Religion & the Law Take Home Exam Options

Option 1

Alan Aerts gestures as he talks about his 10-foot-tall singing Grinch in front of his stately French tudor home in Monte Sereno, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

MONTE SERENO, Calif. (AP) - For six years, Alan and Bonnie Aerts transformed their Silicon Valley home into a Christmas wonderland, complete with surfing Santa, jumbo candy canes and a carol-singing chorus of mannequins.

Visitors loved it. Last year, more than 1,500 cars prowled the Aertses' cul-de-sac in this upscale San Jose suburb each night.

This year, though, the merry menagerie stayed indoors. Instead, on the manicured lawn outside the couple's Tudor mansion, stands a single tiding: a three-metre-tall Grinch with green fuzz, rotting teeth and beet-red eyeballs.

The Aertses erected the smirking giant to protest the couple across the street - 16-year residents Le and Susan Nguyen, who initiated complaints to city officials that the display was turning the quiet neighbourhood into a Disneyesque nightmare.

Alan Aerts, who makes sure the Grinch's spindly finger points directly to the Nguyens' house, says the complaints killed the exhibit. They also violated the Christmas spirit, he said.

"When I grew up, people decorated everything - it was wonderful to be a kid," said the 48-year-old soft drink distributor and philanthropist. "If you can't even put up a display these days, what kind of people have we become?"

The Nguyens say that even after the Aertses hired a security guard to help direct traffic, the commotion kept them from having friends over for their own lower-key celebrations.

"We wake up to Christmas for about 45 days of the year," said Le Nguyen, 55. "You ever seen the movie Groundhog Day? It's just like that."

The exhibition's death knell came last year, when the Nguyens collected 90 signatures of protest from residents and the city council voted to require a permit for any exhibit lasting longer than three days.

Mayor Erin Garner voted against it, saying he thought the Aertses provided a community service.

"It will be a crying shame if (Alan) doesn't put his holiday lights up this year," he told the San Jose Mercury News.

After studying the application process, the Aertses decided the usual display wasn't worth the hassle.

So Alan Aerts, a six-foot-three amateur body builder, commissioned the $2,500 motorized Grinch statue, which waves its arms and emits steam as a raspy tenor belts out, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

Susan Nguyen, 52, is unmoved.

"It was oppressive," she said. "Maybe not if you just spent 10 minutes admiring it from your car, but if you lived next door, it was definitely oppressive."

Read the article to the left (an actual newspaper story), then answer the following questions.  Your answers should appear in be no more than 2,000 words in total.

1.  Is the Monte Sereno ordinance, passed in response to Alan Aerts's holdiday display, a violation of the First Amendment?  The ordinance prohibits any resident from keeping on his or her property a lighting display for more than three days.

2.  Assume that the council members supporting the decorative lighting ban are thrown out in a new election.  The new city council votes to authorize residents to operate lighting displays on their property, but only during the period from Thanksgiving to January 15.  Miaow Ching, a practioner of the Xanadu religion, is fined for violation of the new ordinance.  Ching had  installed in her front yard a 3,000-light display in May (in the shape of a giant twinkling test tube emitting  colored smoke) in celebration of Holy Xanadu Day on May 22, the day Ching and other Xanaduians believe Xanadu received from God the sacred potient that made him the all-seeing, all-knowing prophet that he became.  Does Ching have a First Amendment right to keep her display?  Is the new ordinance constitutional?

Alan Aerts's holiday display, as seen in 2003.

Option 2

Gene Sislit was recently fired from his position as a biology teacher at Kennedy High in Tacoma, Washington.  Sislit’s sins, according to Char Lesdar of the Tacoma School Board, were (1) raising dubious questions about the theory of evolution in class (Sislet told students that there were “too many missing links in the fossil records for evolution to be true”), (2) suggesting to his students that only a supernatural force could have creating a specie as complex as man (Sislet said in class that “the best evidence indicates that a divine plan has been at work”), (3) criticizing students who attempted to defend Darwin’s theory (Sislet told a student who offered a theory as to how an eye might evolve that “only a moron could believe that evolution could create an eye”), and (4) writing a letter to the editor of the Tacoma Press ridiculing the theory of evolution and promoting Scientific Creationism as an explanation for the diversity of life. Lesdar said that the Board concluded that Sislit’s actions brought ridicule to the school system and threatened the ability of his students to perform well on Biology AP tests and in college.  

