Law and Daily Life: January 2010 Archives
Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

January 2010 Archives

Apartment Tenant Rights: Rent Deposit Tips

The market is now a renter's market. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that apartment vacancies hit a 30 year high. Landlords are scrambling to entice tenants to move into their rentals. This leaves room for more apartment tenant rights than ever before. The Wall Street Journal quotes Victor Calanog, director of research for Reis as saying, "If you are renting a place, now might be a good time to renegotiate that lease." It is also a good time to understand what a rent deposit is, and how to make sure that you get it back from your landlord if you decide to move on to greener pastures. Here is a primer on what you need to know about your rent deposit.

Trial Against Prop 8: Court Testimony Draws to An End

With court testimony drawing to an end in the trial against Prop 8, we have taken the highlights of the end of court testimony in order to give you a snapshot of what went on in Judge Walker's courtroom in San Francisco (since cameras were banned from the courtroom and all).

The plaintiffs closed with Gregory Herek, a UC Davis psychology professor. He testified that most people feel that their sexual orientation is not a choice. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he told the court: "The vast majority of people are consistent in their (sexual) behavior, their identity and their attractions." This court testimony was given in response to Prop 8 supporters who claim that sexual orientation is a choice and can not be easily defined.

Follicle Challenge: Bosley Hair Co Sued for Sex Harassment

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We've come a long way baby, since the days of blaming the victim for inexcusable behavior like sexual harassment. But maybe not quite far enough. Ex-offshore basketball player and model, Otis Duffy, feels he was the one punished for the inappropriate and upsetting behavior of his female colleagues. Last Tuesday, Duffy filed a $3 million sexual harassment suit against his former employer Bosley, one of the largest hair-transplant companies in the country.

Cyberbullying Suicide: How Do You Protect Your Kids?

A recent cyberbullying suicide illustrated just how mean kids can be on the internet and if cyberbullying laws may be the answer. ABC News reports that Irish immigrant Ms. Phoebe Prince was taunted on her Facebook page even after her suicide broke on the news. Facebook administrators had to remove the offensive content. The 15 year old girl committed suicide on Jan. 14 in Massachusetts.

We wrote about how Megan Meier killed herself after the her former friend's mother posed as a boy on MySpace, wooed her, and then dumped her. The mother wrote that "the world would be better off without you." There have been two more suicides that grabbed headlines because they involved children getting teased online. Just this week, a nine year old boy in Texas hung himself in the nurse's office in his school.

More and more of these incidents are causing states to intervene with their own laws about cyberbullying. We wrote about some of the laws that states have passed about cyberbullying here in the Law and Daily and Life Blog. While this has been helpful, one of the most important resources that your kids have against cyberbullying is actually you.

Did D.C. Schools Chancellor Defame Former Employees?

As the need to job hunt continues with the still lagging economy, more and more of us are asking, what can my former employer say about me after I'm gone? A story out of the struggling school system in our nation's capitol highlights the need for employers to be wise about what they say about former employees. Even if they weren't particularly good at their job.

Cyberbullying: A Rundown of Cyberbullying Laws

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Cyberbullying is becoming more and more prevalent. From kids getting together on Facebook to "kick a ginger," to bullies posting videos of their attacks, we have a whole new world of brutality for kids to worry about. While that may be the state of the internet, what exactly are states doing to protect our children?

More states are cracking down with cyberbullying laws. Here is a sampling of the current cyberbullying laws in the country according to Cyberbully Alert:

Do Food Calorie Count Laws Reduce Kids' Caloric Intake?

With the recent rash of calorie laws passed, people have been wondering if the laws do any good. Do the laws really help people take food calorie count into consideration? Do they really reduce the caloric intake for consumers?

We wrote about the calorie law passed in New Jersey in FindLaw's Common Law blog. The calorie law would require chain restaurants in New Jersey to post the number of calories in a product right on the menu.

New York City was the first jurisdiction to introduce a calorie law back in 2008. It was followed by California in July 2009, Maine, Massachusetts, and Oregon. Similar measures are being considered in 20 states and localities to date. Philadelphia has enacted a calorie law recently. There is pending federal legislation that calls for food chains with 20 or more restaurants to post food calorie count on menus and boards.

