Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Catholic Order Sued For Release of Records of Abusive Priests

AP reports on a lawsuit filed in Cook County Illinois Circuit Court on Monday against  a Chicago-based religious order, the Claretians Missionaries, seeking release of all records relating to allegations of abuse by any of its priests.  The suit was filed by Eric Johnson, a 51-year old Colorado man who says that he was abused over 40 years ago by a 15-year old boy, Bruce Wellems, who later became a prominent Claretian priest known for his work with at-risk youths. In the 1990's the Claretians promised Johnson that they would closely monitor Wellems and not allow him access to children unless another adult was present.  Johnson filed suit when the Claretians did not follow through on that promise.

Suit By Web Designer Challenges LGBT Anti-Discrimination Law

Last week, Lorie Smith, the owner of a Colorado graphic and web design company, filed suit in federal district court challenging the constitutionality of Colorado's public accommodation anti-discrimination law.  The complaint (full text) in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, (D CO, filed 9/20/2016) alleges that the anti-discrimination provisions as they apply to plaintiffs violate various provisions of the 1st and 14th Amendments, including the free exercise clause.  The complaint alleges:
7. Colorado law makes it unlawful for Lorie and 303 Creative to publish, display, or mail any communication stating that they will not design, create, or publish websites celebrating same-sex marriages. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-601(2)(a).
8. Colorado law also makes it unlawful for Lorie and 303 Creative to publish, display, or mail any communication indicating that a person’s patronage at 303 Creative is “unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, or undesirable” because of sexual orientation. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-601(2)(a).
9. Therefore, Lorie and 303 Creative cannot explain on 303 Creative’s website their religious belief that God designed marriage as an institution between one man and one woman and why they cannot create wedding websites promoting and celebrating any other conception of marriage.
ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

Court Requires School To Allow Transgender 5th Grader To Use Bathrooms Matching Her Gender Identity

In Board of Education of Highland Local School District v. U.S. Department of Education, (SD OH, Sept. 26, 2016), an Ohio federal magistrate judge granted a preliminary injunction to a fifth grade transgender girl requiring her school to allow her to use the girls' restroom.  The court found that she was likely to succeed on her Title IX and equal protection claims, saying in part:
the Sixth Circuit, as well as several other courts of appeals, have held that sex-discrimination claims based on gender noncomformity are cognizable under Title IX’s close cousin, Title VII.
Finding that heightened scrutiny is called for on plaintiff's equal protection claim, the court said in part:
Amici from school districts in twenty states around the country ... provide further support for the Court’s conclusion that Highland cannot show that allowing a transgender girl to use the girls’ restroom would compromise anyone’s privacy interests. When they adopted inclusive policies permitting transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, all of these school districts wrestled with the same privacy concerns that Highland now asserts.... The school administrators agreed that although some parents opposed the policies at the outset, no disruptions in restrooms had ensued nor were there any complaints about specific violations of privacy.
The court conversely denied the school's motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent federal agencies from enforcing their interpretation of Title IX.

EEOC Sues Over Hospital's Requirement For Clergy Certification To Grant Religious Accommodation

AP reports that the EEOC filed a religious discrimination lawsuit in a Pennsylvania federal district court last Thursday charging that Erie (PA)'s St. Vincent Hospital wrongfully fired six employees who refused for religious reasons to get flu shots.  At issue is the hospital's requirement that for employees to obtain religious exemptions from the requirement, they must present a certification from a member of the clergy.  The six employees who did not provide proof of their religious beliefs were adherents of  Russian Orthodox, Independent Fundamental Baptist, Christian mysticism, Methodist and nondenominational Christian faiths. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Court Refuses To Invoke Ministerial Exception Doctrine To Dismiss Discrimination Suit At Early Stage

In Yin v. Columbia International University, (D SC, Sept. 26, 2016), a South Carolina federal district court, agreeing with a magistrate's recommendation, rejected defendant's invocation of the ministerial exception doctrine as a basis for dismissing for failure to state a claim (Rule 12(b)(6)) a Title VII and the Equal Pay Act lawsuit.  Plaintiff, a female Asian-American Ph.D., was terminated from her faculty position at CIU, a multi-denominational Christian college. She claimed racial, gender and national origin discrimination as well as retaliation. The college claimed that plaintiff (who taught in the school's education program) was required to further the spiritual and pastoral mission of the University including teaching the gospel, spreading the Christian faith, and participating in worship.  However the court held since plaintiff's complaint does not reflect these duties, it is too early in the proceedings to dismiss on ministerial exception grounds.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:

