Court to consider whether Christian-minister landlord who pushed Muslim tenant down stairs can be forced to attend a class on Islam
The Supreme Judicial Court next month hears arguments on a case involving a Somerville landlord - and pastor at a local church - convicted of pushing a Muslim tenant down the stairs, several weeks after the landlord had screamed at the woman and her kids about how Muslims were wicked and would burn in hell.
After a jury convicted Daisy Obi, 73, pastor at the Adonai Bible Center, of assault and battery last year, a Somerville District Court judge sentenced her to two years in jail, but suspended 18 months of that on several conditions - including that she attend a class at Harvard or the Islamic Society of Boston on Islam. She was also required to tell any prospective tenants at her Pinckney Street triple decker about her conviction - which came after at least two other tenants had gotten protective orders against her for allegedly abusive behavior.
In an appeal now before the state's highest court, Obi's lawyers argue that forcing a Christian minister to learn about Islam violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from forcing any particular religion on people.
Government pressure to participate in a religious activity is an obvious indication ghat the government is endorsing or promoting religion. ... It is beyond dispute that the Constitution guarantees that the government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise. ...
This condition amounts to coercion because if Dr. Obi does not learn about the Muslim faith, she will be in violation of her probation, with jail time as possible punishment. Lastly, the object of the coercion is religious. The judge singles out the Muslim faith for Dr. Obi to learn about. The judge singled out Muslim people that "need to be respected." The judge imposed the Muslim religion on Dr. Obi, a Christian minister. ...
This Court should consider the ramifications if courts order a Jewish person to "learn" about and "respect" Christians or Muslims, or a Muslim was ordered to
"learn" and "respect" the Jewish or Christian religion.
In its written response, the Middlesex County District Attorney's office retorted that the requirement to attend a class on Islam is "reasonably related to the probationary goals."
The purpose of requiring the defendant to enroll in a course to understand Islam has a legitimate purpose of deterring future violence against those practicing Islam and encourages her to better understand others, so that she may conform her conduct to anti-discrimination laws.
Nor does the condition amount to undue coercion in violation of the Establishment Clause. In order to survive an Establishment Clause challenge based on coercion, there are generally three questions: "first, has the state acted; second, does the action amount to coercion; and third, is the object of the coercion religious or secular?" Here, it is clear that there is state action, as the condition is a court-ordered probation requirement, and the defendant would suffer consequences if she failed to complete the requirement. However, the object of the condition is not that she adopt or be discouraged from any religious practice -- or even that she attend a Muslim religious service ... -- but merely that she educate herself; therefore the condition neither advances nor inhibits religion.
Just in case the court sides with Obi, however, prosecutors continue that even if the justices strike the Islam-class requirement, Obi should still serve the rest of her sentence; that the court should send the sentencing back to the judge in the case to simply remove that one condition.
Although Obi was not charged with a hate crime, Judge Paul Yee used her earlier screaming at the tenant and her children to craft his sentence:
I was really struck by the victim's testimony, Ms. Gilhan Suliman, that prior of this incident Ms. Obi was yelling at her in May and screaming that Muslims need to be in hell. That Muslims are wicked people. That was said, to her and her children. This is in May, three months before this alleged incident. It just seems to me somewhat out of character and then, again, in June of 2012, Ms. Obi is yelling and at Ms. Suliman's children, screaming that they're wicked children, that they're evil since they're Muslim and clearly Ms. Suliman is Muslim. She does wear the cover over her head. She practices the Muslim faith. It seems to me a woman of God would be respectful of another human being who is made in God's likeness. But she did not.
The judge said this was why he ordered a mental-health evaluation of Obi and that when that came back clear he concluded:
It seems that this is just an evil deed on your part, and that's how I treat someone who disrespects another human being. Disrespects another human being that she would push someone to cause them serious bodily injury or death. It's a very serious matter. It's not a shove.
He told Obi:
I do want you to learn about the Muslim faith. I want you to learn about the Muslim faith. I want you to enroll and attend an introductory course on Islam, All right. I want you to at Harvard Divinity School when you went, the Harvard extension, or you can go to the Islamic Society of Boston here in Cambridge. All right. You have to give. some kind of written documentation to the probation that you have in fact done that. I do want you to understand people of the Muslim faith, and they need to be respected. They may worship Allah, a God that's different from you, but they need to be respected.