Speak No Evil: What Can a Former Employer Say About You?

In these recessionary times when many of us feel like a pin ball as we bounce from post to post, we often wonder: what can my former employer say about me after I'm gone? Not speaking ill of those no longer with us may be a moral obligation in our personal lives and it might be a legal obligation in our professional lives. Up to a point.

How to File an Unemployment Benefits Claim

With a new slight jobless claims rise, you can expect that more Americans need to know how to file an unemployment benefits claim. BusinessWeek recently reported that jobless claims in the U.S. jumped to 11,000 in early January. This is a slight jump in claims after weeks of claims dropping. ABC News reports that 434,000 people filed first-time claims, up by only 1,000 from the week before.

The data also suggests that employers are not hiring. There are more Americans receiving extended unemployment benefits which indicates that they have been unemployed for longer periods of time. ABC News reports that over 5.4 million Americans were receiving extended unemployment benefits in the week of Dec. 19, 2009. While news outlets claim some optimism because the slight increase seems like an anomaly in an overall trend decrease in jobless claims, there are still people who will be joining the unemployed.

With this news, a question comes to mind:

State of the Union: Hawaii Senate Passes Civil Unions Bill

On January 22, the Hawaii state Senate finally decided the fate of House Bill 444, granting both heterosexual and same sex couples the right to civil unions. The vote was 18-7 and the bill now moves back to Hawaii's House. Republican Governor Linda Lingle has not yet indicated whether she would veto the measure.

The Farmer's Daughter: Iowa Woman Fired for not Being Cute?

Upon learning the details of the case about to be discussed here, you will be forgiven for looking over your shoulder to see if Don Draper is standing behind you. Yes, this one takes us back to the good old days when companies thought it was legitimate, not to mention lawful, to hire and fire a gal based on looks, weight and, heaven help us, sex appeal. Take heed, because the the "Mad" old days are not quite gone in the Heartland, that is the Heartland Inns of America, LLC., who have been sued for allegedly firing a successful employee because she just wasn't cute enough.

The Dr. Will See You Now! CA Regulates HMO Wait Times

More than seven years in the making, the California Department of Managed Health Care announced this week that over the next year, it will begin implementing new rules governing how long HMO patients in the state will wait to see a physician. A law passed in 2002 mandated timely access to health care for Californians served by HMOs, but the actual nuts and bolts were up to the regulators to decide, through lengthy negotiations with hospitals, doctors, HMOs and managed health care advocates. California says it is the first state to set such standards for HMOs, which serve nearly 21 million patients statewide.

Would an NY Cigarette Tax and NY Soda Tax Be Healthy?

New York governor David Paterson is seeking to close out a $7.4 billion dollar deficit by pushing for a NY cigarette tax and a NY soda tax among other things. Reuters quotes the governor as saying, "Since I became governor, I have been warning that New York state is facing an inevitable reckoning. The mistakes of the past, the squandering of surpluses, the papering over of deficits, the relying on gimmicks to finance unsustainable spending increases has led us to the breaking point," he said.

The governor said that the NY soda tax would raise $465 million dollars and that the NY cigarette tax would raise another $210 million dollars. His plan would also include a tax on healthcare providers that would raise another $216 million dollars. While this may seem like good news, the governor is also pushing for the sale of wine in grocery stores, and legalization of ultimate fighting.

Federal Employee Sues Obama Admin for Same Sex Benefits

An attorney for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, CA, is suing the Obama administration for health benefits denied to her wife, in a suit filed Wednesday. Karen Golinski was married to her wife, Amy Cunninghis, in California during the brief period when same sex marriages were legal in the state. Although the voters passed Prop. 8, a ban on same sex marriage, the California courts have declared that marriages already performed are still valid.

Possible Repeal of Gay Marriage Law in New Hampshire

Those opposing gay marriage in the state of New Hampshire are seeking the repeal of a three week old law that would permit it. According to the Washington Post, opponents of gay marriage in New Hampshire asked the state House Committee to repeal the law. Those opposing gay marriage claim that it is a matter of defying nature.

