Monday, May 10, 2021

Archdiocese Sues For in-Person Access To Inmates

The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee last week filed suit in state court against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections challenging its continued ban on volunteer clergy visiting prison inmates during the COVD crisis. The complaint (full text) in Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, (WI Cir. Ct., filed 6/7/2021),  alleges that the policy violates statutory provisions in Wisconsin on clergy access to prisons as well as the state constitution's protection of religious liberty. Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Indiana Trial Court Dismisses Catholic School Teacher's Suit Against Archdiocese

As previously reported, in May 2020 in Payne-Elliott v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc., an Indiana trial court refused to dismiss a lawsuit against the Catholic Archdiocese brought by a Catholic high school teacher who the Archdiocese ordered fired after he entered a same-sex marriage. In July 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court broadly interpreted the "ministerial exception" doctrine as it applies to teachers in religiously affiliated schools. Subsequently, in State of Indiana ex rel. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc. v. Marion Superior Court, (IN Sup. Ct., Dec. 10, 2020), the Indiana Supreme Court denied a writ of mandamus and prohibition and remanded the case to a different trial court judge "to consider new and pending issues and reconsider previous orders in the case."  Now, in Payne-Elliott v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc.,  (IN Super. Ct., May 7, 2021), the trial court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Legal Reader reports on the case.

11th Circuit: Juror Who Heard From Holy Spirit Should Not Have Been Removed

In United States v. Brown, (11th Cir., May 6, 2021), the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, by a vote of 7-4 held that a district court judge abused his discretion in replacing a juror with an alternate in the trial of a former Florida Congresswoman who was convicted on most of the fraud, ethics and tax violation charges against her. The majority summarized:

This appeal requires us to decide whether a district judge abused his discretion by removing a juror who expressed, after the start of deliberations, that the Holy Spirit told him that the defendant, Corrine Brown, was not guilty on all charges. The juror also repeatedly assured the district judge that he was following the jury instructions and basing his decision on the evidence admitted at trial, and the district judge found him to be sincere and credible. But the district judge concluded that the juror’s statements about receiving divine guidance were categorically disqualifying. Because the record establishes a substantial possibility that the juror was rendering proper jury service, the district judge abused his discretion by dismissing the juror. The removal violated Brown’s right under the Sixth Amendment to a unanimous jury verdict. We vacate Brown’s convictions and sentence and remand for a new trial. 

Two concurring and two dissenting opinions were also filed. Judge Rosenbaum's dissent, joined by Judge Wilson and Martin, said in part:

Every judge of this Court agrees on this much: the same rule governs dismissal of both the juror who says his religious authority told him the defendant is not guilty on all charges and the one who says his religious authority told him the defendant is guilty on all charges. So let’s be clear about what we’re really doing today: we are holding that a district judge is powerless to dismiss a juror who, on a record like this one, says the Holy Spirit told him the defendant is guilty on all charges and he trusts the Holy Spirit—even though the judge finds after investigation that the juror is not capable of basing his guilty verdict on the evidence but instead will base his verdict on what he perceives to be a divine revelation.

A 3-judge panel of the 11th Circuit had affirmed the district court's decision. (See prior posting.) Politico reports on the en banc decision. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Yesterday Was National Day of Prayer

A federal statute, 36 USC 169h, provides:

The President shall set aside and proclaim the first Thursday in May in each year as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.

Yesterday was the first Thursday in May, and earlier this week President Biden issued a Proclamation (full text) announcing the day. It reads in part:

Today, we remember and celebrate the role that the healing balm of prayer can play in our lives and in the life of our Nation.  As we continue to confront the crises and challenges of our time — from a deadly pandemic, to the loss of lives and livelihoods in its wake, to a reckoning on racial justice, to the existential threat of climate change — Americans of faith can call upon the power of prayer to provide hope and uplift us for the work ahead.

UPDATE: The President's Proclamation has created some controversy. A Liberty Counsel press release says in part:

For the first time in 70 years, there was not a public prayer gathering at the U.S. Capitol Building yesterday during The National Day of Prayer, and Joe Biden made no mention of God in his proclamation.

Eviction of Church Did Not Violate RLUIPA

In Schworck v. City of Madison, (WD WI, May 6, 2021), a Wisconsin federal district court dismissed a suit for damages brought against city officials by The Lion of Judah House of Rastafari and its founders who claim that their eviction from their leased premises violated their rights under RLUIPA, the free exercise clause, the equal protection clause and other provisions. The premises served as a homeless shelter, and a location for the church which distributed cannabis to members in exchange for donations. The lessees were never able to obtain a certificate of occupancy allowing them to operate the former retail store site as a church. The court said in part:

[N]ot only have plaintiffs failed to link to any land use regulation a substantial burden, but they have failed to submit evidence of a substantial burden on their religious practices altogether, thus defeating both plaintiffs’ RLUIPA and First Amendment claims on the merits....