A.  Sislet argues that the Board’s decision to fire him violates his First Amendment rights and has sued the School District for reinstatement and back pay.  What result?

Following Sislit’s firing, several parents of Christian Fundamentalist students at Kennedy High asked the principal to excuse their kids from any biology classes in which the theory of evolution would be taught.  They argued that the instruction in evolution undermined their children’s belief in the literal truth of the Bible, especially the story of creation told in Genesis chapter 1.  When Principal Sue Secullow refused their request, the parents brought an action in federal district court arguing that under the Free Exercise Clause students had a right to be excused from classes in which the theory of evolution is taught.  Moreover, they argued, the students had a right not to have their biology class grades affected by their refusal to answer any exam questions relating to evolution.

B.  Following Principal Secullow’s decision, the parents of the affected students sued in federal district court, arguing that their First Amendment rights have been denied. What result?

Your answers to these questions should total no more than 2,000 words.

Option 3

In recent years, hundreds of Muslims, many of them recent immigrants from Somalia, have settled in Eagle Landing, Michigan. The growing Muslim population has caused consternation among some long-term residents, who see the new residents as competitors of jobs, responsible for increased crime, and a threat to their traditions. 

In the Eagle Landing High School, Muslims students—especially girls—are rarely fully integrated into the school community.  They tend to eat separately in the school cafeteria, socialize mainly among themselves, and rarely participate in school-sponsored extra-curricular events. 

When the Eagle Landing School Board met in November 2010, the issue of Muslim students, and their lack of assimilation, was a hot topic of debate.  Phyllis Schafney, a member of the Board, said, “These Muslims are nothing but trouble and all should be sent back to where they came from.”  Schafney proposed a new school regulation that would prohibit students from wearing any sort of headscarf in class or at any school-sponsored event.  The ban would apply to head and neck scarves (such as the hijab, favored by many Muslim women), partial veils (niqabs) and full veils (burqas).  Schafney said that such the headscarf ban, if adopted, would send the message to Muslims “that they are no longer welcome here and should move somewhere else.”  Morris Sontag, another Board member, said that he also favored the headscarf ban, but for a different reason.  “Headscarves set the girls apart,” he said, “and are an affront to their dignity.”  If we adopt this ban, he said, the girls would be more accepted by their classmates and the school will function as it should—“without all these cliques and factions.”  A third member of the Board, Francis Hamm, denounced the proposed rule.  “This is just blatant discrimination against a religious minority!” she complained.  Schafney said the rule was just fine because it applies to anyone—including boys who just want to wear their winter scarves in class.  When debate ended, the Board voted 5 to 2 to approve the ban on headscarves.

Last month, when the headscarf ban went into effect at Eagle Landing High, seven Muslim girls were told that they must remove their headscarves or face suspension from school.  The girls refused, saying that their religion required such modesty in public places.  Principal Helmsly said he understood their position, but that “a rule is a rule” and suspended them from school indefinitely.  He told them they could only return to school once they have agreed not to wear headscarves.

The suspension of the “Headscarf Seven” prompted a number of students at Eagle Landing High to stage a protest in support of their Muslim classmates.  Several showed up wearing T-shirts that said, “End Religious Bigotry.”  The T-shirt wearing students passed out flyers in the hallways between classes that announced a boycott, scheduled for the following Tuesday, of classes to protest “religious bigotry in Eagle Landing and to support religious freedom for all students.”  When Principal Helmsly saw the flyers, he told them that urging a boycott of classes was a violation of school rules.  As punishment, Helmsly ordered the students to prepare a large sign reading “ATTEND CLASSES AND SUPPORT THE SCHOOL BOARD” and to hold the sign up on the a sidewalk leading to the school parking lot for three days from 3:00 to 4:00.  If they refused to do so, he said, they would be suspended from school for a week.