New Guam Law Lifting Abuse Limitation Period Will Likely Force Archdiocese Into Bankruptcy

AP reports that Guam Governor Eddie Calvo on Friday signed Substitute Bill No. 326-33 (full text) which retroactively eliminates the statute of limitations for civil suits alleging child sexual abuse. Passage came after abuse allegations were leveled against Guam's Catholic Archbishop Anthony Apuron.  A letter (full text) from the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Agana read at mass on Sept. 18 says that he is urging the Vatican to remove Apuron and appoint a successor.  He apologizes to victims, but says that retroactive lifting of the statute of limitations will likely force the Archdiocese to file for bankruptcy.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Whitney v. Varner, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127018 (MD PA, Sept. 19, 2016), a Pennsylvania federal district court held that where an inmate refused to provide a written indication of his religious preference, prison officials could not be found to have substantially burdened the exercise of his unknown belief.

In Sims v. Frakes, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127229 (D NE, Sept. 19, 2016), a Nebraska federal district court allowed a Native American inmate to proceed on his claim for prospective injunctive relief challenging limitations placed on sweat lodge and Pow Wow ceremonies.

In Windham v. Rodriguez, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127501 (ED CA, Sept. 19, 2016), a California federal magistrate judge rejected a Muslim inmate's claim that destruction of his Qur'an by a corrections officer substantially burdened his religious exercise, and held that to the extent he is suing for deprivation of property, he has an adequate post-deprivation remedy.

In Gray v. Perkins, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128117 (D NH, Sept. 20, 2016), a New Hampshire federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that in a cell search his Bibles, religious books, and religious pamphlets were seized and not returned.

In Bethel v. Jenkins, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128815 (SD OH, Sept. 21, 2016), an Ohio federal district court, adopting a magistrate's recommendation, held that an exception that treated religious books shipped to inmates more favorably than other books did not violate the Establishment Clause or equal protection clause.

In Furnace v. Gipson, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129156 (ED CA, Sept. 20, 2016), a California federal magistrate judge recommended that an inmate be permitted to file and proceed with his third amended complaint claiming that prison authorities denied him a religious name change and denied his request to purchase religious items.

In Eleby v. Graham, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129831 (ND NY, Sept. 21, 2016), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a complaint by a Nation of Islam inmate who objected to a 6-day period during Ramadan where, because of a lockdown, Muslim inmates were not permitted to meet for communal meals or prayer and were provided a bag meal instead of a hot halal meal to break fast at sun up.

In Lewis v. Maye, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129861 (D KS, Sept. 21, 2016), a Kansas federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a suit by a Nation of Islam inmate who contended that the prison chaplain did not consider the NOI holiday of Savior's Day important enough to be recognized or given precedence over other activities in the multi-faith Life Connections Program.

In Harris v. Escamilla, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130006 (ED CA, Sept. 22, 2016), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a Muslim inmates's complaint that during a cell search a corrections officer stepped on his Qur'an and there was delay in his obtaining a replacement copy.

In Miles v. Guice, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130316 (ED NC, Sept. 23, 2016), a North Carolina federal district court dismissed a suit by a member of Nations of Gods and Earths who wanted group worship, holiday fasting, a vegan diet and written materials, and wanted to possess a medallion or flag.

In Howard v. Foster, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130465 (D NV, Sept. 23, 2016), a Nevada federal district court refused to dismiss an inmate's complaint about conduct that an officer assigned to oversee Muslim religious services was disruptive and yelled so that inmates were unable to complete their services.

No Taxpayer Standing To Challenge NC Magistrate Opt-Out Law

In Ansley v. Warren, (WD NC, Sept. 20, 2016), a North Carolina federal district court dismissed for lack of standing an Establishment Clause challenge to North Carolina's S.B. 2 that allows magistrates to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs. Plaintiffs, asserting taxpayer standing, pointed to expenditures involved in implementing the opt-out provisions.  The court held, however:
Plaintiffs have not pointed to the establishment of any specific appropriation of funds by the legislature to implement the allegedly unconstitutional purpose of S.B. 2. The funding provisions that Plaintiffs challenge here—travel expenses for magistrates and retirement contributions—are not “expenditures made pursuant to an express [legislative] mandate and a specific [legislative] appropriation,” ... but are “incidental expenditure[s] of tax funds in the administration of an essentially regulatory statute,” which is not sufficient for the purposes of standing.
Dealing with a separate due process concern, the court said:
Because a magistrate’s “sincerely held religious objection” is secret, a person appearing before a state magistrate on a matter in said magistrate’s jurisdiction will not be aware of a potential bias against them. A law that allows a state official to opt out of performing some of the duties of the office for sincerely held religious beliefs, while keeping it a secret that the official opted out, is fraught with potential for harm that could be of constitutional magnitude.... But such matters must be dealt with as they arise.

Limit On Parolee's Ability To Attend Church Is Too Broad

In United States v. Hernandez, (ED NY, Sept. 20, 2016), a New York federal district court held unconstitutional a condition of supervised release limiting church attendance that was imposed on defendant after he completed 4 years in prison for receiving child pornography.  Defendant, a 38-year old man, was not permitted to attend church services where minors are present. The court said that this totally prevents him from attending the church of his choice with his father. The court concluded:
Defendant has a right to attend church services. Preventing him from going to his place of worship because the services are also attended by minors unnecessarily burdens that right. It is reasonable to apply a condition that defendant not physically touch minors while attending church services, unless doing so is a part of his religious obligation.... This condition is narrowly tailored. It strikes the necessary balance of allowing defendant to exercise his freedom to associate and participate in religious services, while protecting minors.

Muslim Safety Officer Awarded $100,000 In Discrimination Suit

In Dingus v. Tennessee Department of Safety, (ED TN, Sept. 20, 2016), a Tennessee federal district court, on remand from the 6th Circuit, awarded damages of $100,000 to a former Tennessee safety officer for mental anguish and emotional distress he suffered as a result of religious discrimination.  De'Ossie Dingus, a Sunni Muslim, sued under Title VII claiming discrimination and harassment over the years. Knoxville News Sentinel reports on the decision.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Interlocutory Appeal Unavailable In Ministerial Exception Case

In Trinity Christian School v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 2016 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2256 (CT Super. Ct., Aug. 22, 2016), a Connecticut trial court dismissed an interlocutory appeal from a decision of the state Commission on Human Rights.  In the case, a Commission referee refused to dismiss a pregnancy discrimination claim brought by an employee against Trinity Christian School.  The school appealed claiming that it is immune from liability under Connecticut's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The court held however that any defense the school has is under the ministerial exception doctrine, which is an affirmative defense to liability.  Therefore an interlocutory appeal is not available. The court rejected the school's argument that merely requiring it to defend the case with an affirmative defense would impose a burden on religious belief.

Hearing On Hyde Amendment And Born Alive Protection Act

Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing titled The Ultimate Civil Right: Examining the Hyde Amendment and the Born Alive Infants Protection Act.  The hearing was held as the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment approaches.  A video of the full hearing and transcripts of prepared testimony by witnesses are available on the committee's website. The Born Alive Infants Protection Act (HR 3504) has passed the House but has not been voted on by the Senate.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Religious Scholar Among Recipients of Nation Medals of Arts and Humanities

Yesterday President Obama presented the 2015 National Medals of the Arts and Humanities to 22 awardees. (Full text of President's remarks.) Among them was Princeton Professor of Religion Elaine Pagels, who has written widely on Gnosticism  and early Christianity.  The citation presented to her reads:
The 2015 National Humanities Medal to Elaine Pagels for her exploration of faith and its traditions.  Through her study of ancient manuscripts and other scholarly work, she has generated new interest and dialogue about our contemporary search for knowledge and meaning.

Gay Student Sues Catholic High School That Barred His Bringing Same-Sex Date To Homecoming

Lance Sanderson, a former student at Memphis, Tennessee's Christian Brothers High School, filed suit in a Tennessee state court on Tuesday alleging that the private Catholic boy's school-- which receives federal funds-- violated Title IX when it prohibited him from bringing his same-sex date from another school to the school's Homecoming Dance.  NBC News reports that the suit seeks $1 million in damages for breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent training and a violation under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments.  The Obama administration, and several courts, have recently concluded that Title IX is broad enough to include sexual orientation discrimination. IdentitiesMic has more details on the failed attempts by the school to work out a compromise with Sanderson, and its ultimate policy statement that technically would have allowed him to bring a same-sex date from his own school.

Fire Department Can Exclude Employee's Religious Messages From E-Mail System

In Sprague v. Spokane Valley Fire Department, (WA App., Sept. 21, 2016), the Washington state Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a fire department's termination of a firefighter who insisted on using the department's internal e-mail system to distribute religious messages.  Jonathan Sprague, founder of the Spokane Christian Firefighters Fellowship, was found to have violated departmental policies limiting use of the e-mail system to official communications. He sent out messages, including scriptural passages, on meetings of his group. Judge Korsmo's majority opinion concluded:
It should go without saying that a fire department's business is firefighting, not discussion of religion. Pointing out that Mr. Sprague violated the prohibition against public use in that specific manner did not thereby convert the policy to one of opposition to religious speech any more than challenging use of e-mails to promote chess tournaments or a political candidate could be interpreted as anti-chess or anti-political speech. The policy was anti-private use, not anti-religion.
Judge Lawrence-Berrey filed a concurring opinion.  Chief Judge Fearing dissented in an opinion that begins with a quotation from the Biblical Book of Matthew. He said in part:
The majority holds that the fire department held the prerogative to preclude the use of its e-mail for the voicing of religious messages. I note that a government entity, as a general proposition, enjoys this prerogative. Nevertheless, the Spokane Valley Fire Department opened its email system to employee messages of solving personal problems and societal ills through the grace of God when the fire department delivered employee assistance programs newsletters, through the department e-mail, addressing those same problems and ills. The Spokane Valley Fire Department's discipline of Sprague for addressing a topic from Sprague's spiritual perspective constituted viewpoint discrimination in violation of Sprague's free speech rights. The government may not prefer secular chatter over religious oration.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Faith-Based Recovery Home Loses Challenges To Fire Code Enforcement

In Affordable Recovery Housing v. City of Blue Island, (ND IL, Sept. 21, 2016), an Illinois federal district court in a 40-page opinion dismissed a claim under RLUIPA and its Illinois counterpart, the 1st and 14th Amendments, as well as under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, brought against the city by a faith-based recovery home for drug and alcohol addicts. At issue was the city's enforcement of its fire code sprinkler system requirement that led to the eviction of 73 men from the facility, and the city refusal to grant an accommodation that would have given the facility 3 years to install a sprinkler system.

The court held that the eviction was pursuant to the fire code, not the zoning code, so RLUIPA does not apply. Moving to the claim under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court then held that the eviction stemming from a delayed enforcement of the fire code and the refusal to grant an accommodation did not impose a substantial burden on the facility's religious exercise and, in any event, the city's enforcement of its sprinkler regulations was in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest. The court also rejected the claim that the city violated RLUIPA by demanding that the facility apply for a special use permit.

Massachusetts Supreme Court Upholds Rulings In Landlord's Assault On Muslim Tenant

In Commonwealth v. Obi, (MA Sup Jud Ct, Sept 21, 2016), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a series of rulings by a trial court judge in the criminal trial of a female landlord for assault and battery after she pushed a tenant, who is Muslim, down a flight of stairs. Defendant Daisy Obi, described by the court as "a septuagenarian Christian minister," had  history of harassing tenants, but in this case she also made a number of anti-Muslim statements to tenant Gilhan Suliman with whom she had a number of landlord-tenant issues.

After a jury trial, the trial judge sentenced Obi to 6 months in jail and 18 months probation with two special conditions: (1) she must disclose to prospective tenants that she had been convicted of assaulting a tenant and she had several previous harassment prevention orders issued against her, and (2) she must attend an introductory class on Islam. The court upheld the disclosure requirement, and refused to consider Obi's challenge to the requirement she attend a class on Islam since objections to it were not raised at trial. However the court observed:
conditions of probation that touch on religion and risk incursion upon constitutionally protected interests should be imposed only with great circumspection.
Finally the Court upheld the trial judge's refusal to allow defendant to exercise a peremptory challenge against a juror who wore a headscarf of the type commonly worn by Muslim women.

