Friday, June 22, 2018

EEOC Wins Settlement On Behalf of Hebrew Pentecostal Employee

The EEOC announced on Wednesday that it has won a settlement in a religious discrimination lawsuit brought against J.C. Witherspoon, a South Carolina-based logging company. The company fired a Hebrew Pentecostal employee because he refused to work on Saturday, his Sabbath.  The company will pay $53,000 in damages and enter a 2-year consent decree under it will make policy changes and provide training to management employees.

Religious Liberty Expert Nominated To Be Assistant Secretary of State For Human Rights

On Wednesday, President Trump announced  his intent to nominate Robert A. Destro to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  Destro is Professor of Law and founding Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. (Biography on University's website). His publications include the book, Religious Liberty in a Pluralistic Society (Carolina Academic Press, 1996, with Michael S. Ariens). From 1983 to 1989, he served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

5th Circuit: Title VII Exhaustion Requirement Is Not Jurisdictional

In Davis v. Fort Bend County, (5th Cir., June 20, 2018), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the requirement that a person exhaust administrative remedies before bringing a Title VII action is not jurisdictional. It held that in this case, defendant "forfeited its opportunity to assert this claim" by waiting 5 years and an entire round of appeals all the way to the Supreme Court to raise the defense.  At issue is whether plaintiff exhausted her remedies on her religious discrimination claim, which she had added to her sex discrimination and harassment allegations.  Reuters reports on the decision.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Judge Orders ICE To Stop Pressuring Iraqi Religious Minorities To Agree To Deportation

Last year, in exchange for Iraq being removed from President Trump's travel ban Executive Order, Iraq agreed to take back its nationals who are subject to deportation orders in the U.S.  Many of these are Chaldean Christians and members of other minority religious groups in Iraq who say they fear persecution or torture if they are returned. (See prior related posting.)  As reported by Bloomberg, a Michigan federal district court yesterday issued an order preventing ICE agents from pressuring these Iraqis to agree that they wish to be returned.  Iraq will take them back only if they sign such an agreement. Yesterday's Order (full text) in Hamama v. Adducci, (ED MI, June 20, 2018), also requires posting of notices in detention facilities holding these Iraqis informing them that they will not be penalized if they refuse to state they wish to be removed from the U.S.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Prevents Release of Grand Jury Report On Clergy Sex Abuse

Yesterday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a brief 2-paragraph Order (full text) barring release of an extensive Grand Jury report detailing sexual abuse and misconduct by priests in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses. The report, stemming from two years of testimony before a Cambria County grand jury, was expected to be made public shortly. According to the Morning Call, the six dioceses involved have pledged not to file legal challenges to prevent release of the report.  It is unclear who filed objections with the Supreme Court. Its Order indicates that more than one application seeking to prevent release were filed.

Father Sues Over Daycare's Policy That Disallowed Religious Jewelry

The New York Daily News reports on a lawsuit filed this week in a New York state trial court against a day care center over its policy barring students, for safety reasons, from wearing jewelry.  The school refused to allow Dmitriy Goldin's then 4-year old son to wear his Star of David necklace. According to the paper, the boy's father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia in 1991 because of religious persecution, argues that the daycare was required to make an exception to it no-jewelry policy to accommodate his religious beliefs:
Goldin, whose grandfather died fighting Germany in World War II, and who lost about 40 family members in the Holocaust, said he is not strict about Judaism – but wearing the Jewish star is how he and his family express their faith.
“In Russia, if you wore a Star of David back in the day, you could maybe walk 10, 15 minutes with weird looks before they’d spit on us, or cursed us out, or whatever,” he said. “In America, being able to wear the Star of David – it’s freedom.”

City Violated Establishment Clause By Acquiring Cross Site As Park Land

In Lions Club of Albany, California v. City of Albany, (ND CA, June 15, 2018), a California federal district court held that a city violated the Establishment Clause by acquiring for a public park a 1.1 acre parcel of land that includes a large cross. Originally the cross was on private property, and the Lion's Club held an easement to maintain the 20-foot high cross and to illuminate it each Christmas and Easter.  The city acquired the 1.1 acres along with adjacent land in exchange for approving a high rise project nearby. The court said in part:
While the City portrays itself as a victim of the easement, the fact is that the City must bear responsibility. To repeat, the City could have rejected the deal, burdened as it was by the easement. The First Amendment ran against the City, not the private parties. Once the City accepted title and began converting the land into a public park, it then could have solved its Establishment Clause problem by condemning the easement (and paying its value) under its power of eminent domain, selling off, if feasible, a subdivided parcel containing the cross to a private party (and keeping the rest for a park), or by possibly imposing zoning restrictions against all religious displays on public land.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Fellow Church Members File Ecclesiastical Complaint Against Attorney General Sessions

CNN reports that on Monday, 640 members of the United Methodist Church filed a formal ecclesiastical complaint (full text) against fellow church member, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The complaint was addressed to pastors of the churches in Mobile, Alabama and Clarendon, Virginia that Sessions attends.  The complaint, brought pursuant to Paragraph 2702.3 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, charges Sessions with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church.  Calling for entering into a "just resolution process" with Sessions, the complaint says:
Mr. Sessions-- as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position-- is particularly accountable to us, his church.  He is ours, and we are his.  As his denomination, we have an ethical obligation to speak boldly when one of our members is engaged in causing significant harm in matter contrary to the Discipline on the global stage....  [W]e believethat the severity of his actions and the harm he is causing to immigrants, migrants, refugees, and asylees calls for his church to step into a process to directly engage with him as a part of our community.