(A)    Does the Eagle Landing School Board regulation that bans headscarves in schools violate the First Amendment?  Discuss.

(B)     Did the decision to order the protesting students to prepare and hold a sign in punishment for distributing their flyers violate the students’ First Amendment rights?  Discuss.

Your answers to these questions should total no more than 2,000 words.

Option 4

A group of Fundamentalist parents are upset with required readings in classes at a public school in Tennessee.  Specifically, they believe that certain required readings promote secular humanism and undermine the religious beliefs of their children.  They complain that Harry Potter books required in the seventh-grade favorably portray witchcraft.  They complain that a senior-high physics book suggests that the Big Bang provides a credible explanation of the origin of the universe.  Finally, they complain that biographies required in a tenth-grade history class promote feminism and the notion that women should find work outside the home.

The Fundamentalist parents wonder whether the required readings violate either the Establishment Clause or the Free Exercise Clause.  They would either like to have a court order the curriculum be changed or that their students be exempted from objectionable required reading and instruction.  What do you tell them?  Do they have a constitutional right to home school their children if the curriculum is not changed?

Your answers to these questions should total no more than 2,000 words.

Option 5

Bogwon Bob is the charismatic leader of a religious cult called the "Eden's Garden Movement."  Bogwon Bob announced that an isolated valley in southern California's Mojave Desert was "the new Garden of Eden," and urged his hundreds of followers to join him in settling in the small valley town of Jackolope.  Within a year, nearly 700 Eden's Garden Movement members had moved to Jackolope, outnumbering the resident population of about 600.

Last year, Eden's Garden Movement members captured the office of mayor in Jackolope, plus three of the five town council seats.  Soon the council began adopting, always on 3 to 2 votes, a number of  ordinances proposed and supported by Bogwon Bob.

The first ordinance to be adopted by the Jackolope Town Council changed the official town seal and motto from one with a rattlesnake encircled by the  words "Don't Tread On Me" to a silouette of a couple copulating encircled by the words "Make Love, Not Enemies". The seal was designed by Bogwon Bob and reflects his free love beliefs and practices, but the motto is not one with special religious significance for the Eden's Garden Movement. An eight-foot in diameter official seal was placed on the Town Hall, directly above the main public entry to the building.

A second ordinance adopted by the Town Council declared the month of November to be "Freedom Month".  The ordinance prohibited the wearing of any clothes during the month of November in Freedom Park, the newly renamed town square.  Bogwon Bob has urged Eden's Garden Movement members to shed their clothes whenever temperatures allowed.  Bogwon Bob believes that Genesis tells us that God intended that his children be naked and feel no shame. Eden's Garden worship services, where members sip communion wine and are offered--but emphatically reject-- apples,  are conducted in the nude.  Bogwon Bob teaches that clothes are an unfortunate manifestation of our self-pride and materialistic ways.  Supporters of the Freedom Park measure also noted that nakedness breeds egalitarianism and feelings of fellowship and openness.  Wearing clothes, according to another council member, "is just plain immoral".

A third controversial decision of the Town Council was to appropriate $1000 for the purchase of books about Bogwon Bob and the Eden's Garden Movement.  The books included an autobiography by Bogwon Bob, a collection of Bogwon Bob's favorite jokes, an Eden's Garden hymnal, and "The Yellow Book," a compilation of the sacred wisdom of Bogwon Bob.  The purchased books were placed in the Town Library in the "Religion" section.  (Books that were previously in the Religion section of the Library, including the Bible, the Koran, and books about other religions, were left on the shelves.)

Needless to say, the 600 or so residents of Jackolope who are not members of the Eden's Garden Movement are up in arms over the new ordinances.  On November 15,  three Jackolope residents, finding the Freedom Park ordinance to be more than they could bear, marched, fully clothed, through the park carrying signs reading "Nudism is for Animals," "Go to Hell, Bogwon," and "Nudes are Nuts." They soon found themselves in shouting matches with Eden's Garden followers who objected to their signs and clothes. They were arrested for violating the town's ban on clothes wearing and for inciting a breach of the peace by carrying offensive signs.