VA Updates Guidelines On Religious Exercise At Its Facilities

On Aug. 19, the Veterans Administration issued an internal memorandum (full text) updating its Policy Guidance on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression In VA Facilities.  The memo revises a 2014 Guidance.  A press release yesterday from the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty welcomes the revision, saying in part:
This should make clear that churches may sing Christmas carols and distribute Christmas cards at VA hospitals. Further, veteran organizations may set up MIA/POW tables that include a sacred text.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Russian Supreme Court Bans Aum Shinrikyo As Terrorist Organization

According to Interfax and Russia Beyond the Headlines, the Russian Supreme Court yesterday agreed with the Prosecutor General's Office and the Federal Security Service that Aum Shinrikyo is a terrorist organization. The decision to ban the organization's activities in Russia was made after an in camera hearing by the Court.  Wikipedia describes Aum Shinrikyo as a Japanese doomsday cult best known for its 1995 Sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system. Aum Shinrikyo combines elements of Eastern religions and Christianity, but is generally seen as an offshoot of Japanese Buddhism.

Magistrates Lack Standing To Challenge Memo From Administrative Office On Same-Sex Marriages

In Breedlove v. Warren, (NC App., Sept. 20, 2016), the North Carolina Court of Appeals dismissed for lack of standing a suit by two former magistrates who objected on religious grounds to a Memo issued by the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) indicating that magistrates have a constitutional duty to perform marriages for same-sex couples on the same basis as other marriages, and that refusal to do so is grounds for suspension or removal from office. The two resigned after they were not granted religious accommodations. The Court concluded that, despite the AOC memo, under North Carolina law it is various judges, not the AOC, that has authority to sanction, suspend or remove magistrates. The Court concluded:
the allegations in plaintiffs’ complaint... fail to demonstrate an injury that defendants were capable of inflicting upon plaintiffs, and by extension fails to show that such an injury could be redressed.
WRAL News reports on the decision, and reminds readers that late last year the North Carolina legislature enacted a bill giving magistrates the right to opt out of performing marriages on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs. (See prior related posting.)

Court Denies Preliminary Injunction To Football Coach Seeking To Pray On Field

According to AP, a Washington federal district court judge on Monday denied a preliminary injunction to high school football coach Joe Kennedy.  The coach, who says he was acting in accordance with his Christian beliefs, was suspended with pay by the Bremerton, Washington school district after he insisted on praying at mid-field at the end of games. He sued, claiming the school's directive barring him from doing so is unconstitutional. (See prior posting.) The denial of preliminary relief means that the school does not have to immediately reinstate Kennedy.

Does Sharia-Compliant Financing By Non-Profit Cause Loss of Property Tax Exemption?

In what may well be a case of first impression, the Islamic Center of Nashville on Monday filed suit in a Tennessee federal district court challenging its inability to maintain its property tax exemption after it financed new building construction employing a well-recognized Sharia-compliant technique that uses a legal fiction to avoid borrowing at interest. The Islamic Center of Nashville has continuously operated the Nashville International Academy, a grade K-8 school, at the same site since 1995.  In 2008 it constructed a new school building on the site, financing the construction through a 5-year Ijara agreement.  The agreement involved transfer of title to an entity owned by the bank in exchange for construction funds, repayment captioned as rent, and a return of title once the required number of "rent" payments had been made.

Tennessee Code Sec. 43-610.7 exempts from property tax:
real and personal property owned by religious, charitable, scientific or non-profit educational institutions which is occupied and used by such institutions purely and exclusively to carry out one or more of its purposes....
In May 2016, the Tennessee State Board of Equalization Appeals Commission concluded (full text of opinion) that, while it was sympathetic with the Islamic Center's sincere desire to comply with its religious principles, the formal transfer of title to an entity owned by the bank meant that the property was not exempt from taxation from 2008 to 2013 (when the Islamic Center regained formal title). The Islamic Center then sued for a declaratory judgment and damages.  The complaint (full text) in Islamic Center of Nashville v. State of Tennessee, (MD TN, filed 9/19/2016) argues:
Here, ICN was ironically denied the religious exemption from property taxes by Defendant specifically because of its adherence to its religious tenets.
The suit claims violations of state and federal RFRAs, RLUIPA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Establishment Clause. The Tennessean reports on the lawsuit.