The Washington Post quotes state Rep. Jordan Ulery, a Republican from Hudson as saying: "A man and a woman together create a family where individuals of the same gender cannot create a family." Not only does the opposition want to repeal the law, they want to amend the New Hampshire Constitution to ban all such marriages. While it looks like the repeal is unlikely to happen, Republicans are banking on voters to enable them to regain the majority of the state legislature during election season. If they win the majority, then they may succeed in future efforts to repeal the law.

Federal Government Web Site Protects Transgender Rights

New language inserted in the U.S. Jobs federal government web site (www.usajobs.com) now protects transgender rights.

The structuring of new language introduced on the federal jobs Web site protects a small transgender population (those working for federal agencies) against workplace discrimination.

For example, here is a page from the USA Job's site on how to report discrimination. It includes gender identity as one of the protected classes of employees. 

As noted by the New York Times, the U.S. job site bans bias over gender identity. The Obama administration has developed language on the site for people who identify their gender differently from the information on their birth certificates. The administration has said discrimination in the federal workplace would not be accepted.

When Do You Need A Lawyer? Lawyer Hiring in 2009

It seems like more and more Americans are getting involved in legal issues concerning their daily lives. FindLaw recently completed a survey that found that one in five Americans faced a legal issue that could have led to hiring an attorney in 2009. One in ten did hire an attorney.

There have been a host of reasons for why there is such a need for legal help. First, it is easy for Americans to forget how interwoven legal issues concerning their daily activities can be.

"The law intersects our lives in numerous ways every day," said Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor with FindLaw.com. "Our personal, financial and work lives are constantly impacted by laws, whether it's conditions of our employment; buying, selling or renting housing; contracts; divorce; as well as many other aspects of our lives. With the current economy, it's not surprising that many Americans say they are facing legal issues involving housing, bankruptcy and other financial issues..."

With that in mind, here are some resources related to the types of legal issues that most commonly caused people to hire attorneys in 2009.

San Diego Mayor's Court Testimony Boosts Prop 8 Lawsuit

It seems like those opposed to the Prop 8 legislation passed in California have a friend in Mayor Jerry Sanders of San Diego. NBC News reports that the Republican mayor gave court testimony of how he supports gay marriage after he learned that his daughter was a lesbian and wanted to marry her partner. He said: "I believe the government should allow everyone to get married in exactly the same way."

The San Diego mayor has admitted that he was biased before he learned about his own daughter's struggles. He had said that gay marriages "were less important than those of heterosexuals" prior to his discovery. Mr. Sanders went back on his campaign pledge to veto a bill that legalized gay marriage in the city of San Diego.

Supreme Court to Decide on Anti Gay Marriage Petition

The Supreme Court will decide on the constitutionality of releasing names off of an anti gay marriage petition. Business Week reports that the Supreme Court will be reviewing the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that allowed Washington state officials to reveal the identities of 138,000 signers of a petition that was against gay marriage. The names were blocked from publication by the Supreme Court until the case could be heard. Under Washington law, the names are considered public record.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the case centers around the group Protect Marriage Washington's efforts to block a law that granted gay couples more legal rights. The group claims that disclosure of the names on their petition could lead to harassment by gay rights activists. This is similar to an argument made to the Supreme Court to block transmission of coverage of the current Prop 8 trial in San Francisco. 

NY Judge Finds Discrimination in Firefighter Tests

A new chapter in the continuing story of whether written tests for firefighter and police officer positions discriminate against minority applicants comes with reports that a federal judge believes that in New York, they do. On Wednesday, Federal District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis found not only a pattern and practice of racial discrimination against African Americans sitting for firefighter tests in New York, but actual "intentional discrimination."

US Grants Temporary Protected Status to Illegal Haitians

Amnesty has been granted to Haitians immigrants living illegally in the United States before last week's earthquake that rocked the Caribbean country.

Temporary protected status (TPS), however does not apply to Haitians who may try now to get into the U.S., officials said.

According to the Wall Street Journal, TPS has been granted to refugees from other countries including El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Somalia and Sudan. But TPS has never been granted to Haitian refugees despite calls for relief following hurricanes and civil strife.