(A)  Discuss the constitutionality of the town seal and motto and its placement on Town Hall.

(B)  Discuss the constitutional issues that might be raised by "The Jackolope Three" in an appeal of their convictions in municipal court for wearing clothes and inciting a breach of the peace.

(C)  Discuss the constitutional issues raised by the Town Council's appropriation of funds for new library books.

Your answers to these questions should total no more than 2,000 words.

Option 6

Pastor Hamblin of Tabernacle Church
of God in LaFollette, Tenn.

Tennessee demonstrator protesting arrest of snake-handling pastor

New York Times story excerpt (Nov. 16, 2013)

Tennessee Pastor Disputes Wildlife Possession Charge by State

JACKSBORO, Tenn. — In a mix of old-time religion, modern media and Tennessee law, a 22-year-old preacher who has become a reality television star because of his experience in handling poisonous snakes pleaded not guilty on Friday to illegally keeping dozens of them that he and his congregants routinely touch during worship services.

Members of Mr. Hamblin’s Tabernacle Church of God turned out to support him at his arraignment Friday in the Campbell County Courthouse.

Andrew Hamblin, pastor of the Tabernacle Church of God in nearby LaFollette and a star of “Snake Salvation,” a recent series on the National Geographic Channel, said he hoped to turn the case against him in Campbell County General Sessions Court into a new front in the battle for religious liberty.

“This ain’t no longer just a fight for snake handling,” Mr. Hamblin, the father of five, told a group of supporters wearing red — to symbolize the blood of Christ — before his arraignment on a misdemeanor wildlife possession charge. “This is a fight for freedom of religion.”

As Mr. Hamblin, holding a Bible, spoke from the third step of the Campbell County Courthouse, several women cried and shook.

Members of Mr. Hamblin’s two-story brick church, which sits along a gravel road, have made no secret of their status as one of the country’s estimated 125 snake-handling congregations. It came as little surprise when Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials showed up on Nov. 7.

During the raid, the officers seized about 50 snakes from the church’s Snake Room, including copperheads, timber rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, and cited Mr. Hamblin on one count carrying a possible punishment of a $2,500 fine and nearly a year in prison. Mr. Hamblin, who is to return to court next month, has not yet been charged with violating Tennessee’s 1947 ban on snake handling.

“We don’t allow anybody other than permitted individuals in schools and zoos to possess venomous snakes,” said Matthew Cameron, a spokesman for the wildlife agency. “We don’t view him as any different from anyone else in the general public who has a king cobra in his room.”

And although church members say Mr. Hamblin takes care to keep the snakes secure, the chief prosecutor for Campbell County, a rural area just north of Knoxville, has described them as a “significant public safety hazard.”

But to Mr. Hamblin and his supporters, the case is little more than state-instigated discrimination against a religious practice that has been present in East Tennessee for more than a century.

“When those officers entered the house of God, that cooked it with me,” said James Slusher, who attends Mr. Hamblin’s church..

Mr. Hamblin’s legal troubles have attracted widespread attention in Campbell County, and they have revived a longstanding debate here about whether the Constitution offers protections for Christians who, as the Gospel of Mark puts it, “pick up snakes with their hands....”

Snake-handling has long been a part of religious services in certain Pentecostal churches in Appalachia and the South.  Unsurprisingly, the practice has resulted in a number of deaths of ministers and their snake-handling parishioners. The practice is inspired by a passage in the Book of Mark 15:16-17: "And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."  Handling snakes is seen by some believers as a test of the strength of one's faith in God.

In 1947, the Tennessee legislature made it illegal "for a person to display, handle, or use a poisonous or dangerous snake in such a manner as to endanger the life or health of any person."  The act, which followed a rash of deaths in snake-handling churches, specifically excluded from its coverage any employee handling or using snakes in a "school or zoo."  The sponsor of the 1947 law argued, "Tennessee has a right to guard against the unnecessary creation of widows and orphans.  These churches are out of harmony with modern notions of morality."


Your answers to this questions should total no more than 2,000 words.