Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Blankenship v. Setzer, (4th Cir., March 16, 2017), the 4th Circuit held that a Christian inmate adequately alleged RLUIPA and 1st Amendment claims when he objected to the refusal by authorities to allow him to bring his Bible with him on the transport van on several trips from his confinement facility to the county jail.

In Fonseca v. Spearman, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33245 (ED CA, March 8, 2017), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend a Jewish inmate's complaint that his request to change his name for religious reasons was refused.

In Clover v. Smith, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34248 (SD IN, March 10, 2017), an Indiana federal district court dismissed on qualified immunity grounds a Muslim inmate's complaint over a change in time for Muslim Friday Jummah prayer services.

In Diaz v. Kessler, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34936 (ND CA, March 10, 2017), a California federal district court, denying summary judgment, concluded that a genuine dispute remained as to whether an inmate's removal from Jewish religious services was for a legitimate penological reason.

In White v. York, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35526 (ND NY, March 10, 2017), a NewYork federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a Rastafarian inmate's complaint that he was not receiving a religious diet that included unprocessed meats.

In Jones v. Malin, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35599 (SD NY, March 13, 2017), a New York federal district court allowed a Muslim inmate to move ahead with his complaint that he was prevented from attending separate Shi'a Jumu'ah prayer services. Three other claims of interference with his religious practice were dismissed.

Russian Officials Forcing Sochi's Rabbi To Leave The Country

Interfax reports that Rabbi Ari Leib Edelkopf who has led the Jewish community in the Russian city of Sochi is being forced to leave Russia.  Edelkopf, a U.S. citizen since 1978, obtained a Russian temporary resident permit in 2015. The next year he applied for Russian citizenship.  In December of 2016 the Krasnodar Territory police carried out a background check in processing the application and received information, still undisclosed publicly or to Edelkopf, that led police to cancel his temporary resident permit on the ground of "his actions creating a threat to Russia's security." The Sochi's Central District Court upheld the decision, as did the appellate collegium of the Krasnodar Territory Court. At the 18-minute appellate hearing, officials refused to disclose the basis for the action against Edelkopf, claiming it is a state secret.

Judge Sued Over Opening Prayers In Courtroom

Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit last week in a Texas federal district court against a Montgomery County, Texas Justice of the Peace who opens his court sessions with a chaplain-led prayer.  The complaint (full text) in Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Mack, (SD TX., filed 3/21/2017), contends that the practice violates the Establishment Clause. FFRF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit. (See prior related posting.)

Suit Claims Forced Baptism of Child Facilitated By Guardian Ad Litem

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on this week's filing in an Ohio federal district court of a lawsuit  alleging that a court-appointed CASA volunteer acting as guardian ad litem for a developmentally disabled child recruited a mentor who in turn had the child baptized against his parent's wishes.  The complaint (full text) in Defiaugh v. Big Brothers/ Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio Board of Trustees, (ND OH, filed 3/27/2017), alleges that in doing so, defendants committed various torts and also violated plaintiffs' free exercise rights.  A press release from American Atheists describes the allegations in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that V’s court-appointed guardian ad litem, Margaret Vaughan, repeatedly proselytized to V’s parents, April and Gregg DeFibaugh, and their children and told them that “families need God to raise children.” Despite complaining multiple times to Vaughan’s supervisors, no corrective action was taken by the agency. In 2015, Vaughan recruited David Guarnero, a member of her church, to act as a mentor for V through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio (BBBS).
According to the suit, despite explicit instructions from the DeFibaughs to refrain from religious activities with V, Guarnero would frequently discuss religion with V. On August 28, 2016, Guarnero took V to a picnic at his church, the Morning Star Friends Church in Chardon, and, along with the church pastor, Matthew Chesnes, forcibly baptized V, pushing him under water. Since the incident, V has suffered anxiety and extreme emotional distress.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Kentucky, Nebraska Enacts New Protections For Religion In Schools

Two states this month have enacted legislation aimed at enhancing free exercise rights in the public school context. In Kentucky, on March 16 Governor Matt Bevin signed SB 17 which protects the expression of religious and political opinions in public schools and colleges. The law assures that students can voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints in their assignments; bars schools from altering remarks of student speakers; provides equal access for religious organizations; allows students to display religious messages on clothing; allows public school teachers to teach about religion using the Bible or other scripture without providing religious instruction, and to teach about religious holidays in a secular manner, and allows schools to sponsor artistic or theatrical programs that advance knowledge of society's cultural and religious heritage. It also effectively bars public colleges from limiting speakers outdoors on campus to free speech zones.  An ADF press release has more on the new law.

