Thursday, October 17, 2019

EEOC Sues Over Harassment of Pentecostal Employees

The EEOC announced yesterday that it has filed suit against Service Caster Corp. alleging discrimination and harassment of three employees because of their Puerto Rican national origin and their Pentecostal religion. The complaint (full text) in EEOC v. Service Caster Corp., (ED PA, filed 9/30/2019), alleges in part that the plant manager repeatedly referred to Pentecostalism as a " disgusting cult".

Cert. Denied In Challenge To High School Unit On Islam

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in Wood v. Arnold, (Docket No. 18-1438, certiorari denied 10/15/2019). (Order List.)   In the case, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a high school student's Establishment Clause and compelled speech challenges to a classroom unit on The Muslim World.  One challenge was to the teacher's Power Point slide which 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. (See prior posting.) The Free Thinker blog has more on the case.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Naval Base Protesters May Not Raise RFRA or 1st Amendment Defenses

In United States v. Kelly, (SD GA, Oct. 11, 2019), a Georgia federal magistrate judge ruled that seven Catholics who are members of an activist group opposed to nuclear weapons cannot raise RFRA or First Amendment defenses in their trial for trespass and destruction of government property.  Defendants broke into a highly secured Naval Submarine Base and in protest of nuclear weapons poured blood on the ground, hung banners and painted messages. (See prior posting.)  The court said in part:
Here, the Court has already fully considered Defendants’ RFRA arguments in the course of ruling on Defendants’ motions to dismiss. In its ruling, the Court determined that the Government has shown a compelling interest and that it is utilizing the least restrictive means...., Because this determination has been made as a matter of law, and Defendants may not present a RFRA defense to the jury at trial....

Court Vacates Obama-Era Rule Mandating Gender Transition and Abortion Procedures

In Franciscan Alliance, Inc. v. Azar, (ND TX, Oct. 15, 2019), a Texas federal district court vacated and remanded for further consideration a rule issued by the Obama administration under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or termination of pregnancy in health care programs that receive federal financial assistance. The court relied on reasoning in its earlier preliminary injunction decision (see prior posting) concluding that requiring health care providers to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender transitions and abortions in violation of their religious beliefs violates RFRA.  The court held that vacatur is the proper remedy for an unlawful agency rule, and so refused to also issue a nationwide permanent injunction. In the case the court had allowed the ACLU and the River City Gender Alliance to intervene to defend the Obama administration rule. Becket Law issued a press release announcing the decision.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Secy. Pompeo Speaks To Christian Conference

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on Friday to the American Association of Christian Counselors meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.The full text of his remarks titled "Being a Christian Leader" are featured on the State Department's website, along with a video of his remarks. Pompeo said in part:
... I’m especially telling the truth about the dire condition of religious freedom around the world. America has a proud history of religious freedom, and we want jealously to guard it here.  But around the world, more than 80% of mankind lives in areas where religious freedom is suppressed or denied in its entirety.
The Chinese Communist Party ... is detaining and abusing more than one million Uighur Muslims in internment camps in the Xinjiang. ...
So Christian pastors today are being unlawfully arrested, beaten, detained inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.  We need to speak about this.
Christian areas in northern Iraq that I’ve had the privilege to visit have been ravaged by ISIS, part of a greater trend of Christian persecution all across the Middle East.
And so the truth – for the past two years we’ve spoken the truth.  We’ve hosted ministerials....  We’ve told the world about these shortfalls and the success of nations when individuals are given their basic human dignity to practice their conscience, their faith, or to choose no faith if they so choose all around the world.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

Friday, October 11, 2019

Citizen Lacks Standing To Challenge City's Annual Menorah Lighting

In Taylor v. City of Flagstaff, (D AZ, Oct. 9, 2019), an Arizona federal district court held that a citizen of Flagstaff, Arizona lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of the city's annual Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall.  The court said in part:
Although Plaintiff is a resident of Flagstaff..., Plaintiff did not allege that he has had direct contact with the Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall, or any other religious ceremony purportedly held in City Hall. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff’s contact with the Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall has, at most, been via newspaper articles reporting the “Flagstaff Hanukkah tradition.”.... While Plaintiff alleges that he has been “quite concerned” and “very disturbed” by the Grand Menorah Lighting at City Hall, ... —without more, the injury asserted by Plaintiff is too generalized and remote to confer standing....
The court concluded that the same test for standing applies to both plaintiff's Establishment Clause claim and his claim under the no-aid provision of the state constitution.

