Monday, June 30, 2014

Some Preliminary Thoughts On Today's Hobby Lobby Decision

The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby opinions handed down today could (and not doubt will) spawn hundreds of pages of scrutiny and analysis.  In this post I offer only some very preliminary reactions, but ones which I hope will be useful starting points for others in analyzing the decisions at greater length.

(1) One of the most widely discussed questions raised by Hobby Lobby has been: Can corporations exercise religion? Justice Alito avoids many of the difficulties posed by this question through adopting the "nexus of contracts" view of corporations put forward by "law and economics" scholars during the past 40 years.  He says:
A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.... [P]rotecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.
This approach avoids both the question of whether an "artificial person" can exercise religion, and whether traditional "piercing-the-corporate-veil" notions need to be invoked.

(2) Much attention has been focused on whether the government can show a "compelling interest" in imposing the contraceptive coverage mandate.  Again Justice Alito is able to avoid dealing directly with the issue. By focusing instead on the "least restrictive means" prong of RFRA strict scrutiny, he is able merely to "assume" that the government has a compelling interest, without deciding the issue.

(3) Justice Alito's "least restrictive means" discussion  creates some of the most important surprises, and may lead those who supported Hobby Lobby's position to recall the adage: "be careful what you wish for."  Jutice Alito makes two points. First, he argues that the "most straightforward" less restrictive alternative would be for the government to assume the cost of furnishing contraceptive coverage. The logical extension of this argument seems to be that if numerous other religious objections to providing employer coverage arise, the best alternative may be a single-payer government-run system.

Second, Justice Alito heaps praise on the less restrictive alternative that the government has already developed for religious non-profits, and suggests that this may be the most feasible alternative here as well.  However, as Justice Alito briefly references in a footnote, an equally fierce battle against just that alternative is working its way through dozens of lower federal courts.  Seldom has the Supreme Court so tipped its hand on its views about cases about to come to it.  Dozens of religious non-profits are arguing that opting out of furnishing contraceptive coverage, and thereby triggering coverage from elsewhere, still amounts to religiously objectionable participation.  For-profit corporations with religious beliefs seemingly have the same free-exercise concerns. The majority must think those concerns are not justified.

Supreme Court Denies Cert. In Reparative Therapy and Mt. Soledad Cross Cases

Nearly lost in the coverage of today's Hobby Lobby decision were two important denials of certiorari by the Supreme Court. (Order List of June 30, 2014).  The court denied review in Pickup v. Brown (Docket No. 13-949) and the related case of Welch v. Brown (Docket No. 13-1281).  The 9th Circuit's consolidated decision in the two cases upheld the constitutionality of California Senate Bill 1172 that bans state-licensed mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with patients under 18. (See prior posting.)

Additionally, the Court denied certiorari in Mount Soledad Memorial Association v. Trunk, (Docket No. 13-1061).  In seeking cert., petitioners were attempting to bypass the 9th Circuit and obtain Supreme Court review of a long-running battle over a 43-foot high cross in the now federally-owned Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in California. (See prior posting.) Justice Alito filed a separate statement [scroll to end of Order List] concurring in the denial of review, but mainly because of the very demanding standard to obtain Supreme Court review before the Court of Appeals acts.

Supreme Court Rules RFRA Allows Closely-Held Corporations To Refuse Contraceptive Coverage

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., (S.Ct., June 30, 2014), the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations whose owners object on religious grounds to providing coverage for contraceptive services. In a majority opinion by Justice Alito, the court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to closely-held corporations, and that the government has not shown that the mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering its presumably compelling interest in guraranteeing cost-free access to the four contraceptive methods to which the companies object. Justice Alito said in part:
In fact, HHS has already devised and implemented a system that seeks to respect the religious liberty of religious nonprofit corporations while ensuring that the employees of these entities have precisely the same access to all FDA-approved contraceptives as employees of companies whose owners have no religious objections to providing such coverage. The employees of these religious nonprofit corporations still have access to insurance coverage without cost sharing for all FDA-approved contraceptives; and according to HHS, this system imposes no net economic burden on the insurance companies that are required to provide or secure the coverage.
Although HHS has made this system available to religious nonprofits that have religious objections to the contraceptive mandate, HHS has provided no reason why the same system cannot be made available when the owners of for-profit corporations have similar religious objections. We therefore conclude that this system constitutes an alternative that achieves all of the Government’s aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty. And under RFRA, that conclusion means that enforcement of the HHS contraceptive mandate against the objecting parties in these cases is unlawful.
Justice Alito argues that the majority opinion is narrow:
We do not hold, as the principal dissent alleges, that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
He says that if the same accommodation given to religious non-profits were extended to closely-held corporations, the effect on women "would be precisely zero."