U.S. Withdraws From U.N. Human Rights Council

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced yesterday (video of statement) that the the United States has withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Haley said that the Council has not implemented needed reforms that have been pressed by the United States.  As reported by Vox:
Nikki Haley ... announced the decision on Tuesday evening, saying that the US could no longer be part of a UN body that was a “protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.”
“Look at the council membership and you see an appalling disrespect for human rights,” she said, citing member countries China, Venezuela, Russia, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Egypt. She went on to speak at length about how the council displayed a “chronic anti-Israel bias” and was “not worthy of its name.”

5th Circuit: Bishops Win Temporary Stay of Subpoena For E-Mails

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Whole Woman's Health v. Smith, (5th Cir., June 18, 2018), has granted an emergency stay of a district court's order (see prior posting) refusing to quash a subpoena issued to the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.  The subpoena, in a suit challenging the constitutionality of a Texas law that requires health providers to bury or cremate fetal remains after an abortion, sought e-mails relating to burial, cremation, or disposition of fetal or embryonic tissue.  The Catholic Bishops' emergency motion for a stay (full text) argued that enforcement of the subpoena would violate their 1st Amendment rights and RFRA. Becket issued a press release announcing the 5th Circuit's action.

EEOC Sues New Mexico Diner For Failing To Accommodate Muslim Employee

The EEOC announced yesterday that it has filed a Title VII religious discrimination lawsuit against a diner in Farmington, New Mexico. The lawsuit charges that the Blue Moon Diner refused to accommodate a female Muslim employee who requested to work wearing a hijab. The suit also claims that the diner constructively discharged the employee because of her religion.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ireland To Hold Referendum To Remove Blasphemy From Constitution

Ireland's Justice Minister announced last week that the Government has approved the holding of a referendum on a constitutional amendment to remove the offense of blasphemy from the constitution.  Currently Art. 40, Sec. 6 of Ireland's Constitution provides: "The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law." In announcing the referendum, Justice Minister Flannigan said:
In terms of Ireland’s international reputation, this is an important step.  Regrettably, there are some countries in the world where blasphemy is an offence, the punishment of which is being put to death.  In these countries, such laws are not an anachronism but a very real threat to the lives of those who do not share the views of those enforcing the laws.  Such situations are abhorrent to our beliefs and values.  By removing this provision from our Constitution, we can send a strong message to the world that laws against blasphemy do not reflect Irish values and that we do not believe such laws should exist.
Ireland's legislature must take additional steps to implement the referendum decision. [Thanks to Law & Religion UK for the lead.]


SPLC Pays $3.375M For Wrongful Inclusion On Extremist List

In a press release yesterday, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued an apology to Mr. Maajid Nawaz and his organization, the Quilliam Foundation, for wrongfully including them on its list of anti-Muslim extremists. SPLC said in part:
As part of our settlement, we have paid $3.375 million to Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam to fund their work to fight anti-Muslim bigotry and extremism. It was the right thing to do in light of our mistake and the right thing to do in light of the growing prejudice against the Muslim community on both sides of the Atlantic. We will look to our insurance carrier to cover the cost of the settlement.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Suit Over School's Curriculum on Islam Survives Motion To Dismiss On Pleadings

Hilsenrath v. School District of the Chathams, (D NJ, June 13, 2018), involves a disagreement between a school board and a parent over whether the curriculum in the middle school World Cultures and Geography course unconstitutionally promotes or endorses Islam. According to the court:
plaintiff alleges, C.H. has been exposed to two videos and a worksheet that contain materials that members of the Islamic faith use to express religious beliefs or proselytize others.’ The Complaint begins with a quotation from those materials: “May God help us all find the true faith, Islam. Ameen.” This is captioned as the Chatham school authorities’ “call for the conversion of 7th grade students.” Such materials, the Complaint alleges, have a primary purpose of promoting and advancing the Islamic religion. The Complaint also alleges that the curriculum gives insufficient attention to the Christian and Jewish religions.
The school board responded that:
The videos on Islam ... occupied a small part of the school year. They were part of a curriculum that covered many cultures and religions and would have been understood in that context.
The court refused to dismiss the complaint at the pleading stage, concluding:
However valid, or not, the defendants’ arguments may turn out to be, they furnish no basis for dismissal of the complaint. The information about the totality of the curriculum, for example, does not appear on the face of the complaint. And the sensitive balancing required by Lemon cannot be performed on the basis of mere allegations. Such considerations are simply premature.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Dent v. Dennison, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90043 (SD IL, May 30, 2018), an Illinois federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with his claim that he was excluded from 3 Protestant religious services in retaliation for filing a sexual harassment claim against a volunteer pastor at the prison for his anti-LGBT comments.