Lawyers for Obi, who said she couldn't possibly have pushed the woman down the stairs because she was in her own apartment praying at the time, argue the overall sentence is "cruel and unusual punishment" for an ordained minister in her 70s with no criminal record.
Also at issue: Whether Yee improperly overruled a defense challenge to a prospective juror who, like the tenant, wore a head scarf. The judge and prosecutors say it's pretty obvious the lawyer sought to have her removed because she appeared to be Muslim. Obi's attorneys denied it was because of religion - women who are not Muslim can wear head scarves as well - and that the judge failed to even hold a hearing to ask the woman about her religious beliefs.
- Obi's brief (7.2M PDF)
- DA's response (3.2M PDF)
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Isn't this like making Doug Henning attend a Chris Angel performance? One person's magic versus another's.
Yep. we get it. you're a
Yep. we get it. you're a clever atheist and much better then all those religious fools.
Any grounds to take back funds?
Wonder if it's the same home she rents?
literally everything about this, but mostly, the concept of forced attendance to any religious class/ceremony or anything is abhorrent to everything in my body
they should have charged the landlord with a hate crime and have been done with it.
that being said, learning about religions is fun, when it isn't being forced on you.
The idea of learning is
The idea of learning is abhorrent to you? As a youth, I was "forced" to attend various christian services - Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic - as part of my own religious education. It has made me a more tolerant person to understand the practices of others.
No one is asking this person to attend services - but learn in an academic setting. Everyone ought to take classes like these so that we can have a more tolerant society.
Are you a literal moron? Y/N
Why did you outright ignore the entirety of my post? You responded to some fictional writing that you felt would give you a soapbox.
I flatout said that learning about religion is fun. You ignored that.
I said that being forced- with the alternative being jail- to learn about somebody's religion was abhorrent to me.
You espouse tolerance yet you are apparently either illiterate, disingenuous, or a moron. Or a combination of all three.
Here's the larger issue
1. you really need to learn a few things if you think that learning about a religion and practicing a religion are the same thing. They are not. I learned about several religions in school, and the son of a local hyperevangelical Bible college was in my class with his father demanding that he learn more. Religion drives history in huge and unavoidable ways, and many of the common faiths seen today derive from the same roots.
2. Consider this: is it an abrogation of your free speech rights to have to complete two semesters of foreign language at a public school? No? There you go.
3. The problem here isn't just her hate of Islam - it is her fundamental anti-American misunderstanding of the First Amendment! She needs to learn that it isn't just about protecting her particular flaming violent bigoted skyfairy worship from the government, but also about how it prevents other flaming violent bigoted skyfairy worshippers from burning down her church with her in it (or, for that matter, flaming violent bigoted anti-skyfairy-ists)!
In other words, this woman is in sore need of citizenship classes! Make her read and pass a test on the fundamental underpinnings of religious freedom in the US including what Jefferson and Washington had to say about how it wasn't just about Christians or just about her not wanting to have to learn something and exercise some self control.
But jail her ass first. Please.
i agree with most of what you said but
She meant invisible all knowing sky being that made the dinosaurs then flooded the earth to death and loves everyone but the gays.
ps, don't eat fish
And I quote
"...the concept of forced attendance to any religious class/ceremony or anything is abhorrent to everything in my body."
Which of course is not what the verdict required. So either you were referring to an unrelated hypothetical, or misunderstood the judge's order. Either way, you response to the previous reply was out of order.
Way to resort to ad hominem.
Way to resort to ad hominem.
Are you against all public education? Many public educational courses "force" young people to learn about different religions as part of standard coursework. Is that unethical, immoral, or abhorrent?
I was directly addressing the idea of "what is forced." Education being fun or not is a completely separate matter and does not play my argument about what is needed writ large - better education about how other people exist - whether it be "forced" in one way or another.
Learning about religions is
Learning about religions is fun? Huh. Speak for yourself.
I don't see what's so
I don't see what's so abhorrent about being forced to attend a class. Being asked to attend class about a religion is much different from being asked to attend a service.
In high school, I had a class section on Judaism, as a part of world history class, and learned how that faith guided the development of a people and influenced an empire. A faith wasn't forced on me, rather, I learned some of its concepts in an academic setting, in a public school.
If the pastor had an anger management problem, maybe she would have been only sent to an anger management class. In this case, she appears to have a problem with Muslims. It doesn't seem unreasonable to get her to learn more about that faith if it keeps her from pushing people down stairs, closer to "dannation".
