The state’s highest court will consider whether a woman can be forced to attend a class on Islam as part of her punishment after being convicted of tossing a Muslim woman down a flight of stairs.
Daisy Obi, 73, a pastor of the Adonai Bible Center and a landlord in Somerville, was convicted of assault and battery in 2014.
She is also said to have cursed the woman whom she assaulted and her children, allegedly screaming to them about the evils of Islam and how they were doomed to burn in hell, according to UniversalHub.com.
A Somerville District Court judge sentenced her to two years in prison, but suspended 18 months of that sentence on several conditions, one of which was that she attend a class on Islam at the Harvard Dvinity School or the Islamic Society of Boston.
The judge also required her to tell any potential tenants looking to live at her Pinckney Street triple-decker about her conviction, which came after at least two other tenants obtained protective orders against her for allegedly abusive behavior.
Obi's attorneys claim in court papers filed on Monday that forcing Obi to attend these classes is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government bodies from forcing any religion on a person.
Her defense team wrote, “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.’”
First Amendment and criminal defense attorney Harvey Silverglate agreed.
“I think it’s a clear violation of the First Amendment,” Silverglate said. “This is a direct violation of a 1943 Supreme Court precedent where the state of West Virginia tried to educate students in patriotism, and imposed a rule that they must pledge the flag. Similar mandatory pledges in Massachusetts were called unconstitutional for the same reason. The law can teach a person how to act, not on how to think.”
The Middlesex County District Attorney's office responded by saying 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," the DA's office said in a statement.
But Obi said she will fight this decision.
“It is against my First Amendment rights,” Obi, a 73-year-old Nigerian American, said. “I have never hurt anyone and I want this to be known. I took a class on Islam when I was in jail for several weeks. But you don’t do this in America, you do not go and ask an imam to do the same in a Christian class."
Obi's attorney said that her office was not issuing any statements to the press.
The hearing is scheduled for January.