Illegal Haitian Immigrants May Get Temporary Protected Status

Haitian immigrants living illegally in the United States may be granted temporary protected status.

In the wake of Haiti's 7.0 earthquake causing devastation and destruction, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has halted the deportation of Haitians.

Now, the Obama administration is struggling with how to process thousands of illegal Haitian immigrants. Officials say, about 30,000 Haitians currently face deportation.

But the question at hand is whether immigration authorities will offer illegal Haitian immigrants "temporary protected status" (TPS)?

What Do You Know, Joe? Sheriff Joe Arpaio Deposed

In the latest chapter of the on-going struggle in Arizona over illegal immigration, racial profiling and "America's Toughest Sheriff," Joe Arpaio, Sheriff Joe was deposed for nearly seven hours last month by attorneys for plaintiffs in the current racial profiling case. The suit was brought against Sheriff Joe for the alleged racial profiling tactics he used during his well publicized sweeps for illegal aliens in his jurisdiction of Maricopa County, Az.

Haiti Relief and Charitable Contributions Tax Rules

Haiti's devastating earthquake aftermath has opened up the hearts of citizens worldwide. Many of these people want to sincerely help the citizens of Haiti who were affected by this natural disaster. From celebrities to regular citizens, ABC News reports that the power of the internet has spawned millions of dollars in donations for disaster relief in Haiti. Experts say that so much money has never been raised so quickly. ABC News quotes Albe Angel, founder and CEO of Give On the Go as saying, "This is a watershed moment. It's historic."

ABC News reports that the ease of giving has helped people donate. More and more people can donate by things as simple as sending a text message to a number in order to give a financial donation. This is great news, but with tax season here I am sure a lot of people are wondering:

Is My Donation a Charitable Contributions Tax Deduction?

Top Ten Scams, Fakes and Frauds of 2009

The Better Business Bureau, that reliable old warhorse of consumer avocation, has put out its list of the top ten scams, fakes and frauds of 2009. It will surprise no one that the scammers managed to lift our wallets by playing on our fears and hopes. Never ones to ignore the au courant concerns of the public (job loss, foreclosure, the flu) the scammers hit us right where we hurt last year, and made us hurt a little bit more. Although the BBB did not put their list in any particular order, we have jiggered it just a bit to present here, in true David Letterman style, the countdown of the Top 10 Sneakiest, Nastiest Frauds of 2009: 

Even on Mars? Harassment Claim Filed in NASA Project

Sexual harassment on Mars? Well, not quite, more like in NASA's Phoenix Mars mission (allegedly). And, like most instances of sexual harassment, this one could lead to the disruption if not destruction of at least two careers. Harvard-trained scientist Dr. Suzanne Young has filed a sexual harassment and gender discrimination suit against her former supervisor Professor Samuel Kounaves and Tufts University, who she says failed to investigate her claims and then retaliated against her for the same.

Subway Lawsuit & the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

A soldier who lost both of his Subway franchises settled his lawsuit against the company after a long two year fight. The Dallas News reports that Lt. Col. Leon Batie Jr. was deployed in Afghanistan back in 2005. While he was deployed, he asked his younger brother and another Subway franchisee to look after his two Subway franchises. When the rent on the stores was not paid, Lt. Batie's contract with Subway was terminated and the stores were taken and sold to other Subway franchisees.

The loss of his two Subway franchises spurred Lt. Batie to file a lawsuit against Subway under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. A judge ruled in favor of Lt. Batie saying that under the Act, Subway violated Lt. Batie's rights.

This brings up the question: What is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act?

Trial Testimony Lowdown from Prop 8 Case

Opening statements and the trial testimony of a lesbian couple and a gay couple kicked off the start of the Prop 8 case Perry v. Schwarzenegger being heard in San Francisco this week. The two couples' testimony was very personal as they recounted how they loved each other and want to be allowed to marry.

