Saturday, September 22, 2018

Cert Filed In Title VII Sabbath Accommodation Case

Last week, a petition for certiorari (full text) was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Patterson v. Walgreen Co. (cert. filed 9/14/2018).  In the case, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Walgreens had offered reasonable accommodations under Title VII for the religious needs of a Seventh Day Adventist employee whose beliefs did not permit him to work on Saturday. The employee, a training instructor, was fired in the aftermath of his refusal to conduct an emergency training session on a Saturday. (See prior posting.)  The Seventh Day Adventist Church issued a press release announcing the filing of the petition for review.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Israeli Court Fines Orthodox Jewish Station For Excluding Women On Broadcasts

Times of Israel reported yesterday:
In a precedent-setting ruling, the Jerusalem District Court fined the ultra-Orthodox Kol Berama radio station NIS 1 million ($280,000) on Thursday for excluding women from the airwaves.
The judge ordered the money be held in a designated fund that will later be distributed to various organizations helping ultra-Orthodox women.
The ruling comes six years after the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center and the religious women’s rights group Kolech filed a class action lawsuit against the radio station for its refusal to broadcast women on any of its programming.

Congressman Claims Advocacy Groups Are Spying On Christian School Groups In Louisiana

As a lawsuit against the  Bossier Parish, Louisiana school board alleging widespread Establishment Clause violations continues, Louisiana congressman Mike Johnson this week posted the following warning on his campaign/personal Facebook page:
WARNING TO OUR FRIENDS IN BOSSIER SCHOOLS (Please share):
Last night we received very credible information that atheist litigation groups in CA have contacted private investigators in our area to try to hire them to obtain hidden video of Christian student groups and activities at Benton High School and potentially other Bossier Parish schools.
Unfortunately, this is to be expected now that these groups perceive the Bossier Parish School District as an ATM machine for attorney fee awards in what they believe will be easy Establishment Clause lawsuits. They are wrong, as our district is following the law--even as we fight vigorously to defend religious freedom. Sadly, Bossier schools will have to endure this legal harassment from the atheist groups for a while now, so everyone needs to be prepared.
According to an AP report, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says it has not hired private investigators, and the school district's attorney says he has no first hand knowledge of this kind of activity.

Court Continues Preliminary Injunction Against Trump's Policy On Transgender Military Service

In  Stockman v. Trump, (CD CA, Sept. 18, 2018), a California federal district court refused to dissolve a previously issued preliminary injunction barring enforcement of President Trump's August 2017 Memorandum that excludes transgender individuals from the military. The government argued that a subsequent March 2018 Presidential memorandum revoking the 2017 one and instead implementing a policy recommended by the Department of Defense mooted the earlier challenge. The court concluded however:
For the purpose of mootness, the controversy presented by the new policy is substantively the same as the controversy presented by the old policy. Transgender individuals will be disadvantaged “in the same fundamental way.”
The court went on to find that the transgender ban cannot survive intermediate scrutiny, rejecting the government's military readiness and unit cohesion arguments. MetroWeekly reports on the decision.

RFRA Defense To Virgin Islands Marijuana Prosecution Fails

In People of the Virgin Islands v. Felix, (VI Super. Ct., Sept. 11, 2018), a Virgin Island trial court avoided deciding the interesting question of whether RFRA applies to the Virgin Islands even though it does not apply to states. Instead the court held that even if RFRA does apply, the Virgin Islands' ban on possession of marijuana with intent to distribute would survive a RFRA challenge by defendant, a Rastafarian.  The court concluded that both the "substantial burden" and "compelling interest" tests under RFRA were not met.  The court said in part:
The defendant might have been successful in defending against a charge of simple possession of marijuana since marijuana is important to Rastafarian religious practice.  But there exists in the record no evidence establishing that the distribution of marijuana is a requirement of Rastafarianism.
Furthermore, the circumstances leading to the Defendant's arrest were clearly unrelated to his religious beliefs. At the time of his arrest, the Defendant was an employee of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands and allegedly used the Superior Court's corporate account to have 127.5 grams of marijuana transported — without the knowledge of the Superior Court — from St. Croix to himself on St. Thomas. The Defendant received the drugs at about eleven-thirty in the morning during his shift....

New Law and Religion Journal

Virginia Wesleyan University's Center for the Study of Religious Freedom has published the first issue (full text) of a new on-line journal, Religio et Lex. The journal's call for papers says it:
seeks submissions of quality papers on any aspect of the intersection of religion(s) and law, including the experience of religious adherents under secular legal systems and examinations of religious legal systems...
The journal will publish both student and faculty papers. A link to Religio et. Lex has been added to the Religion Clause sidebar under "Journals".

