Friday, December 04, 2020

Indian State Places New Restrictions On Religious Conversion

On Nov. 27, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh promulgated the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 (full text) (section-by-section explanation). It outlaws religious conversions entered solely for the purpose of marriage, as well as religious conversions by means of misrepresentations, force, coercion, undue influence, allurement or fraud. Violations are punishable by imprisonment of 1 to 5 years, and a fine of up to $200(US)-- with higher punishments where a minor, a woman or member of a Scheduled Caste are involved, or a mass conversion. 

The new law also sets out an elaborate procedure for anyone who wishes to change his or her religion. The procedure includes a 60-day advance notice to the District Magistrate, followed by a police investigation, and a post-conversion filing. The clergy planning to conduct a conversion must file a notice 30 days in advance. The Hindu reports on the new law.

Time reports on the "love jihad" conspiracy theory that has given impetus to laws such as this one:

Love Jihad is a baseless conspiracy theory that Muslim men are attempting to surreptitiously shift India’s demographic balance by converting Hindu women to Islam through marriage. The narrative has been pushed by Hindu nationalist groups close to India’s ruling BJP since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was first elected in 2014....

The new law comes just two weeks after judges in Uttar Pradesh’s high court overturned a previous decision that religious conversions for the sake of marriage are unacceptable....

The high court case referred to is Priyanshi @ Km. Shamren and others v. State of U.P. and Another, (Allahabad High Court, Nov. 11, 2020). The court said in part:

Right to choose a partner irrespective of caste, creed or religion, is inhered under right to life and personal liberty, an integral part of the Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Supreme Court Remands Church's Challenge To COVID Restrictions

In Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom,(US Sup. Ct., Dec. 3, 2020), the U.S. Supreme Court issued an Order treating the church's application for an injunction as a petition for certiorari before judgment, and granted the petition. It then vacated the district court's order and remanded the case for further consideration in light of the Court's recent decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo. In the case, a church challenged California Governor Gavin Newsom's COVID-19 restrictions on indoor worship services. (See prior posting.)  New York Times reports on the Supreme Court's Order.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

DOJ Sues New York Village Over Discriminatory Zoning Aimed At Orthodox Jews

The Department of Justice announced yesterday that it has filed a RLUIPA lawsuit against the Village of Airmont, New York alleging that it has used its zoning code to discriminate against the Orthodox Jewish community.  The complaint (full text) in United States v. Village of Airmont, (SD NY, filed 12/2/2020), alleges that since the expiration of a prior consent decree, the Village has adopted a new zoning code, and has applied it in a discriminatory manner, that prevents Orthodox Jews from gaining zoning approval for home synagogues and a school. It has also enforced regulations in a manner that prevents Jews from clearing trees on their property to erect sukkahs, and prevents the installation of mikvahs. First Liberty Institute issued a press release with additional background. [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for the lead.]

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Factional Dispute In Church Is Dismissed

 In St. John Missionary Baptist Church v. Flakes, (TX App., Nov. 30, 2020), a Texas state appeals court affirmed the dismissal, on ecclesiastical abstention grounds, of a suit between two factions of a church. One faction attempted to remove the pastor through a church meeting. The pastor refused to step down and the other faction continued to pay him. In dismissing the suit, the court said in part:

Texas courts have consistently held that the relationship between an organized church and its ministers is its lifeblood, and matters concerning this relationship must be recognized as of prime ecclesiastical concern.

The court similarly held that the questions of whether members excommunicated by one faction could enter the church and whether they could vote on sale of church property were also covered by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. 

Anti-Gay Proselytizers Lose Suit Against City

In Waldrop v. City of Johnson City,Tennessee, (ED TN, Nov. 30, 2020), a Tennessee federal district court dismissed a suit by several individuals who were distributing religious literature at a gay pride event. Plaintiffs claimed that their free speech and free exercise rights were infringed when they were required by police to move from the entrance to the park where the event was being held to a nearby sidewalk. The court said in part:

The evidence supports only the conclusion that the officers escorted Plaintiffs from Founders Park, and voiced any attendant warnings to them about their return there, in response to their obstruction of the entrance—a content-neutral reason for their removal. The record is simply without evidence showing that Lieutenant Peters or any other officer moved Plaintiffs away from Founders Park for any other reason, much less for the reason that the content of Plaintiffs’ message was offensive or disagreeable. To the contrary, the evidence establishes— beyond any genuine issue of material fact—that the officers allowed Plaintiffs’ message to endure within the festival’s event area for hours into the day, despite TriPride’s organizers’ clamors for the officers to extinguish it.

5th Circuit, By 9-8 Vote, Denies En Banc Review In Ecclesiastical Abstention Case

In McRaney v. North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Inc., (5th Cir., Nov. 25, 2020), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 9-8 denied en banc review of a panel decision that had refused to invoke the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine in a dispute between the Mission Board and its former executive director. (See prior posting.) In the case, plaintiff alleged that the Mission Board intentionally made false statements about him that led to his termination. Judge Ho, joined by 5 other judges, filed a dissenting opinion, saying in part:

This case falls right in the heartland of the church autonomy doctrine. A former Southern Baptist minister brought this suit to protest his dismissal from church leadership. That fact alone should be enough to bar this suit. As the saying goes, personnel is policy.

... The complaint acknowledges that the plaintiff was dismissed because he “consistently declined to accept” church policy regarding “the specific area of starting new churches..." He even admits that “this cause of action had its roots in Church policy.” We should take him at his word. This case is a dispute over a church’s vision for spreading “the gospel of Jesus Christ through evangelism and church planting”—a fundamental tenet of faith, not just for the defendant in this suit, but for hundreds of millions of evangelicals around the world. Put simply, this suit puts the church’s evangelism on trial.

Judge Oldham, joined by 4 other judges, also filed a dissenting opinion, saying in part:

What matters is that the jurisdictional line prohibiting civil courts from intruding on ecclesiastical matters is an ancient one. It goes back to the Middle Ages. It has been part of England’s formal law since William the Conqueror. It’s so entrenched in English history that even Coke—the seventeenth century’s fiercest champion of civil jurisdiction and the common law—respected it. And although there were disputes about boundaries of ecclesiastical jurisdiction over laypersons like Nicholas Fuller, there could be little dispute about ecclesiastical jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters like ministry disputes and discipline.

[Thanks to Robert Tuttle for the lead.] 

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Christian School Asks Supreme Court To Reinstate District Court's Injunction Against Kentucky's COVID Order

The battle continues in Kentucky over Governor Andrew Beshear's COVID-19 Order that prohibits in-person instruction at all public and private elementary and secondary schools. In a suit by Danville Christian Academy-- backed by Kentucky's Attorney General-- the federal district court enjoined the enforcement of the Order against private religious schools which follow other public health guidelines. Last Sunday, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed, pending appeal, the district court's preliminary injunction. (See prior posting.) Yesterday the school filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to stay the 6th Circuit's order and allow the district court's injunction to go into effect. (Full text of Emergency Application in Danville Christian Academy, Inc. v. Beshear, (Sup. Ct., filed 11/30/20). In accordance with Supreme Court practice, the emergency application was filed with the Justice assigned to the 6th Circuit (Justice Kavanaugh), who may either rule on it or refer it to the full Court. First Liberty issued a press release announcing the filing of the application.

Funeral Home Settles Transgender Employment Discrimination Claim After SCOTUS Loss

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court's Bostock decision held that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination in employment "because of sex" protects gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. The decision covered three separate employment discrimination cases, one of which was R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC. That case involved a discrimination claim by a transgender employee.  Yesterday the Detroit News reported that a Michigan federal district court has approved a settlement in the case:

U.S. District Judge Sean Cox on Monday approved the terms of the settlement between the estate of Stephens, who died in May, and her former employer, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which going forward is prohibited from firing employees on the basis of transgender status.

Under the terms of the agreement, Harris Homes is to pay $130,000 to Stephens' estate, including $63,724 in back pay with interest and $66,276 in damages.

The consent decree also says Harris Homes, which operates three funeral homes in southeast Michigan, must pay another $120,000 to the ACLU Foundation for costs and plaintiff attorney fees.

The settlement also contains other remedial provisions.

Monday, November 30, 2020

6th Circuit Rejects Preliminary Injunction Against Kentucky's Closure of Religious Schools

In Commonwealth of Kentucky ex rel. Danville Christian Academy v. Beshear, (6th Cir., Nov. 29, 2020), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a federal district court's preliminary injunction against part of Kentucky Governor Andrew Beshear's COVID-19 Order which prohibits in-person instruction at all public and private elementary and secondary schools. The district court had enjoined enforcement of the Order against private religious schools that otherwise follow public health measures. The 6th Circuit, in staying the district court's preliminary injunction pending appeal distinguished the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, saying in part:

Executive Order 2020-969 applies to all public and private elementary and secondary schools in the Commonwealth, religious or otherwise; it is therefore neutral and of general applicability and need not be justified by a compelling governmental interest....

Unlike in Roman Catholic Diocese, there is no evidence that the challenged restrictions were “targeted” or “gerrymandered” to ensure an impact on religious groups.... In addition, while many of the houses of worship in Roman Catholic Diocese could seat well over 500 people, they were subject to attendance caps of ten or twenty-five persons, while retail businesses were not.... There is no comparable harsh requirement aimed at religious institutions here.

AP reports on the decision. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Recent Articles of Interest

 From SSRN:

From SmartCILP:
  • Amr Shalakany, Book Review. Constituting Religion: Islam, Liberal Rights, and the Malaysian State, by Tamir Moustafa, [Abstract], (54 Law & Society Review 301-304 (2020)).

Sunday, November 29, 2020

French Council of State Says Capacity Limits On Worship Services Are Too Strict

Religious freedom challenges to COVID-19 restrictions have spread to Europe. EuroWeekly reports that on Friday French Catholic bishops appealed to the Council of State, the country's highest court, challenging the country's 30-person limit on religious ceremonies. According to Reuters, today the Council of State ordered the government to review the restrictions, saying:

The claimants are right in saying that the measure is disproportionate in light of protecting the public's health ... thus it is a serious and illegal infringement on the freedom of worship.

According to Reuters:

The Conference of French Bishops welcomed the ruling and said that it would meet French Prime Minister Jean Castex later on Sunday to discuss new rules to limit the risk of coronavirus infection during church services.

"No other activity is limited by such a limitation regardless of surface area," it said.

Catholic organisations are proposing to allow churches to utilise 30% of their seating capacity.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Justice Alito Refuses To Enjoin Louisiana's COVID Restrictions On Churches

On Nov. 10, in Spell v. Edwards, a Louisiana federal district court dismissed a suit by megachurch pastor Tony Spell challenging the state's COVID-19 limits on worship services. Plaintiff filed an Emergency Application for an Injunction Pending Appeal with Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, contending:

This case presents a threshold question that other applicants did not present to this Court in prior religious liberty challenges: Whether the First Amendment places the decision of whether to assemble solely within the jurisdiction of the Church and not the State.

 On Nov. 27, Justice Alito, without referring the Application to the full court, denied the Application. Law & Crime reports on Justice Alito's action.