Justice Kennedy filed a concurring opinion as well as joining Justice Alito's majority opinion. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan dissented in two related dissenting opinions.

Justice Ginsburg's dissenting opinion calls the majority's decision one of "startling breadth." She adds in a section of her dissent joined only by Justice Sotomayor: "Although the Court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private."

Additional analysis of the decision will follow in separate posts.

Supreme Court Grants Cert. On Whether EEOC's Conciliation Efforts Can Be Reviewed

The U.S. Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Mach Mining, LLC v. E.E.O.C. (Docket No. 13-1019, cert. granted 6/30/2014) (Order List.) The case is one involving alleged gender discrimination-- refusal to hire a woman as a coal miner.  The issue presented, however, will impact religious discrimination claims filed with the EEOC as well.  In the case, the 7th Circuit (full opinion) held that an employer sued by the EEOC for employment discrimination cannot raise as an affirmative defense the EEOC's failure to first engage in conciliation as required by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b). The Petition for Certiorari (full text) asserts that the 7th Circuit's decision exacerbated an already exiting conflict among circuits "over whether and how Title VII’s conciliation obligation may be enforced in court."

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:

EEOC Wins Settlement In Religious Discrimination Suit Against Auto Dealership

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced last week that a federal district court in Chicago has entered a consent decree in a suit brought by the EEOC against a suburban Chicago auto dealership, Rizza Buick GMC Cadillac, Inc.  The suit charged that managers made offensive ethnic and religious slurs against three Arab Muslim employees, including mocking and insulting references to the Qur'an and the manner in which Muslims pray. Under the settlement, the dealership will pay a total of $100,000 in damages plus undertaking reporting and employee training to prevent future violations. [Thanks to Steven H. Sholk for the lead.]

Supreme Court Will Decide Much-Watched Hobby Lobby Case Today

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down the much-awaited decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores  and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell. These challenges to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate raise a number of difficult and interesting religious liberty questions. Here are SCOTUS Blog's resource pages on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga. Also SCOTUS Blog will be live blogging from the courtroom here. The opinions in the cases will be posted here by the Supreme Court as soon as they are announced. Religion Clause will be reporting on the decisions and their implications, probably with a rolling post or with several posts during the day and beyond.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

ISIS Declares Caliphate In Parts of Syria and Iraq

As reported by Time, the Sunni group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) today declared a new Caliphate on the territory it holds in Syria and Iraq.  Its statement (full text) declared ISIS leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi to be the Caliph, and changed ISIS' name to merely Islamic State.  The lengthy statement included this explanation:
The time has come for those generations that were drowning in oceans of disgrace, being nursed on the milk of humiliation, and being ruled by the vilest of all people, after their long slumber in the darkness of neglect – the time has come for them to rise. The time has come for the ummah of Muhammad (peace be upon him) to wake up from its sleep, remove the garments of dishonor, and shake off the dust of humiliation and disgrace, for the era of lamenting and moaning has gone, and the dawn of honor has emerged anew. The sun of jihad has risen. The glad tidings of good are shining. Triumph looms on the horizon. The signs of victory have appeared.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Kaufman v. Pugh, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84532 (WD WI, June 20, 2014), a Wisconsin federal district court dismissed a complaint by a now-released prisoner that authorities refused to authorize an atheist study group. Injuntive relief was dismissed as moot, and a damage claim dismissed on qualified immunity grounds.

In Staple v. Commonwealth, 2014 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 388 (PA Commnw. Ct., June 26, 2014), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court denied both a writ of mandamus and a declaratory judgment to an inmate seeking return of several religious books that were confiscated because he had altered him.

In Neal-El v. Beitzel, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84943 (D MD, June 23, 2014), a Maryland federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that for one week he was removed from the list of those permitted to attend Moorish Science Temple services while officials investigated an unfounded report that he was involved in activities jeopardizing security.

In Marron v. Miller, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86629 (WD VA, June 24, 2014), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a Muslim inmate's complaint that his religious books were confiscated as contraband because they were inscribed with his religious name rather than the name recognized by the prison system.

District Court Denies Injunction Against ACA Non-Profit Rules; 3rd Circuit Issues Temporary Stay

In Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia v. Burwell, (ED PA, June 27, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court denied a preliminary injunction to several Catholic charitable organizations that object to the Affordable Care Act rules providing for execution of an opt-out form in order to avoid the requirement to cover contraceptive services under their self-insured health care plan. (Full text of complaint.) After a non-profit opts out, ERISA requires the third party administrator to directly cover contraceptive services. The court concluded that plaintiffs had not shown a likelihood of success on the merits because the government may not be able to enforce the ERISA requirement against the "church plan" at issue. Even if that is not the case, the court found that the self-certification form is not what triggers the furnishing of contraceptive services by the third-party administrator.