The San Francisco Chronicle quotes Paul Katami as saying, "I'm proud to be gay. ... I love Jeff more than myself. Being gay doesn't make me any less of an American." He testified to illustrate that Prop 8 makes him feel like a second class citizen because he is being denied the right to marry. Indeed this was common thread running through all of the testimony against Prop 8 so far.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs Promises CA Gov Schwarzenegger

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (occasionally known to Californians as "the Governator") gave his last State of the State addressto both houses of the California Legislature last week. Unhampered by reelection concerns but roped in by the ever-present state budget constraints, Gov. Schwarzenegger focused on his top priorities for the upcoming year which include education, tax reform and recovering money for the state from the federal government. The top three priorities he listed were, simply, "jobs, jobs, jobs."

DOJ Sues NJ Over Results of Police Exam

Just this past June, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major decision in the case of Ricci v. DeStefano, holding that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, had been discriminated against on the basis of their race when the test results that favored them over African-American firefighters were discarded by the city. At the time, the New York Times article reporting the results of the decision also included some predictions along the lines of, "all this could [just] mean more litigation." Trust the Times. On January 7, the Department of Justice announced it has filed suit against state of New Jersey and the New Jersey Civil Service Commission for use of a test that discriminates against minorities as prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

NJ Gay Marriage Bill Rejected

The New Jersey bill which would have moved the state toward making gay marriage legal in the Garden State was rejected. CNN reported that the bill passed through the state's Senate Judiciary Committee last month, but that the bill needed 21 votes in order to continue its route towards passage. The current governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine had vowed to sign the bill if it is passed. However, he will be replaced by Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie on Jan. 19, 2010, who had gone on record to say that he would veto the bill.

Many opponents of the bill predicted that it would not pass in the State Senate. According to NJ.com, there were only 13 senators who supported the bill publicly. That means that NJ gay marriage bill sponsors needed another 8 senators to support the bill which may have been too difficult a task. NJ.com reported that Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) said that he would not keep the bill on the floor that long because he thought that the senators have made up their mind: "There's no reason to leave the board open, thinking and praying that someone's going to have a change, a conversion of moral conscience." It only got 14 votes out of the necessary 21 votes.

Preview: Courtroom Testimony of Prop 8 Hearing

The Prop 8 hearing for the case known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger is expected to have numerous experts give courtroom testimony on things such as the nature of homosexuality and the history of marriage. This marks the first time a trial for gay marriage rights will have such courtroom testimony.

The move to actually involve testimony has convinced both sides that it will make their case more compelling. Los Angeles Times quotes Proposition 8 campaign attorney Andy Pugno as saying, "Actually putting witnesses on the stand has never been done before in any lawsuit claiming a right to same-sex marriage. So this is a very out-of-the-ordinary approach."

It is this out of the ordinary approach that has not only Prop 8 supporters revved up, but also Prop 8 challengers. Prop 8 challengers view the testimony as a way to record the challenges that gay Americans face in their fight for civil rights. David Boies, one of the lawyers challenging Prop 8, told the Los Angeles Times: "This is the first time that you will have this kind of record being made on the social, religious and legal implications of same-sex marriage."

Unemployment Benefits Insurance: Are You Covered?

The current rate of unemployment in the United States has been pretty dismal. The Los Angeles Times reports that the rate of unemployment was steady at 10% last month, but that last year saw a loss of over 4 million jobs. The rate of unemployment would have been 10.4%, but the labor force was smaller due to people leaving the workforce for reasons besides layoffs, and others ceasing to search for work.

The Los Angeles Times quotes Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington as saying, "Clearly, the continued erosion of jobs...and workers abandoning the labor market in droves indicate we still have severe and growing employment problems facing Americans." Since the rate of unemployment is affecting so many Americans, questions about unemployment benefit insurance are only natural. Do you know if you are covered?

Prop 8 Hearings on YouTube: Judge Plans Cameras in Court

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker has decided that he will allow court employees to tape the Prop 8 hearings that will decide on the constitutionality of California's ban on gay marriage. ABC News reports that Judge Walker felt it was very important for the court to control the broadcast of the hearings. He is quoted by ABC News as saying, "[I]t's important for the transmission to be absolutely within the court's control." These will be the first federal hearings in a Western state with cameras in court and which is aired in public.