There's an alternative
Literally? That must be quite colorful sight. Do you understand the difference between a class that teaches you about a religion, a conversion/indoctrination course, and a ceremony for believers in that religion? No? Apparently neither does the defendant or her lawyers.
Yes, well, people who commit felonies frequently find that things are forced on them, such as wearing orange jumpsuits, living in cells, and eating bad food. You can avoid this by not screaming at people that they're going to hell and pushing them down the stairs because they don't share your religious beliefs. If the defendant just can't bear the pain of her knotted up knickers at being "forced" to learn about another religion -- not join the religion, not participate in religious ceremonies -- she has the choice of doing the full two-year stretch. I would literally applaud if she chose door number two.
That this is going to the MA supreme court
To see if it is a violation of the landlady's constitutional rights is a pretty clear indication I am far from alone in finding this concerning.
If you don't find it disconcerting that a government body would force somebody to choose between learning about religious practices or jail then you and I have a fundamental disagreement over our interpretation of the first amendment.
You and her lawyers, son
Yes, I'm sure her lawyers are also deeply concerned. At least, they're hoping to get paid. As for the rest of us, I suspect that you'll have a hard way convincing people that it's an imposition for a judge to offer a course on religion in exchange for eighteen months in the slammer.
UHubbers take note, that scraping sound is scumquistador moving the goalposts, a habitual practice of those who have advanced a nonsensical argument and been called on it. Having had it explained to him by more careful readers that the convicted felon in this case has the option of simply serving her sentence and is being offered a substantial reduction in sentence, and after being informed that convicted felons lose some degree of their rights, he chooses to dress himself in the flowing garb of the Brave Free Speech Warrior in defense of everyone's rights to never hear anything that might conflict with their stubborn idiot prejudices. I invite scumquistador to build a rocket to some planet where there is a first amendment that works like that. The First Amendment to the US Constitution does not.
somebody please start the slow clap that this guy so desperately seeks
What's actually "the most"
What's actually "the most" disgusting part is her pushing her F'N tenant down the stairs whilst screaming how her religion is evil.
Bit of a correction
She wasn't screaming anti-Muslim epithets as she pushed the woman down the stairs, which would explain why she wasn't also charged with a hate crime in addition to assault and battery. The screaming was a few weeks earlier.
so if she doesn't want to
so if she doesn't want to serve the conditions of her suspended-sentence, she can just sit in jail for the full two year term.
what exactly is the problem here
the problem is
giving somebody the choice of going to prison or having another person's beliefs shoved in your face
i guess this will be a nice test to see how deep her hatred actually runs
It's a class on Islam,
Not an indoctrination camp.
Settle down, Scum.
What the difference between the two are?
If our dear anon can't figure that out on their own, and needs to ask a trollish question with obvious answers that have already been given, then they're probably pretty susceptible to all suggestions about various invisible sky-friends and wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyway.
Seriously. Did you convert to bronze-age multi-god paganism when you learned about ancient Egypt in middle school?
I never called it an indoctrination camp
Nor did I imply it was. I don't think the government should at any point force anybody into being educated about a religion, or really, to have anything to do with anything religious.
But since this country was founded almost entirely by various forms of christianity, maybe, in the interest of tolerance, we should mandate that all non-christian immigrants undergo mandatory christian education classes. Ya know, in the interest of tolerance. After all, just like nobody forced this idiot landlady into committing a felony, nobody is forcing people to come to the land of the free and the home of the brave.
and I always thought this country was founded on freedom of (or from) religion and a distinct separation of church and state.
Do you think violent racists shouldn't be given the choice of extra jail time or racial sensitivity classes, in the hopes they actually learn from their mistakes and come out a better person? Are people who hate certain cultures or religions that much different?
The problem really is
She pushed a Muslim tenant down a flight of stairs after going on about how evil Muslims were.
This is not a case of forcing beliefs. It's a case about learning about other people's beliefs. As Judge Yee points out, she can even go to Harvard Divinity, her alma mater, to take the class.
Or she can serve 2 years in jail, in which case she will not have to learn about Islam.
On the subject of shoving
On the subject of shoving, I find it interseting that you're more outraged at someone who is part of the majority, dominant culture (Christian) "having another person's beliefs shoved in your face" by having to attend an academic class on another religion, than you apparently are at someone who is a part of a minority religion (Muslim) being literally* shoved down a flight of stairs.
