After a landlord was convicted of pushing her Muslim tenant down a flight of stairs, a judge ordered her to respect the rights of all Muslims and to take an introductory course on Islam. Now the highest court in Massachusetts is being asked to decide whether the judge violated the landlord's constitutional rights. The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments next month in the case centering on Daisy Obi, a 73-year-old ordained minister from Nigeria who is the pastor of the Adonai Bible Center in Somerville, just north of Boston. In April 2012, Obi 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 repeatedly shouted anti-Muslim insults at her and her family, over a period of months, before pushing her down the stairs. Last year, Judge Paul Yee Jr. sentenced Obi to two years in jail on the assault and battery charge but required her to serve only six months, with the remaining 18 months suspended if she complied with certain probation conditions. "I want you to learn about the Muslim faith," he said. "I want you to enroll and attend an introductory course on Islam." Obi denies making any anti-Muslim statements to Suliman or pushing her, and says she believes Suliman had a vendetta against her because she refused to allow her to let more people live in her apartment. Her lawyer argues the probation condition that she learn about the Muslim faith "burdens Dr. Obi's free exercise of religion," while prosecutors note that the order does not require her to adopt a religious practice or to attend a Muslim religious service.