Judge Walker's decision shortly follows a decision made by the 9th Circuit to approve cameras in court for the nine Western states within the circuit's jurisdiction. The pilot program was announced by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski. We wrote about this program in our Law and Daily Life Blog here. This Prop 8 hearings will be the first federal hearings taped that will decide on whether refusing gay individuals the right to marry is discriminatory. Judge Walker has stated that the Prop 8 lawsuit's significance is one of the reasons why it should be taped and released via Youtube broadcast video. He feels it would make citizens more aware of the judicial process. Judge Walker told ABC News: "I always thought that if people could see how the judiciary really works, they would take a somewhat different view of it."

California Schools in the Race for Federal Funds

On Tuesday, the California Assembly passed two education reform bills aimed at improving the state's lowest performing schools and placing the state in line to receive a portion of the $4.3 billion in federal Race to the Top funds set aside for education. The two bills, SB 5X 4 and SB 5X 1, contain several controversial measures which have been opposed by the teachers unions and other critics. Under the new bills, school districts and parents will have several new tools at their disposal to fix a failing school.

Custody and Adoption Issues Surround Missing Baby Case

Gabriel Johnson is a missing baby with a trail of custody and adoption disputes that may have led to his disappearance. ABC News reports that his mother, Elizabeth Johnson, allegedly ran away with her son Gabriel when his biological father, Mr. Logan McQueary, refused to sign off on an adoption of their son to Mr. Jack Smith and his wife Tammi. The Smiths claim that Ms. Johnson informed them that she left the baby with a young couple in San Antonio, Texas.

Ms. Johnson reportedly fled Arizona with her son before Christmas. As a result of her disappearance, Ms. Johnson lost custody of her son when she failed to make a court appearance on Dec. 28, 2009. Police apprehended her alone in Miami the next day. She was arrested for interfering with custody of the child.

Prop 8 Lawsuit Divides Gay Rights Activists

A California gay marriage lawsuit that claims that the United States Constitution prevents states from placing a limitation on marriage to be between a woman and a man is creating a great divide amongst gay rights activists. The Prop 8 lawsuit claims that California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman in the California Constitution, is unconstitutional.

Time reports that while some gay rights activists are fully supportive of the Prop 8 lawsuit, others are worried that the lawsuit will ultimately harm the gay rights movement instead of helping it. They worry that if the gay marriage lawsuit makes it to the Supreme Court, (which has its share of conservative Justices) it will set a precedent that will hurt gay rights.

Courtroom Cameras Coming to Western Federal Courts

Knowledge is power. But knowledge can also affect the balance of power, and the delicate balance in a courtroom may be in play when cameras enter federal trial courts starting as early as this month. Announced recently by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, the 9th Circuit has approved a pilot program to place cameras in the federal trial courts in the nine western states within the circuit's jurisdiction.

Spry 83 Year-Old Hef Hit with Age Discrimination Suit

One might assume that with all his experience, age, wisdom and age, an employer like Hugh Hefner might be able to foresee and forestall little problems like the current age discrimination suit that just got handed to the also-aging Playboy Enterprises. According to former guest relations coordinator for the Playboy Mansion, Jennifer Lewis, the Playboy company just doesn't appreciate a gal after she turns 47.

Renter's Insurance In a Nutshell: What You Need to Know

While you are preparing to start off the new year on the right foot with resolutions about fitness, career, and relationships; I am sure that the last thing on your mind is renter's insurance. That is a shame because renter's insurance can bring you a peace of mind that you are protected from life's unpredictable events. You may assume that you are covered under your landlord's insurance, but that is not always the case. Your landlord's insurance policy probably only covers damages to the actual building structure; not your actual possessions. Renter's insurance actually ensures that you can protect your own possession from a disastrous scenario.

Here is what you need to know about renter's insurance in a nutshell:

Loads of Fishy Products: Christian Goods Infringing on TM's?

Does "thou shalt not steal" apply to trademark laws? Sometimes, even heaven needs marketing help, or that's what the producers of the ever growing varieties of Christian themed products seem to think. But in their bid to be a bit more relevant, producers of Christian goods may be violating the more secular side of the law.