*yes, that's how you use the word "literally".
i don't give a shit
that the lady is christian. i am certainly not christian. the landlady is pretty much guaranteed to be punished already- i don't need to be worried about that. i already called what she did disgusting. that i am more concerned about a breech of first amendment rights. do i think that a potential compromising of the constitution is more concerning than somebody being pushed down some stairs? yes, i do. i will literally not shy away from that.
oh, and, next time you try to make a point, try not to dissect any poetic license somebody uses in their writing maybe. it really just points to the fact that you don't generally like me or what i have to say here personally and it cheapens whatever stance you think you have.
also, i was paraphrasing a line in nixon's resignation speech, albeit its been awhile since i've heard it so it was somewhat bungled
You're literally giving us a headache.
fornicate in solitude then
She's already been convicted of a crime and sentenced to time in prison. You are (intentionally?) making it sound like the threat of prison is the stick they're going to hit her with if she doesn't take the class. This is very much the carrot, not the stick: do this very reasonable thing and we'll reduce your sentence. If not, fine, serve your term.
Also everything everybody else has pointed out about the difference between cultural education and religious indoctrination.
Out of curiosity, would it be okay with you if they'd mandated "cultural sensitivity training" instead of education about Islam in particular?
basically my entire problem with this whole scenario is the islam thing, which you would be able to tell if you read my posts
It doesn't sound like she's
It doesn't sound like she's being forced to attend this class. She does have the option of going to jail for an additional 18 months.
might be urban legend, but...
Karl Marx once ran into some marxists and said "if this is marxism, then I am not a marxist"....can picture Jesus saying the same thing (no, not about marxism).
Nothing Christian about this.
and fine, be a bigoted minister, but get the hell out of the landlady business.
Gandhi had a good line too
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Hook and bait post
Hook and bait post
And I guess it worked
Look at you, posting a comment. My evil plan is working:
Wow, I actually rented from
Wow, I actually rented from this woman several years ago, she was unstable then and seems like she has only gotten worse. I am pretty surprised that she passed a mental health screening, by the time we got out of there she seemed genuinely delusion.
I doubt that an educational course will do her any good, but hopefully now she has to notify tenants about her other people will be warned off from her behavior. When we were moving out her realtor was showing the place and refused to tell anyone about her or the protective orders people had needed to get against her.
One idea I think we can all get around
That website for her "church" makes a GeoCities page look refined. Wow.
I like how it says "CHURCH SERVICES BEGIN AT A PUBLIC VENUE" as if to imply they will end in a different, private location.
Send her to jail
These kind of agreements are pretty common, although they're usually things like "attend anger management" or "attend sobriety program". If the criminal doesn't want to do it, they can go to jail. Sounds like this lady is batshit enough the class isn't going to really help anything anyways, I don't know why they don't just make her serve her sentence and give society a bit of a break from her presence.
Just another part of the problem
First, the landlord is 100% in the wrong here. But forcing another religion on her in any way so she can "learn a lesson" is just stupid, and not how the law works in this country.
She committed a crime–arguably a hate crime–so send her to jail and keep her there, as-sentenced. The end.
This just adds more fuel to a fire that I can't even believe is burning in (almost) 2016.
There's that "forcing" word again
Chris, I would also be fine with just sending her to jail. I disagree that exposure to information is "forcing" anything on her, and frankly, I have always felt the "forcing" argument to be appallingly childish. Spoiled children complain when the world doesn't arrange itself to their liking at all times. Other human beings accept the presence of other people, with different views and their own needs. The "forcing" whine is always shockingly one-sided, and involves complaining bitterly about others' committing trespasses that the complainer routinely commits him/herself.
Agree to disagree
Solving the problem through semantics
Instead of telling her to take a "course on Islam", it would have been simpler and side-stepped the petulant stupidity we see here to have said she would be forced to take a comparative religions course.
Clearly, the judge is intending for her to learn that Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and about a dozen other major world religions, are all cut from the same holy cloth and all have their apparent (and apparitional) strengths and weaknesses. For example, we have no idea what she'd do if she found out a Wiccan or god-forbid a Satanist was renting from her...but it probably wouldn't be good if this is what she does to Muslims.
In Belmont a number of years ago, there was a woman who rented her house to a visiting Harvard scholar. He is African-American and when she found out (she lives out of state), she flipped out and told him he had to leave because "what would the neighbors think" and so on. She was ordered to hire and use a rental agency for all decisions on renters for her. Maybe that's what's also needed here. I can only imagine if Pastor Obi was slapped with the law in this case where they were already renters before she figured out they were Muslim what her thought process will be regarding future tenants.