In Garner v. Lisenbe, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90682 (ED MO. May 31, 2018), a Missouri federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that space formerly used for religious services was turned into housing units.

In Ervin v. Foxwell, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91805 (D MD, June 1, 2018), a Maryland federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that he was served sausage with pork products in it for breakfast on one day.

In Savastano v. LaClair, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93435 (ND NY, May 31, 2018), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended allowing a Muslim inmate to move ahead to seek injunctive relief on his complaint that there is no imam on staff and that he is denied a diet consistent with his religious beliefs.

In Estes v. Clarke, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94322 (WD VA, June 5 2018), a Virginia federal district court granted summary judgment to a Jewish inmate who complained that the common fare diet does not meet the requirements for kosher food. It dismissed challenges regarding Passover, use of a Shofar and observance of fast days.

In Hill v. Tanner, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94220 (ED LA, June 4, 2018), a Louisiana federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95190, May 10, 2018) and held that mandatory streaming of religious services on all unit TV sets 3 times per week does not violate the Establishment or Free Exercise Clause.

In Banks v. Cuevas, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95217 (ND OH, June 6, 2018), an Ohio federal district court, in  a suit by a Wiccan inmate who claimed interference with the practice of his religion and retaliation, held that a Bivens action for damages is not available in prisoner free exercise cases.

In Amon-Ra v. Ryan, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96011 (D AZ, June 5, 3018), an Arizona federal district court dismissed a Muslim inmate's complaint that  he was denied a special meat for the Eid at the conclusion of Ramadan, that prison officials were one day off for their announced beginning of Ramadan and he ws not initially placed on the Ramadan turnout.

In Vick v. Core Civic, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97658 (MD TN, June 11, 2018), a Tennessee federal district court, in a prisoner suit primarily focusing on other issues, held that an inmate can move ahead with his complaint that prisoners are not allowed to attend any religious services while housed in the RCA pod.

In Hargrove v. Frisby, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98017 (SD OH, June 12, 2018), an Ohio federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a Muslim inmate's complaint that while in disciplinary segregation for 3 months he could attend only 1 of the 2 types of Muslim religious services each week.

Police Misinformation To Parents Did Not Violate Their Religious Exercise Rights

Estate of Manolios v. Wickersham, (ED MI, June 13, 2018), is a suit against Macomb County, Michigan sheriff and police officers alleging numerous constitutional violations in their investigation of a fatal car accident.  The primary allegation was that authorities wrongfully identified Jonathan Manolios as the driver in order to protect the true driver who was a family friend of one of the investigating police officers. Among  the numerous allegations in the lawsuit was the following:
After the accident, Jonathan Manolios’ parents asked Defendants where their son’s body was found in relation to the crash scene. According to Plaintiffs, they sought this information because their religious beliefs required them to memorialize the location. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Kennedy initially refused to provide this information, but then inaccurately identified the location...
The court dismissed this claim, saying:
... [T]he most that can be said of Kennedy’s alleged misconduct is that it failed to aid Plaintiffs in the practice of their religion. Plaintiffs did not know where Jonathon’s body was found after the accident regardless of what Kennedy did or did not do. As such, Plaintiffs could not have followed their religious obligation to memorialize that location even if Kennedy never provided the incorrect location.
In short, Plaintiffs identify no clearly establish law that would inform a reasonable official that the type of conduct alleged here violated Plaintiffs’ right to freely exercise their religion. For these reasons, the Court holds that Plaintiffs fail to state a viable First Amendment violation claim.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Florida Appeals Court Upholds Priest's Objections To Testifying About Statements Made In Confessional

In Ronchi v. State of Florida(FL App., June 15, 2018), a Florida state appellate court held that it would violate Florida's Religious Freedom Restoration Act to require a Catholic priest, Fr. Vincenzo Ronchi, to testify about a sex abuse victim's statements made during a confession, even though the victim had waived the priest-penitent privilege.  The alleged abuse occurred when the victim was 7 and 13. She was 18 when the trial of her abuser was to take place. In quashing the trial court's order that the priest testify, the appellate court said in part:
.. [I]f Ronchi complies with the State’s demand that he testify as to his communications with the alleged victim during the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Ronchi would be forced to engage in conduct that is prohibited by the Catholic Church (and, indeed, would subject him to possible excommunication from the Church). Thus, the trial court’s order can only be upheld if the State establishes that coercing Ronchi’s testimony furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means to further that interest.
Here, it is undisputed that the State has a compelling governmental interest in prosecuting sex offenses perpetrated against children.... 
However, we disagree with the State’s contention that coercing Ronchi to testify ... would be the least restrictive means to further its compelling governmental interest of prosecuting Burton. First, as the State acknowledges, the testimony of Ronchi would, at most, be corroborative evidence.... Second, this case does not involve a child victim who, because of his or her tender age, might be unable to adequately testify as to the alleged sexual abuse. The alleged victim in this case is now an adult, and there is nothing in the record that suggests that she would be unable to testify as to the relevant events.