In particular ... plaintiffs’ asserted substantial burden on their religious practices is the October 16, 2019, eviction from the property. Critically, they do not take the position that (1) compliance with the City’s municipal ordinances would violate their religious beliefs, (2) the costs and inconvenience of compliance posed a substantial burden, or (3) the uncontested municipal court proceedings created a substantial burden on their ability to exercise their religious beliefs....

[E]ven assuming that defendants or any City officials treated plaintiffs’ unfairly during the permitting or inspection process (and again, the evidence does not support such a finding), a reasonable trier of fact would have no basis to conclude that treatment impacted the October 16, 2019, eviction from the property on this record.

Wisconsin State Journal has more on the decision.

Court Enjoins Enforcement of NJ Township's Ordinances Aimed At Orthodox Jewish Community

In WR Property LLC v. Township of Jackson, (D NJ, May 5, 2021), a New Jersey federal district court issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of two township ordinances which effectively prevent construction of Jewish schools in most of Jackson Township's residential zones and which interfere with constructing of eruvim  (symbolic religious boundary markings). The court concluded that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their free exercise and equal protection claims, finding sufficient evidence that the ordinances were enacted with a discriminator purpose. Both the Department of Justice and the state of New Jersey have previously sued the township over its targeting of Orthodox Jews.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Connecticut Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Challenge To Gym's Women's Section

The Connecticut Supreme Court heard oral arguments (audio of full arguments) in Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities v. Edge Fitness LLC, (5/5/2021). Courthouse News Service reports in detail on the oral arguments and describes the issues involved:

In the underlying case, two gyms run by Edge Fitness set aside special workout areas only for women, catering primarily to devout Muslim and Jewish women who are forbidden by their religious beliefs to exercise with men. Nobody complained to the gyms’ management, according to the gyms’ attorneys.

After the separate sections were created, however, two male gym members filed discrimination complaints with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. A hearing officer initially concluded the separate workout areas did not violate the state law, likening the areas to single-sex bathrooms and locker rooms.

Briefs in the case are available online.

Denial of Insurance Coverage For Gender Dysphoria Violates ACA

In Pritchard v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, (WD WA, May 4, 2021), a Washington federal district court held that denying a transgender male insurance coverage for treatment of gender dysphoria violates the sex discrimination ban in the Affordable Care Act.  At issue was an exclusion in the Catholic Health Initiatives Health Plan that prevented a minor covered by his mother's health insurance from receiving an implant that delivers puberty-delaying hormones and a mastectomy.  The ACA incorporates the anti-discrimination provisions of Title IX. The court also rejected defendant's RFRA defense, concluding that RFRA only applies in suits in which the government is a party.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

European Commission Appoints New Special Envoy For Freedom of Religion

 In-Cyprus reports today:

The European Commission has decided to appoint former crisis management and ebola coordination Commissioner Christos Stylianides, a Cypriot national, as Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, effective immediately.

According to the Commission, the Special Envoy will be attached to Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, who is in charge of leading the Commission`s dialogue with churches and religious associations or communities, and with philosophical and non-confessional organisations. Freedom of religion or belief is under attack in many parts of the world.

An ADF press release points out that the appointment comes after the position has been vacant for two years.

9th Circuit Hears Arguments On Idaho Ban Of Transgender Women In Sports

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday heard oral arguments (video of full arguments) in Hecox v. Little, (5/4/2021).  In the case, an Idaho federal district court (full text of decision) in August 2020  held unconstitutional Idaho's law that bars transgender women from participating on women's sports teams. Yahoo News reports on the oral arguments.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Biden Issues Good Wishes On Orthodox Christian Easter Day

On Sunday, President Joe Biden issued a statement (full text) extending warm wishes from himself and the First Lady to their friends in the Orthodox Christian community observing Easter on that day. The statement said in part:

This is also a season of remembrance—to honor the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for the world and to stand in solidarity with all those in the Orthodox community who have been persecuted for their faith and those who remain under threat today.

Montana Makes It More Difficult To Obtain Transgender Name Change On Birth Certificates

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte recently signed Senate Bill 280 (full text) which provides in part:

The sex of a person designated on a birth certificate may be amended only if the department receives a certified copy of an order from a court with appropriate jurisdiction indicating that the sex of the person born in Montana has been changed b y surgical procedure.

Metro Weekly reports on the new law.

Seventh Day Adventist Loses Failure To Accommodate Claim

In Staple v. School Board of Broward County, Florida, (SD FL, April 30, 2021), a Florida federal district court dismissed a Seventh Day Adventist's Title VII religious discrimination claim. Plaintiff was a shift supervisor for the county's school bus drivers.  He wanted to alter his hours in the winter months so he would not need to work after sundown on Fridays.  His supervisor instead insisted that he use his hours accrued for vacation and sick leave. The court held that this did not amount to discharge or discipline, which is a prerequisite to a failure to accommodate claim. Mere adverse employment action short of that, while it supports a disparate treatment claim, does not, according to the court, support a failure to accommodate claim. The court also dismissed his claim under the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act, finding that he did not allege a substantial burden on his religious exercise.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

From SmartCILP: