Friday, February 15, 2019

Death Qualification of Jurors Does Not Violate RFRA

In United States v. Ofomata, (ED LA, Feb. 11, 2019), a Louisiana federal district court rejected a number of challenges to the federal death penalty, including the argument that the death-qualification process violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment by necessarily excluding jurors based on their religion. The court said in part:
Even assuming that Ofomata was able to show that the death-qualification process constitutes a substantial burden, his RFRA claim fails because “[t]he question [of] whether a juror is able to follow the law and apply the facts in an impartial way . . . is a compelling government interest.”

2nd Circuit Denies En Banc Review In RFRA Damages Case

In Tanvir v. Tanzin, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 7-3 denied en banc review of a panel decision that held RFRA plaintiffs could recover money damages against federal officials sued in their individual capacities. (See prior posting.) Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are three Muslim men who claim that federal officials placed or kept them on the no-fly list because they refused for religious reasons to act as FBI informants.  In denying en banc review, Chief Judge Katzmann and Judge Pooler filed an opinion explaining their reasons for doing so.  Judge Jacobs, joined by Judges Cabranes and Sullivan filed an opinion dissenting from the denial of review.

Court Refuses To Enjoin Florida Cities' Conversion Therapy Bans

In Otto v. City of Boca Raton, Florida, (SD FL, Feb. 13, 2019), a Florida federal district court refused to grant a preliminary injunction to prevent the cities of Boca Raton and Palm Beach, Florida from enforcing their ordinances that prohibit the use by medical professionals of sexual orientation change therapy on minors.  In a 60-page opinion, the court held that plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on their free speech, prior restraint, vagueness or ultra vires claims.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

New Jersey Dioceses Release Names of Accused Priests

North Jersey Record reports that the five Catholic dioceses in New Jersey yesterday posted the names of 188 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children over past decades.79 of the priests listed are still living. In a letter to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Newark, Cardinal James Tobin announced that a new Independent Victim Compensation Program has been established.

British Court Upholds Conviction For Holocaust Denial On YouTube

In Chabloz v. Regina, (Crown Ct., Feb. 13, 2019), s British Crown Court upheld the conviction of a Holocaust denier on three counts of sending a grossly offensive message by means of an electronic communication.  The decision upholds a Magistrates' Court conviction of Alsion Chabloz for three songs posted on Your Tube.The court held that Holocaust denial per se is not outlawed.  Rather, each instance of Holocaust denial must be examined to determine if it is grossly offensive.  The court describes each song as
a collection of anti-Semitic tropes or motifs, with a particular emphasis on Holocaust denial.  Furthermore, two of the songs are in whole or part set to the tunes of well-known Hebrew songs, which the prosecution says is no accident, bu rather a deliberate attempt to increase the insulting effect of each.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism reports that this is the first conviction in the UK for Holocaust denial on social media.

Satanic Temple Adherent Loses Challenge To Missouri Abortion Restrictions

In Doe v. Parson, (MO Sup, Ct., Feb. 13, 2019), the Missouri Supreme Court rejected a challenge by a member of the Satanic Temple to the state's informed consent abortion law. Rejecting both an Establishment Clause and a religious freedom challenge, the court said in part:
Ms. Doe alleges by offering her a booklet containing what she refers to as legislative findings constituting the “Missouri tenet,” Missouri is violating her religious beliefs by forcing her to read the contrary religious belief contained in the booklet. But the informed consent law does not purport to make any sort of legislative findings. It simply requires the noted statements be included in a booklet offered to a woman seeking an abortion. § 188.027....
This Court need not determine whether requiring Ms. Doe to have an ultrasound, to listen to the fetal heartbeat, or to read the booklet offered by Planned Parenthood would have constituted a restriction on her religious freedom, for the statute imposes no such requirements. Nothing in the informed consent law requires a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, much less to pay for the ultrasound or to listen to the fetal heartbeat. The informed consent law solely requires an abortion provider or another qualified professional to present a woman seeking an abortion with the opportunity to have or to view an ultrasound and, if she chooses to have one, an opportunity to listen to the heartbeat. Ms. Doe and any other woman is free to decline both opportunities.
Two justices also joined in concurring opinion. St. Louis Public Radio reports on the decision.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Cert Filed In Puerto Rico Catholic School Pension Case

A petition for certiorari (full text) was filed last month in Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Juan Puerto Rico v. Feliciano (filed 1/14/2019). At issue is whether Puerto Rico courts can get to the assets of numerous related Catholic entities in Puerto Rico to satisfy pension obligations to Catholic school employees,The petition describes the question presented as:
Whether the First Amendment empowers courts to override the chosen legal structure of a religious organization and declare all of its constituent parts a single legal entity subject to joint and several liability. 
The petition contains a translation of the opinion below rendered by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Curriculum On Muslim World Does Not Violate 1st Amendment

In Wood v, Arnold, (4th Cir., Feb. 11, 2019), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a high school student's Establishment Clause and free speech challenges to portions of classroom unit on The Muslim World.  One challenge was to the teacher's Power Point slide that included the statement that most Muslims' faith is stronger than that of the average Christian.  The other challenge was to the requirement on a work sheet for the student to fill in two words of the shahada.  The court said in part:
The use of both the comparative faith statement and the shahada assignment in Wood’s world history class involved no more than having the class read, discuss, and think about Islam. The comparative faith statement appeared on a slide under the heading “Peaceful Islam v. Radical Fundamental Islam.” The slide itself did not advocate any belief system but instead focused on the development of Islamic fundamentalism as a political force. And the shahada assignment appeared on the student worksheet under the heading “Beliefs and Practices: The Five Pillars.” Thus, the assignment asked the students to identify the tenets of Islam, but did not suggest that a student should adopt those beliefs as her own. 
Rejecting the student's compelled speech argument, the court said in part:
[T]he shahada assignment required Wood to write only two words of the shahada as an academic exercise to demonstrate her understanding of the world history curriculum. On these facts, we conclude that Wood’s First Amendment right against compelled speech was not violated.
[Thanks to Will Esser via Religionlaw for the lead.] 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Recent Articles and Book of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:
Recent Book:
  • Douglas Laycock, Religious Liberty (set of 5 volumes), (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Nov. 2018).

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Immunization Order Did Not Violate Mother's Free Exercise Rights

In In re Julie C.and Anthony Price, 2019 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 935 (CA App., Feb. 6, 2019), a California state appellate court held that a wife's free exercise rights were not violated by a court order in a divorce proceeding requiring immunization of her children.  In 2016, California repealed the personal belief exemption from immunization requirements for school children. The court ordered the immunizations on motion of the husband, finding that immunization was in the best interest of the children. (Corrected. Earlier version referred to wrong court).

Friday, February 08, 2019

House Dust Up Over Absence of "So Help Me God" In Oaths By Committee Witnesses

USA Today reported yesterday that Republican Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson, new chairman of the Republican Study Committee, as well as some other Republicans, are charging that Democrats in the House are making a concerted effort to eliminate the phrase "so hep me God" when they administer oaths to committee witnesses. The charges come after incidents in the House Judiciary Committee and House Natural Resources Committee. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

4th Circuit Allows Church To Move Ahead With Challenges To Zoning Denial

In Jesus Christ Is the Answer Ministries, Inc. v. Baltimore County, Maryland, (4th Cir., Feb. 7, 2019), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, reversing a Maryland federal district court, refused to dismiss a church's complaint regarding zoning denials that prevented it from operating a church on land that its pastor had purchased. The court held that plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged a substantial burden on their religious practice and discrimination based on religious denomination under RLUIPA. The court said in part:
Particularly relevant to this case, a government decision influenced by community members’ religious bias is unlawful, even if the government decisionmakers display no bias themselves.
The court also vacated the lower court's dismissal of plaintiffs' free exercise, equal protection and state constitutional claims. [Thanks to Will Wsser via Religionlaw for the lead.]

Supreme Court Keeps Injunction Against Louisiana Abortion Law In Effect

In June Medical Services, L.L.C. v. Gee, (US Sup. Ct. Feb. 7, 2019), a case involving Louisiana's new abortion law, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote prevented the law from going into effect pending the filing of a petition for certiorari.  A 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision  had stayed a district court's injunction against the law.  Now the Supreme Court has stayed the 5th Circuit's action. At issue is a facial challenge to Louisiana's law that requires doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.  Challengers had argued that this would leave only one abortion clinic operating in the state.  In allowing the law to go into effect, the 5th Circuit questioned that conclusion.  In the Supreme Court, Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh would have denied the application so that the law could take effect.  Justice Gorsuch, writing only for himself, filed an opinion saying that:
I would deny the stay without prejudice to the plaintiffs’ ability to bring a later as-applied complaint and motion for preliminary injunction at the conclusion of the 45-day regulatory transition period if the Fifth Circuit’s factual prediction about the doctors’ ability to obtain admitting privileges proves to be inaccurate.
NBC News reports on the decision.

Supreme Court Vacates Execution Stay of Muslim Inmate Who Wanted Imam At His Side

By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday vacated the the stay of execution that had been granted the day before by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to a Muslim inmate who wanted to have his Imam present in the execution chamber when he was executed by lethal injection. (See prior posting.) In Dunn v. Ray, (US Sup. Ct., Feb. 7, 2019), the majority said it was granting the state's application because the inmate had waited until ten days before his Feb. 7 execution date to seek relief.  Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor dissented, saying in part:
Here, Ray has put forward a powerful claim that his religious rights will be violated at the moment the State puts him to death. The Eleventh Circuit wanted to hear that claim in full. Instead, this Court short-circuits that ordinary process—and itself rejects the claim with little briefing and no argument—just so the State can meet its preferred execution date.
Pro Publica has a lengthy report on Domineque Ray and his murder trial.

President Addresses National Prayer Breakfast

Yesterday President Trump delivered a 20-minute address to the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast. (Full text). The President emphasized his positions and actions his Administration has taken on numerous issues including human trafficking, abortion and faith-based adoption agencies. Trump said in part:
As President, I will always cherish, honor, and protect the believers who uplift our communities and sustain our nation. To ensure that people of faith can always contribute to our society, my administration has taken historic action to protect religious liberty.

Special Envoy To Monitor Anti-Semitism Is Appointed

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the appointment of  Elan S. Carr as the United States Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.  The State Department has posted Carr's biography. Most recently he served as Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County.  He is an Iraq War veteran and the son of Iraqi Jewish refugees.  As reported by Times of Israel, the Envoy position has been vacant for two years. Last month the House of Representatives passed HR 221 that would have given the Envoy ambassadorial rank and have required the President to nominate someone for the position within 90 days.

Settlement Reached In Church's Suit Over Homeless Shelter Restrictions

Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports that on Wednesday the St. Paul, Minnesota City Council approved a settlement in a lawsuit filed against it by First Lutheran Church over hosting Listening House, a day shelter for the homeless, in the Church's basement.  Last July, a federal district court issued a preliminary injunction as to two of the conditions imposed on the use. (See prior posting.) A settlement was reached with Listening House in December. Under this week's settlement with the Church, the city agrees to alert religious institutions on its zoning forms of their RLUIPA rights, and to conduct a study of better procedures for land use applications by religious institutions. [Thanks to Evan Berquist for the lead.]