USCIRF Launches New Database of Religious Persecution Victims

On Monday at an International Religious Freedom Roundtable in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom announced that it has launched the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) Victims List. The database lists those who have been victims of religious persecution in countries that USCIRF has recommended be designated "Countries of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

EEOC Sues Over Denial of Religious Accommodation To Messianic Jewish Employee

The EEOC yesterday announced the filing of a lawsuit against Center One, LLC, a call center company:
According to the EEOC's lawsuit ..., a call center employee at Center One's Beaver Falls, Pa., location, who is an adherent of Messianic Judaism, sought a reasonable accommodation of his religious beliefs and practice that he abstain from work on days of religious observance.... Center One imposed disciplinary points against the Messianic Jewish employee for his absences in observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Center One required that the employee provide a certification from a religious leader or religious organization "on letterhead" as a precondition of granting him time off as a reasonable accommodation and imposed disciplinary points against the Messianic Jewish employee for his absences in observance of those religious holidays...

EEOC Suit Over Insults To Muslim Employees Settled

The EEOC announced  that a consent decree was signed on Tuesday settling a suit against Haliburton Energy Services. The suit charged that two Muslim workers were subjected to taunts and name calling over their religion and national origin. One was fired for complaining about his treatment.  In the consent decree, the company agreed to pay $275,000 in damages. The decree also enjoined future violations and requires training of human resource and managerial employees. (See prior related posting.)

Court Defers To Decisions of Parent Body In Dispute With Break-Away Presbyterian Congregation

In Presbytery of Seattle v. Schulz, (WA App., Oct. 7, 2019), a Washington state appellate court upheld a trial court's deference to decisions of the Administrative Commission set up by the Presbyterian Church USA's representative in connection with disputes regarding a break-away congregation.  Finding that the Presbyterian church is a hierarchical church, the court concluded that the trial court correctly deferred to the decisions of the Administrative Commission that the disaffiliation of the First Presbyterian Church of Seattle was invalid, any interest it had in church property was held in trust for the benefit of Presbyterian Church USA, and the church's severance agreements with its pastors were invalid.  The court rejected the argument by the local church that the national body no longer had ecclesiastical jurisdiction over it once it disaffiliated, so determinations after that date by the Administrative Commission should not binding.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Cert. Denied In Dispute Over Liability of National Church Body For Sex Abuse By Church Elder

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York v. J.W., (Docket No. 19-40, certiorari denied 10/7/2019). (Order List). In the case, a California state appellate court upheld an award against national church body of over $4 million to a girl who, when she was ten years old, was sexually abused by an elder of the Jehovah's Witness church.  (See prior posting.) The petition for certiorari (full text) raised 1st Amendment issues both as to liability for acts of congregants and production of internal documents. Friendly Atheist blog discusses the case.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

US Sanctions Chinese Entities For Human Rights Abuses of Uighurs

In a press release yesterday, he U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it is imposing sanctions on 28 Chinese governmental and commercial organizations because they have been implicated in China's human rights abuses of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Thompson Reuters reports on these developments.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments In LGBTQ Employment Discrimination Cases

Today the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases involving whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act covers employment discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender individuals.  Two of the cases (consolidated for oral argument) involve whether the ban on discrimination on the "because of sex" covers sexual orientation discrimination.  The cases are Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (case page on SCOTUSblog) and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda (case page on SCOTUSblog). Here is the transcript of the full oral argument. The third case is R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (case page on SCOTUSblog). It raises the question of whether Title VII's ban on "sex" discrimination protects transgender individuals from employment discrimination.  Here is the transcript of the full oral argument. CNN reports on the oral arguments.

White House Issues Yom Kippur Greetings

The White House today released a Presidential Message on Yom Kippur, 2019 (full text). The message reads in part:
On this day, as Jews around the world stand in front of the open ark, facing the holy Torah and asking God’s forgiveness, Melania and I pray that He may seal you in the Book of Life for the coming year and grant His people a year of sweetness and plenty.
Yom Kippur begins at sundown tonight.

Cert. Petition Filed In Contraceptive Mandate Exemption Challenge

The Justice Department yesterday filed a petition for certiorari (full text) in Trump v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In the case, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court's entry of a nationwide preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Trump Administration's final rules expanding the scope of the exemptions under the Affordable Care Act for employers having religious or moral objections to contraceptive coverage. (See prior posting.) The cert. petition presents the following questions:
1. Whether the agencies had statutory authority under the ACA and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ..., to expand the conscience exemption to the contraceptive-coverage mandate.
2. Whether the agencies’ decision to forgo notice and opportunity for public comment before issuing the interim final rules rendered the final rules—which were issued after notice and comment—invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act....
3. Whether the court of appeals erred in affirming a nationwide preliminary injunction barring implementation of the final rules.
[Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Certiorari Denied In Challenge To "Bible in the Schools" Program

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in Mercer County Board of Education v. Deal, (Docket No. 18-1487, certiorari denied 10/7/2019).  (Order List.) In the case, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a West Virginia federal district court and held that a student who had withdrawn from the offending school system (and her parent) had standing to challenge the school system's Bible in the Schools program. It also held that the claim was ripe for adjudication. (See prior posting.) Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports on the Supreme Court's action.