In Nebraska, on March 27 Governor Pete Ricketts signed LB 62 eliminating a longstanding ban on teachers wearing religious garb in public schools.  Blog from the Capital has more.

Virginia Federal Court OK's Trump's Second Travel Ban EO

While federal district courts in Hawaii and Maryland have issued nationwide injunctions barring enforcement of President Trump's second travel ban Executive Order finding that it violates the Establishment Clause, a Virginia federal district court has now reached an opposite conclusion.  In Sarsour v. Trump, (ED VA, Marc 24, 2017), the court said in part:
Given the revisions in EO-2, the question is now whether the President's past statements continue to fatally infect what is facially a lawful exercise of presidential authority. In that regard, the Supreme Court has held that "past actions [do not] forever taint any effort on [the government's] part to deal with the subject matter. . . ." This Court is no longer faced with a facially discriminatory order coupled with contemporaneous statements suggesting discriminatory intent. And while the President and his advisors have continued to make statements following the issuance of EO-1 that have characterized or anticipated the nature of EO-2, the Court cannot conclude for the purposes of the Motion that these statements, together with the President's past statements, have effectively disqualified him from exercising his lawful presidential authority under Section 1182(f). In other words, the substantive revisions reflected in EO-2 have reduced the probative value of the President's statements to the point that it is no longer likely that Plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate purpose of EO-2 is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that EO-2 is a pretext or a sham for that purpose.
The Hill reports on the decision.

Religious Exemptions In ACA and FICA Upheld

In Olson v. Social Security Administration, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41469 (D ND, March 22, 2017), a North Dakota federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41468, March 3, 2017) and dismissed plaintiff's challenge to the constitutionality of the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act and FICA.  In rejecting plaintiff's Establishment Clause claim, the magistrate judge said in part:
Religious sects whose members qualify for the ACA's religious exemption have made reasonable provision for their dependent members for a substantial period of time; that is designed to protect other taxpayers, not to improperly favor or target any religion.

Another Suit Challenges Trump's Latest Travel Ban Executive Order

Last week, another suit was filed challenging President Trump's latest travel ban Executive Order on, among others, Establishment Clause and equal protection grounds.  The suit was brought by the largest organization of Shi’a Muslims in the United States,as well as by a Yemeni couple living in the United States. The complaint (full text) in Universal Muslim Association of America, Inc. v. Trump, (D DC, filed 3/23/2017), seeks a nationwide injunction barring the government from enforcing the sections of the Executive Order that temporarily bar or make more difficult travel into the U.S. by nationals of certain majority-Muslim nations.  As explained by a press release from Americans United:
There are two sets of plaintiffs in the case. They include the Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA), the country’s largest organization of Shi’a Muslims, whose members are being deprived of religious learning, worship and services because their religious scholars almost exclusively hail from Iran, Iraq and Syria.  One of their scholars has already been denied entry under the first Muslim ban executive order, and he and other scholars are likely to be denied entry again.  The second set of plaintiffs are John and Jane Doe -- parents blocked from bringing their children home from Yemen.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments In ERISA "Church Plan" Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court today heard consolidated oral arguments in three cases raising the question of when pension plans of religiously affiliated health care systems qualify for the "church plan" exemption under ERISA.  The three cases are Advocate Health Care v. Stapleton, St. Peter's Health Care v. Kaplan and Dignity Health v. Rollins. The full transcript of the oral arguments are available from the Supreme court's website.  A fuller explanation of the issues involved is set out in this prior posting.  AP reports on the arguments. Huge dollar amounts of potential underfunding are at stake nationwide.

