foreign aid.

A welcome cease fire, but no winners

As Scott wrote earlier this morning, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a cease fire that essentially mirrors the one Hamas rejected in July, before the real fighting, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, began.

I welcome the cease fire for personal reasons. My wife and one of my daughters are in Israel now. No one knows how long the cease fire will last, but it should hold for ten days — the remaining duration of their stay in Israel.

The cease fire is also good news for Israel, Gaza, and Hamas. Israel wasn’t going to send troops back into Gaza, and there was little to be gained from more missile attacks. Now Israelis can get on with their lives.

Gazans have less to celebrate when it comes to getting on with their mostly impoverished lives, but at least they will no longer face the danger and destruction of Israeli air attacks. And Hamas’ leadership can come up of hiding and claim “victory.”

Who won the war? No one, as things stand now. Israel comes out ahead by virtue of having destroyed so many terror tunnels. But unless Hamas is overthrown in Gaza — which seems unlikely — more tunnels will be built and the security threat will persist.

Hamas is declaring victory, but if anything it is marginally worse off than before the war. Under the current cease fire, it gains virtually nothing (a few more miles of rights for Gaza fisherman, and that’s about it).

As for who lost, there is no doubt. The people of Gaza. And even though they chose, as a group, to ride with Hamas, I find it impossible not to sympathize with them.

Hamas will be the winner if Israel agrees to a “peace plan” that substantially loosens Gaza’s economic isolation. And it’s possible that Israel will agree to this in exchange for this or that “guarantee.”

But after discovering the extent of Hamas’ tunneling and seeing Ben Gurion airport threatened, I don’t expect Netanyahu to make meaningful concessions. Even if he wanted to, and there’s little reason to think he does, Netanyahu is constrained. His cabinet, reportedly, was deeply divided on whether to agree even to this cease fire. Nor will Israelis in general be clamoring to make concessions as life returns to normal.

As negotiations with Hamas drag on, the terror group will face a difficult decision. Does it settle for, in essence, the pre-war status quo or does it break the cease fire?

Hamas’ decision will help us evaluate how it really views its “victory.”

Reaganpalooza, This Week on The American Mind

Last month I taped an episode of the Claremont Institute’s “American Mind” video interview series with Claremont Review of Books editor and professor extraordinaire Charles Kesler.  This first segment describes the writing of The Age of Reagan as well as some observations about how Reagan historiography has evolved.  More to come–stay tuned! (more…)

As he’s always made clear

President Obama spoke yesterday to the annual convention of the American Legion in Charlotte, North Carolina, at what seemed like Castroite length. The Teleprompters were on hand and in service. The White House has posted the text of his speech here; the video is below. I think it’s fair to say, as the Daily Mail’s David Martosko does, that the response of Obama’s audience was “tepid” at best. Andrew Malcolm comments on the speech for IBD in “Obama describes a happy, thriving America to veterans, who know better” (“not so much detached as delusional,” he writes in an email message).

The excerpt I have pasted in below addresses the national security issues that are in the news. It consists of the usual fingerpointing, non sequiturs, begged questions with an added dollop of Obama’s “Don’t do stupid s***” doctrine that sounds so good in the dorm lounge late at night. While the speech is largely a mashup of his greatest hits, Obama silently omits his frequently repeated declaration that al Qaeda has been “decimated,” is “on the run” and “on the path to defeat.” Rather, he asserts: “[A]s I’ve always made clear, the blows we’ve struck against al Qaeda’s leadership don’t mean the end to the terrorist threat.” Analyze this:

Now, sustaining our leadership, keeping America strong and secure, means we have to use our power wisely. History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching, and spreading ourselves too thin, and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences. And nobody knows this better than our veterans and our families — our veteran families, because you’re the ones who bear the wages of war. You’re the ones who carry the scars. You know that we should never send America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary and we have a plan, and we are resourcing it and prepared to see it through. (Applause.) You know the United States has to lead with strength and confidence and wisdom.

And that’s why, after incredible sacrifice by so many of our men and women in uniform, we removed more than 140,000 troops from Iraq and welcomed those troops home. It was the right thing to do. It’s why we refocused our efforts in Afghanistan and went after al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, driving the Taliban out of its strongholds, and training Afghan forces, which are now in the lead for their own security. In just four months, we will complete our combat mission in Afghanistan and America’s longest war will come to a responsible end. And we honor every American who served to make this progress possible — (applause) — every single one, especially the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan to keep us safe.

And now, as Afghans continue to work towards the first democratic transfer of power in their history, Afghan leaders need to make the hard compromises that are necessary to give the Afghan people a future of security and progress. And as we go forward, we’ll continue to partner with Afghans so their country can never again be used to launch attacks against the United States. (Applause.)

Now, as I’ve always made clear, the blows we’ve struck against al Qaeda’s leadership don’t mean the end to the terrorist threat. Al Qaeda affiliates still target our homeland — we’ve seen that in Yemen. Other extremists threaten our citizens abroad, as we’ve seen most recently in Iraq and Syria. As Commander-in-Chief, the security of the American people is my highest priority, and that’s why, with the brutal terrorist group ISIL advancing in Iraq, I have authorized targeted strikes to protect our diplomats and military advisors who are there. (Applause.)

And let me say it again: American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq. I will not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq. Because ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves. (Applause.) The limited strikes we’re conducting have been necessary to protect our people, and have helped Iraqi forces begin to push back these terrorists. We’ve also been able to rescue thousands of men and women and children who were trapped on a mountain. And our airdrops of food and water and medicine show American leadership at our best. And we salute the brave pilots and crews who are making us proud in the skies of Iraq every single day. (Applause.)

And more broadly, the crisis in Iraq underscores how we have to meet today’s evolving terrorist threat. The answer is not to send in large-scale military deployments that overstretch our military, and lead for us occupying countries for a long period of time, and end up feeding extremism. Rather, our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners to take the fight to ISIL.

So we’re strengthening our partners — more military assistance to government and Kurdish forces in Iraq and moderate opposition in Syria. We’re urging Iraqis to forge the kind of inclusive government that can deliver on national unity, and strong security forces and good governance that are ultimately going to be the antidote against terrorists. And we’re urging countries in the region and building an international coalition, including our closest allies, to support Iraqis as they take the fight to these barbaric terrorists.

Today, our prayers are with the Foley family in New Hampshire as they continue to grieve the brutal murder of their son and brother Jim. But our message to anyone who harms our people is simple: America does not forget. Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done. We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans — (applause) — to go after those who harm Americans. (Applause.)

And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland. And rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. But tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being.