Thursday, September 20, 2018

RFRA Defense To Harboring Aliens Rejected At Pre-Trial Stage

An Arizona federal district court this week refused to dismiss criminal charges against Scott Warren, a volunteer with the humanitarian group No More Deaths.(Background). Warren was charged with concealing and harboring aliens to avoid their detention by immigration authorities. The complaint alleges that Warren gave two men who crossed the border illegally food, water, beds and clean clothes for three days.  In United States v. Warren, (D AZ, Sept. 17, 2018), the court rejected at this stage of the case Warren's defense that his actions are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The court held that RFRA is an affirmative defense to the charges against Warren, and should be decided through a trial rather than through a pre-trial motion to dismiss. [Thanks to Stephanie Inks via Religionlaw for the lead.]

NY Diocese Reaches $27.5M Settlement With 4 Abuse Victims

According to Talk Media News and the New York Times, the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn (NY) and an after-school program this week agreed to pay $27.5 million to settle claims by four men who, as young boys, were repeatedly raped by Angelo Serrano who worked as a volunteer religion teacher in a Brooklyn church.  The abuse occurred from 2003-2009 when the boys were between 8 and 12 years old, and took place in Serrano's apartment next door to the church where he often invited the victims for sleep-overs. This is believed to be the largest Catholic Church settlement with individual plaintiffs for sex abuse.

Suit Argues Drag Queen Story Time Violates Establishment Clause

KADN News reported yesterday on a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Louisiana by two religious groups-- Warriors for Christ and Special Forces of Liberty-- seeking to stop Drag Queen Story Time at the Lafayette, Louisiana public library.  The lawsuit argues that the program endorses secular humanism. According to a report last month by the Acadiana Advocate:
Drag Queen Story Time entails a group of male University of Louisiana at Lafayette students reading books to young children while dressed in women’s clothing. Library staff will select the books, which are to be appropriate for children ages three to six. It is scheduled for Oct. 6 at the main branch downtown.
The attorney filing the lawsuit for the religious groups is Christophe Sevier, who has filed numerous suits around the country contending that homosexuality is a "religion." (See prior posting).  Commenting on the Louisiana lawsuit, Sevier said:
The evidence would suggest that the self identified transgendered. They are using a government facility to show that the governments backs their worldview to then target children, to indoctrinate them under a faith based ideology.

New Jersey Dioceses Release Victims From Non-Disclosure Agreements

This week, Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, announced that victims of priest sexual abuse are free to ignore confidentiality agreements they signed in settling their claims with dioceses in New Jersey.  Such agreements were used in settlements prior to 2002.  NJ.com reports on this statement issued by Brannigan:
Cardinal Joseph Tobin and the other Catholic bishops of New Jersey have no issue if someone who had signed a settlement agreement prior to 2002 speaks publicly about his or her ordeal. In fact, we tell survivors who come forward that we will inform law enforcement of their allegations, and we encourage them to do the same.

Cert Filed In Case Testing Limits of Trinity Lutheran Case

A petition for certiorari (full text) was filed on Tuesday with the U.S. Supreme Court in Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.  In the case, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that historic preservation grants to 12 churches (totaling $4.6 million) violate the Religious Aid Clause of the New Jersey Constitution.  The Court went on to hold that this interpretation does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The petition for review frames the issues in the case as follows:
1. Whether using generally available historic preservation funds to repair or restore a house of worship constitutes a “religious use” that falls outside the scope of Trinity Lutheran [v. Comer].
2. Whether the categorical exclusion of all active houses of worship from historic preservation grants violates Trinity Lutheran and the First Amendment as an exclusion based on religious status.
Becket issued a press release announcing the filing of the cert. petition.

In 6th Circuit: Christian School Loses RLUIPA Equal Terms Challenge

In Tree of Life Christian Schools v. City of Upper Arlington, Ohio, (6th Cir., Sept. 18, 2018), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision held that a private Christian school had failed to establish a prima facie case under the "equal terms" provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.  At issue was the prohibition in Upper Arlington's zoning master plan of the operation of schools-- both secular and religious-- in the area zoned as an office and research center district.  The majority held that the ordinance is "no more onerous to Tree of Life than it is to nonreligious entities that generate comparably small amounts of revenue for the City."  Judge Thapar dissented, arguing that the majority was incorrect in holding that comparator institutions under RLUIPA's equal terms provision must be "similarly situated" in regard to legitimate zoning criteria. Columbus Dispatch reports on the decision. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

President Sends Yom Kippur Greetings

The Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur begins this evening.  President Trump issued a Presidential Message (full text) today sending greetings to all Jewish people, saying in part:
Melania and I pray that you are all inscribed in the Book of Life and hope this period of reflection and repentance leads to a deeper relationship with God. 

