Holier than thou? Judge’s order to learn Islam appealed by Christian who assaulted Muslim

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A landlord, who is also a Christian minister, was convicted of shoving a Muslim tenant down a flight of stairs, but considers a judge’s order to “learn about the Muslim faith” to violate her freedom of religion, she claims in an appeal.

Gihan Suliman, along with her husband and five children, have rented an apartment from Daisy Obi since April 2012. Suliman is Muslim, and Obi is an ordained Christian minister. They had relatively mundane squabbles over problems with utilities and too many people staying at the residence for long periods, but things escalated once religion entered the mix.

In a Massachusetts district court, Suliman testified that Obi pelted her family with anti-Muslim slurs for months. About three months after moving in, Suliman said Obi accused her of ringing her doorbell, before shouting at her and then shoving her, leading her to fall backwards down 15 to 20 stairs. As she tumbled, Suliman tore a shoulder ligament, cut her lip, and injured her face on the handrail.

Obi, who is pastor of the Adonai Bible Center located north of Boston in Somerville, was branded “the landlord from hell” by Judge Paul Yee Jr., who referenced two other harassment prevention orders from other tenants. Obi claimed Suliman was lying about everything, saying she had been taken by surprise when police knocked on her door and interrupted her prayer.

Yee sentenced Obi to two years imprisonment for assault and battery, but ordered only six months to be served – if she met one condition.

“I want you to learn about the Muslim faith,” Yee said. “I want you to enroll and attend an introductory course on Islam,” adding, “I do want you to understand people of the Muslim faith, and they need to be respected. They may worship Allah...but they need to be respected.”

Obi’s lawyer, Kimberly Peterson, appealed, writing in a legal brief, “It is beyond dispute that the Constitution guarantees that the government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise.” She added that the court-ordered education “burdens Dr. Obi’s free exercise of religion.”

Two law professors offered opposing views on how the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts should rule in interviews with the Associated Press.

Robert Blecker, professor at New York Law School, told AP, “We’re not requiring her to embrace any (religious) principles. We’re requiring her to learn about them.”

Christopher Dearborn, law professor at Suffolk University, recommended anger management over religion classes, saying, “It’s requiring her to participate in something that she would be strongly opposed to on religious grounds.”

The top state court will hear the appeal on January 8, 2016.