5th Circuit Upholds Student Invocations At School Board Meetings

In American Humanist Association v. McCarty, (5th Cir., March 20, 2017), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a school board's practice of opening its meetings with presentations from students, which often involves a prayer.  As described by the court:
Since 1997, two students have opened each session—with one leading the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas pledge and the other delivering some sort of statement, which can include an invocation. Those student presenters, typically either elementary- or middle-school students, are given one minute. [School board] officials do not direct them on what to say but tell them to make sure their statements are relevant to school-board meetings and not obscene or otherwise inappropriate. At a number of meetings, the student speakers have presented poems or read secular statements. But ... they are usually an invocation in the form of a prayer, with speakers frequently referencing “Jesus” or “Christ.”
Upholding the practice, the court said that the  in part:
The key question ... is whether this case is essentially more a legislative-prayer case or a school-prayer matter....We agree with the district court that “a school board is more like a legislature than a school classroom or event.” The BISD board is a deliberative body, charged with overseeing the district’s public schools, adopting budgets, collecting taxes, conducting elections, issuing bonds, and other tasks that are undeniably legislative....
In a press release, the American Humanist Association indicates that it will file a petition to seek an en banc rehearing in the case.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Religion Clause To Take A Publication Break

Dear Readers:

Religion Clause will be going on a publication break until approximately the end of March.  Check back for my resumption of postings at that time.

Howard Friedman

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From elsewhere:

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ministerial Exception Does Not Apply To Exercise Science Teacher At Christian University

In Richardson v. Northwest Christian University, (D OR, March 16, 2017), an unmarried professor of exercise science at a Christian university sued for discrimination after she was fired because she became pregnant out of wedlock and refused to either marry her child's father or stop living with him.  The school contended that the professor's action were inconsistent with its policy that faculty are to live their lives in conformity with Biblical Christianity.  The court held that the "ministerial exception" doctrine does not require it to dismiss the lawsuit, saying in part:
[Plaintiff] was expected to integrate her Christianity into her teaching and demonstrate a maturing Christian faith. But any religious function was wholly secondary to her secular role: she was not tasked with performing any religious instruction and she was charged with no religious duties such as taking students to chapel or leading them in prayer. If plaintiff was a minister, it is hard to see how any teacher at a religious school would fall outside the exception.
The court granted plaintiff summary judgment on her marital status discrimination claim under Oregon law. It allowed her to move to trial on her claims of pregnancy discrimination and breach of contract.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Another Court Bars Enforcement of Trump's Second Travel Ban

As reported by Bloomberg Politics, yesterday a Maryland federal district court became the second court to bar enforcement of part of President Trump's second "travel ban" Executive Order. In International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, (D MD, March 16, 2017), the court issued a nationwide preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 2(c) of the Second Executive Order. That section imposes a 90-day suspension on entry into the country of nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  The court said in part:
The Second Executive Order does not explain specifically why this extraordinary, unprecedented action is the necessary response to the existing risks. But while the travel ban bears no resemblance to any response to a national security risk in recent history, it bears a clear resemblance to the precise action that President Trump described as effectuating his Muslim ban. Thus, it is more likely that the primary purpose of the travel ban was grounded in religion, and even if the Second Executive Order has a national security purpose, it is likely that its primary purpose remains the effectuation of the proposed Muslim ban. Accordingly, there is a likelihood that the travel ban violates the Establishment Clause.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Givens v. Vaughn, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31366 (SD IL, March 6, 2017), an Illinois federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31374, Feb. 6, 2017) and dismissed a complaint by a Hebrew Israelite inmate over the method of preparing kosher meals, refusal of separate Hebrew Israelite Sabbath services, and inability to celebrate certain feasts.

In Jones-Bey v. Jefferson County Government, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31827 (WD KY, March 6, 2017), a Kentucky federal district court allowed a recently-released inmate to move ahead with his damage action for denying him permission to attend Islamic Services and denying him Halal meals.

In Munt v. Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32235 (D MN, March 6, 2017), a Minnesota federal district court ordered defendants to file a supplemental affidavit responding to a Christian inmate's complaint that the lack of privacy in prison facilities (showers, toilets, etc.) violates his religious belief against exposing himself.

In Barrera-Avila v. Watts, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33116 (SD GA, March 8, 2017), a Georgia federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing an inmate's complaint regarding interference with the practice of his Santeria religion.

In Hoke v. Lyle, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32445 (SD GA, March 7, 2017), a Georgia federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation and dismissed an inmate's complaint over policies that resulted in his not receiving his packages containing a study Bible and bible study lessons.