Cert. Petition Filed In Case On Cross In Public Park

A petition for certiorari was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in City of Pensacola, Florida v. Kondrat'yev. In the case a 3-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, feeling bound by prior 11th Circuit and Supreme Court precedent, affirmed a Florida district court's Establishment Clause decision ordering Pensacola to remove a 34-foot Latin cross from a public park. (See prior posting). Becket issued a press release announcing the filing of the petition for review.

European Court Says Hijab Must Be Allowed In Courtroom

In Lachiri v. Belgium, (ECHR, Sept. 18, 2018) (full text in French), the European court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment held that a Belgian court's excluding an ordinary citizen-- not a state employee-- from the courtroom because she refused to remove her hijab infringed her right to freedom of religion guaranteed by Art. 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. One member of the 7 judge panel dissented and two judges filed a concurring opinion.  A press release from the Court in English provides more details. [Thanks to Paul de Mello Jr. for the lead.]

Mahwah Settles New Jersey;'s Suit Against It Over Anti-Jewish Ordinances

A settlement agreement (full text) was reached yesterday in Grewal v. Towship of Mahwah. (D NJ).  In the case, New Jersey's attorney general charged the Town of Mahwah with religious discrimination aimed at preventing an influx of Orthodox Jews.  In particular, the suit pointed to an ordinance banning out-of-state residents from using public parks, and another aimed at preventing the construction of eruvs. (See prior posting.) The settlement acknowledges repeal of the parks ordinance and affirms the right of residents to build eruvs in the township. $350,000 in penalties and attorneys' fees were suspended so long as terms of the settlement are not violated in the next four years. Various record keeping and reporting requirements are also included in the settlement. NJ.com reports on the settlement. [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for the lead.]

Suit Seeks More Information On Clergy Abuse In Pennsylvania

Yesterday a class action lawsuit was filed in a Pennsylvania state trial court alleging that eight Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses continue to cover up sexual abuse by priests despite the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy abuse. The suit was brought on behalf of victims of clergy sexual abuse and children currently enrolled in Catholic schools. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief ordering dioceses to release all information in their possession regarding predatory priests, including the names of predatory priests that were redacted from the grand jury report. AP and York Daily Record report on the lawsuit.

In a related report, yesterday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a background story on Daniel Dye, the state Attorney General's prosecutor who led the grand jury investigation of abuse by Catholic clergy.  The paper says that since the release of the grand jury report, the Attorney General's office has received 1,000 calls from people reporting abuse.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Legal issues relating to sexual orientation and religion):
From SmartCILP:

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Ackerman v. Washington, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151742 (ED MI, Sept. 6, 2018), a Michigan federal district court reinstated Orthodox Jewish inmates claim that providing a vegan diet instead of a kosher diet imposes a substantial burden on the sincere religious beliefs that plaintiffs must eat meat on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays and dairy on Shavuot.

In Luther v. White, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151896 (W KY, Sept. 6, 2018), a Kentucky federal district court allowed a Rastafarian inmate to supplement his prior complaint by adding a claim that he was denied the right to purchase and use incense.

In Ritter v. Davis, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152028 (ND OH, Sept. 6, 2018), an Ohio federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152036, Aug. 20, 2018) and refused to dismiss a Jewish inmate's complaint that his request for kosher meals was denied.

In Pleasant-Bey v. Luttrell, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152864 (WD TN, Sept. 7, 2018), a Tennessee federal district court dismissed a Muslim inmate's challenges to the prison's limitations on Jumu'ah services, food service policies regarding Ramadan, and its policies regarding the hiring of an imam.

In Soriano v. Spearman, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153187 (ED CA, Sept. 6, 2018), a California federal magistrate judge recommended allowing a Muslim inmate to move ahead with his complaint that Muslim inmates, unlike others, were not allowed to perform their prayers in the chapel, requiring them to pray outside in extreme weather conditions.

In Harvey v. Baker, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153802 (WD VA, Sept. 10, 2018), a Virginia federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with his free exercise claim for damages for denial of a pork-free diet that conformed to his Sunni Muslim beliefs.

In Burroughs v. Mitchell, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153808 (ND NY, Sept. 6, 2018), a New York federal district court, sorting through a wide-ranging complaint, dismissed an inmate's complaint that on one occasion defendants refused to provide a Koran, prayer rug, Kufi, and Ramadan meal, but allowed him to move ahead with his claim that one defendant refused to provide him with his religious items in retaliation for his refusal to respond to questions about two other inmates' escape.