Yes, this minister is
Yes, this minister is definitely intolerant, among what appear to be many other destructive personality defects, and we'd all like her to learn a thing or two. But I do have some concern about the precedent that could be set by this decision. Maybe it's a longshot to believe that it could be applied by a fundamentalist Christian judge, in a way that squelches tolerance for others rather than fostering it, but still.... I dunno.
On a more practical level, even though education and consciousness-raising probably ARE the only answer to intolerant behavior, I'm always a little skeptical of sentences that force somebody to do something that we think will make them more tolerant. You know, things like community service to benefit the community they harmed, or forced education like this. Maybe it's irrational, but I always think -- boy, I would NOT want to be the teacher/supervisor, or one of the classmates/co-volunteers, or whatever, who is forced to work with this person. It's almost as if they are punished alongside the perpetrator.
I mean, if it works, maybe it's worth it. Does it work? Do we have any data on that? I would imagine we don't. If somebody is deeply resistant to learning, can they really be taught? Should we try anyway? I really don't know.
I'll leave the precedent issue to the legal experts. It does make me a little nervous, though I appreciate the sentiment behind the judge's decision.
irrational, unintelligent, bigoted
people are very well known for being influenced by facts & proper education on a subject
I simply cannot believe that the majority of commenters here are disturbed that this "minister" is being given the option of taking an educational course on Islam instead of going to jail for 18 months longer. Her behavior reeks of arrogance and ignorance. Both of those would be corrected by this course.
I actually think the judge is practicing a kind and creative punishment. Our jails would be much less crowded if more judges decided that what people really need is education and not plain punishment. (And, ideally, our society could provide that. Another discussion for another time.)
Lastly, the judge needs some religion education as well. Allah is not a different god, but simply the Arabic translation of the word "god." French and Spanish speaking Christians do not refer to their god as God, but they say "Dieu" or "Dios." Maybe we'd all be less fearful of Islam if we knew what it meant. Many Christians use the phrase, "thanks be to God," and so do many Muslims. In Arabic they would say, "alhamdulillah," a phrase we've all encountered somewhere. We are all the same, we just speak different languages!
i fear this ruling
more than i fear islam
which is to say, some, versus not at all
"FORCEd" in the title of an article about someone named "Obi" and nobody chimed in with a bunch of crap about that overrated movie?
I think a better sentence
I think a better sentence would be that she has to get out of the landlord business. Or at least stay away from face-to-face interactions with all of her tenants.
I don't think any class or education will ever change this woman's behavior.
And the fact that
this is between two unassimilated immigrants has no relevance. Sigh......
How does "being a muslim" have shit-all to do with "assimilation"? We don't even know the migration status of this aggressive and hateful bigot, let alone that of the tenant that she assaulted!
Now, visit Dearborn, MI and try that "unassimilated" crap again. Those folks have very possibly been Americans for longer than your sorry lot have.
zero reason to go to dearborn anymore
they closed the pizzapalis there
tho the henry ford is worth seeing if you like americana type stuff
So, prosecutors think she needs to be 'educated'? Maybe they like the idea of Re-Education Camps? Are the prosecutors Marxist or fascist? I don't agree or condone her behavior, but that's a creepy requirement; talk about slippery slopes
Anger management? Sensitivity training?
Have you never seen probation handed down with either of these in mind for say, aggressive drivers or someone guilty of assault without battery?
The only reason you think the slope is slippery is because you keep wetting yourself and standing in the mud.
Awesome. One internet for you, comin' right up.
pay the toll troll
pay the toll troll
I am not an expert on law...
The original judgement scans to me as "two years in jail OR six months in jail if you take classes to learn what Islam is really about."
Thus, as I read it, she is being given a choice, not being forced to learn about another religion if she chooses not to. And as many of the commenters above have pointed out, learning about another religion is not the same as being forced to practice it.
I'm not sure how landlord/tennant law is or may be different in Somerville than from Boston (where I live), but I have to hands-down agree with the stipulation that she must tell all future prospective tennants about this conviction.
Because what if (hypothetically) next year she decides she doesn't like another religious group in addition to hating Muslims?? Or a particluar ethnic group?? Or decides she only wants to rent to people who attend her church (or convert to it, if they don't already?) As I prospective tennant, I would certainly want to know this vital information befoe I agree to live somewhere. Then I could choose to live there, or choose to rent elsewhere, instead of being forced to practice a particular religion (or hide any evidence of practicing my own).