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CHRISTIAN GROUP FAILS TO BLOCK LESSON ON ISLAM How do you distinguish teaching about religion from, say, forcing students to practice a religion? That was the question for a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel Wednesday, in a case in which a Contra Costa County junior high student told a trial court that the school was “violating our rights or something” by having students “practicing the Islam stuff.” That stuff included wearing clothes associated with Islam, fasting for part of a day during Ramadan, and assorted other exercises that � depending on your viewpoint � were used to either engage students in a lesson about Islam or indoctrinate them. The latter position was argued by Edward White III of the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian advocacy group (not to be confused with the fund named after Thomas Becket, whose lawyers were in the Ninth Circuit Monday arguing against land-use restrictions on a church). White got a less-than-worshipful reception from Judges Carlos Bea, Johnnie Rawlinson and Senior Judge Dorothy Nelson. The panel seemed much more swayed by the argument of his opponent, Linda Lye of Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain. She argued that a 1994 Ninth Circuit opinion about teaching witchcraft made the Muslim role-playing games an acceptable teaching method. “It was directly on point,” a sanguine-sounding Lye said over the phone after the arguments. White argued that the practices in that case, Brown v. Woodland Joint Unified School District, 27 F.3d 1371, were secular, since they focused on fantastical beliefs rather than an actual religion. “The witches don’t think it’s secular,” retorted Bea. “They think it’s religious.” By the end of the arguments, the judges seemed inclined to uphold the trial court’s decision that the lesson was perfectly legal for a variety of reasons. And one of the motives of a student who protested them was not enough to dissuade them. “I wanted to get the Islam stuff out of the school because it felt weird after the 9/11 thing,” he told the trial court. The case is Eklund v. Byron Union School, 04-15032 � Justin Scheck INTERFERENCE ON THE COURT Asking Pennsylvania State University to crack down on its Lady Lions basketball coach for decades of alleged anti-gay comments got nowhere, so attorneys for an ex-player are going with a full-court press in court. Two weeks ago, attorneys with San Francisco’s National Center for Lesbian Rights sent a letter to Penn State President Graham Spanier, asking that action be taken against Coach Rene Portland for what they called her “decades-long policy” of harassing players she “believed to be lesbians.” The complaint was filed on behalf of former Lady Lion guard Jennifer Harris, who says she left Penn State earlier this year after two years of alleged questioning and threats by Portland about her sexual orientation. Harris, who is heterosexual, now attends Virginia’s James Madison University, where she will sit out one year of basketball, as required by collegiate rules. Portland responded by issuing a statement on Penn State letterhead calling the allegations “utterly untrue” and attacking Harris. “Simply put,” Portland said, “she did not meet the level of commitment I expect all players to have to this great program.” Portland also accused Harris of engaging in “disrespectful, profane and belligerent behavior toward coaches and teammates.” Lawyers at NCLR � which three years ago founded the Homophobia in Sport Project � called the comments “outrageous” and demanded Penn State retract Portland’s statements or face litigation. “Legally, she is speaking for [the school] as their agent, and they are trying to have their cake and eat it too,” NCLR legal director Shannon Minter said Thursday. “They’ve made comments to the press that, ‘Oh, she was just speaking for herself,’ but they will not formally retract her statement.” A suit will be filed, most likely in federal court, within the next couple of weeks, he said. “We have talked with dozens of former players and current and former staff,” Minter said, “who have corroborated the allegation that Coach Portland repeatedly has terminated players she believes to be lesbian, and that she has made overtly homophobic and racist remarks to players.” � Mike McKee TAKING ON THE BIG HOUSE In the small world of land use law, Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory partner Michael Patrick Durkee has worked both sides of the fence. He has represented developers in a host of controversial projects: the construction of the Buck Center for Age Research in Marin County, the San Francisco Giants’ proposed move of their ballpark to San Jose, and the development of a property owned by St. Vincent’s School in San Rafael. He’s also advocated on the side of homeowners � for instance, helping a group protest the construction of a house on the American River Parkway in Sacramento. “I’ve been on projects where I’ve been escorted out of town because I was on the wrong side of whatever project,” Durkee said, declining to provide specifics. He also says he’s been shouted at and spit at. “Land use can make people very, very upset.” Now, Durkee is representing a group of residents opposing PeopleSoft founder David Duffield’s proposed home in Alamo. Duffield wants to build a 72,000-square-foot home, with 25,000 square feet of other buildings on the site, including a stable, pool and 20-car underground garage. The proposed house has been described as dwarfing the White House or Hearst Castle. “What gains people’s attention with this one is really the size,” Durkee says. Durkee, however, expects a civilized debate. In part, that’s because he knows he will be working opposite David Gold, his former partner from McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen. Gold is now a partner with Morrison & Foerster. “Nobody is against the Duffields,” Durkee adds. “They are very nice people. It is just a question of [the proposed home's] size and fit.” Gold said his firm is proud to be helping the Duffields secure “a very lovely, elegant home.” Gold said he is working with planners to make sure all plans meet the requirements of the city’s architectural review. He declined further comment about the potential tenor of the debate. � Marie-Anne Hogarth

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