In Dent v. Dennison, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153950 (SD IL, Sept.10, 2018), an Illinois federal district court rejected a magistrate's recommendation (2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153946, July 13, 2018) and refused to require prison authorities to allow an inmate to attend both Catholic and Protestant religious services.

Appeals Court Remands Employment Discrimination Claim Against NJ Corrections Department

In Roseus v. State of New Jersey, (NJ App., Sept. 10, 2018), a New Jersey state appeals court remanded to the trial court a suit in which plaintiff claimed the Department of Corrections (DOC) violated the state's Law Against Discrimination when it dismissed him from a training program for corrections officers. DOC refused to grant  Marven Roseus, who for religious reasons does not shave his face or head, a religious accommodation to depart from the Department's grooming rules. The appeals court held:
[D]efendants moved for dismissal... Consequently, there is no record.... [W]e do not have a record of the DOC's actual grooming policy, the rationale for that policy, whether the DOC has granted accommodations to others from its grooming policy, whether the DOC engaged in a "bona fide effort" to accommodate plaintiff, and whether an accommodation to plaintiff would impose an "undue hardship" on the DOC. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Muslim Inmate Wins $25,000 Damages Against Correctional Officer

In an unusual success for a prisoner case, a Nevada judge has awarded $15,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages against a prison correctional officer in a suit by a Muslim inmate.  In Howard v. Foster, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151629 (D NV, Sept. 6, 2018), the court described the correctional officer's conduct:
On the morning of August 19, 2012, somewhere between 40 and 60 Muslim inmates were holding Eid prayer services in the SDCC gymnasium....  The room was quiet enough for the individual leading the prayer to be heard by the other prayer participants.
During the prayer service, however, [correctional officer] Dicus began talking loudly enough for Howard and other prayer participants to hear. At first, Dicus asked the other officers why the inmates were in the gymnasium for prayer services. Then, Dicus began cursing and disparaging Muslims.... Dicus stated that he hoped Muslims would die....
Howard heard Diggle warn Dicus that the Muslim inmates would file grievances regarding his statements. Dicus responded, "Mother fucker grievance. . . . . I kill[ ] Muslims, you know. . . . They need to get their ass up out of here. What the hell we allowing them to be down there doing whatever they doing?"...
Dicus' outburst began very early on in the Eid prayer service and made the service unbearable to the participants. Because Dicus' comments were so disruptive, the Muslim inmates were not able to complete the  Eid prayer service, and they did not have the Eid feast that they had planned to share in after prayer.

Court Refuses To Dismiss Challenge To Michigan's Protection of Catholic Adoption Agencies

In an important decision, a Michigan federal district court in Dumont v. Lyon, (ED MI, Sept. 14, 2018), held that same-sex couples can move ahead with their Establishment Clause and equal protection claims against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for permitting child placing agencies that contract with the state and receive state funds to use religious criteria to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.  Laws enacted by the Michigan legislature in 2015 protect child-placing agencies from being required to provide adoption or foster care placements that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs, or being penalized for doing so. (See prior posting.)

In a 93-page opinion, the court first concludes that plaintiffs have Article III (but not taxpayer) standing to bring their challenges. Then, denying defendants' motion to dismiss, the court says in part:
Plaintiffs plausibly allege ... that the State’s practice of contracting with and permitting faith-based child placing agencies to turn away same-sex couples has both the subjective purpose of discriminating against those who oppose the view of the faith-based agencies ... and objectively endorses the religious view of those agencies that same-sex marriage is wrong, sending a “‘message [to Plaintiffs] that they are outsiders, not full members of the community.’”....
The child placing agencies are, in many ways, the gateway for a family seeking to adopt or foster a child into Michigan’s adoption and foster care system. The scope of their duties, and hence any “government exclusivity” of the functions they perform, must be the subject of further discovery. For purposes of analyzing Plaintiffs’ Establishment Clause claim, the Court must accept the allegations of the Complaint as true and such allegations surely “implicate” the Establishment Clause and plausibly suggest “excessive entanglement” such that the Court will allow Plaintiffs’ Establishment Clause claim to proceed further....
Plaintiffs are entitled to an opportunity to conduct discovery to support their claim that the State’s practice of continuing to contract with faith-based agencies that invoke PA53’s religious belief protection to turn away same-sex couples lacks a rational basis and to further develop their Equal Protection claim.
ACLU issued a press release announcing the decision.