The Jakarta Post
Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments next month about whether a judge violated a landlord from Nigeria's constitutional rights when he ordered her to take an introductory course on Islam after being convicted of pushing a Muslim tenant down the stairs.
The case centers on Daisy Obi, the 73-year-old pastor of the Adonai Bible Center outside of Boston, who in April 2012 rented an apartment in her multi-family home to Gihan Suliman, her husband and five young children.
Suliman complained about the heat and electricity not always working, while Obi complained Suliman appeared to have 12 to 15 people living in the apartment at one point.
Suliman testified that Obi taunted her with anti-Muslim insults on a number of occasions before pushing her down a flight of stairs, cutting her lip and tearing a ligament in her shoulder.
Last year, Judge Paul Yee Jr. sentenced Obi to two years in jail for pushing Suliman but required her to serve only six months, with the remaining 18 months suspended if she agreed to attend an introductory course on Islam.
Obi vehemently denied making any anti-Muslim statements to Suliman or pushing her. She testified she was inside her apartment praying when she heard a knock at the door from the police, who arrested her. Obi said she believes Suliman hates her because she is a Christian.
Suliman did not respond to messages left at her home and workplace.
Obi's lawyer argues the condition that she learn about the Muslim faith "burdens Dr. Obi's free exercise of religion."
Prosecutors argued in their brief that the order to take a course on Islam is not coercive because it does not require her to adopt a religious practice or to attend a Muslim religious service, but merely to educate herself.
Two legal experts not involved in the case differed on the argument.
New York Law School professor Robert Blecker said that because the order does not require Obi to embrace any religious principle but merely learn about them it does not appear to violate her constitutional rights.
Suffolk University law professor Christopher Dearborn disagreed, saying he believes the judge should have ordered her to attend anger management classes or counseling instead of ordering her to take a course on Islam.
"It's requiring her to participate in something that she would be strongly opposed to on religious grounds," Dearborn said.
The court is scheduled to hear arguments Jan. 8. (dan)
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