Plaintiffs quickly filed a motion for a stay pending appeal, and the 3rd Circuit issued an order (full text) temporarily granting the stay, but requiring the parties to file responses addressing the impact of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby and Conestoga decisions (to be handed down Monday) on the issues presented. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the decision.

Puerto Rico Appeals Court Applies Ministerial Exception Doctrine

In Vega v. Barbara Ann Roessler Church, Inc., 2014 PR App LEXIS 1954 (PR Ct. App., May 30, 2014), the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision applied the "ministerial exception" doctrine to dismiss a claim by a minister that he was unfairly dismissed as pastor of his church. The opinion is in Spanish.

Plaintiff Lacks Standing In Establishment Clause Challenge To ACA Individual Mandate

In Cutler v. United States, (D DC, June 25, 2014), the District of Columbia federal district court dismissed a challenge to the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.  Plaintiff based his challenge primarily on a claim that the narrow religious exemption in 26 USC Sec. 5000A(d)(2) violates the Establishment Clause by allowing the government to "regulate and track a person’s religion, and . . . to favor one religion over another." The court concluded that plaintiff lacks standing to raise this claim:
Plaintiff is non-observant in his religion and does not assert that a religious exemption should be extended to him.... Plaintiff’s argument is as follows: there is an exemption to the individual mandate for certain religious groups, he is not a member of any of those groups, and, therefore, he is not able to claim that exemption. It follows that Plaintiff’s challenge to the religious exemption solely is based on the general existence of the exemption and not on the exemption’s specific application to him...
... Further, even if the Court were to find that religious exemption violated the exercise of Congress’ Commerce Power in violation of the First Amendment, Plaintiff would be in the same position. He would be subject to the individual mandate and would be required to either obtain health insurance coverage or pay the penalty. The only difference would be that no one else could claim a religious exemption.
The court went on to conclude that even if plaintiff had standing, the religious exemption provisions do not violate the Establishment Clause.

Former Vatican Diplomat Defrocked On Sex Abuse Charges; Criminal Trial Will Follow

Vatican Information Service reported on Friday:
The first stage in the canonical trial against the former apostolic nuncio in the Dominican Republic, Josef Wesolowski, has been concluded with the laicisation of the prelate.
According to Al Jazeera, in August the Vatican recalled Wesolowski from his position in the Dominican Republic after rumors that he had sexually abused teenage boys there. Dominican authorities were unable to charge him because he had diplomatic immunity. Weslowski has two months to appeal Friday's decision by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.  After that, he will face criminal charges in a Vatican City State Tribunal. In the meantime, the Vatican says that it will limit his freedom of movement "in conformity with the gravity of the case."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

7th Circuit Stays District Court's Invalidation of Indiana's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

In Baskin v. Bogan, (7th Cir., June 27, 2014), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay pending appeal of a federal district court' decision striking down Indiana's laws barring same-sex marriage. (See prior posting.) Fox59 reports on the appellate court's action and reactions to it.

White House Sends Greetings As Ramadan Begins

Ramadan begins tonight. The White House released a statement (full text) from the President extending greetings from the American people to Muslims communities in the U.S. and around the world. The statement reads in part:
... Ramadan is also an occasion when Muslims around the world reaffirm their commitment to helping the less fortunate....  Here in the United States, we are grateful to the many Muslim American organizations, individuals, and businesses that are devoted to creating opportunity for all by working to reduce income inequality and poverty, not only through their charitable efforts, but also through their initiatives to empower students, workers and families with the education, skills and health care they deserve.
President Obama went on to announce that again this year the White House will host an iftar dinner during Ramadan.

Christian Teacher Loses Suit Challenging Required Removal of Religious Postings In Classroom

In Silver v. Cheektowage Central School District, (WD NY, June 24, 2014), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing most of the discrimination claims brought by a Christian high school science teacher who was required to take down from her classroom her display of several Bible verses, other statements about God and a picture of three crosses on a hill. She was also told to prevent guest speakers from promoting religion.  The court rejected teacher Joelle Silver's Establishment Clause and free speech claims and most of her equal protection claims, saying that the school has authority to take action to avoid litigation claiming Establishment Clause violations.  The court also characterized as "inapposite" the teacher's comparison of her displays to those by the school social worker that were designed to create a welcoming environment for LGBT students. The court however recommended permitting plaintiff to proceed with a claim that school policies relating to her role as advisor to the student Bible Study Club were selectively enforced. News 4 reports on the decision. American Freedom Law Center issued a press release announcing the decision.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Turkey's Constitutional Court Says Female Lawyers Can Wear Headscarves In Courtrooms

On Wednesday, Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled 16-1 that the rights of a Muslim female lawyer had been infringed when she was not permitted to enter a courtroom wearing a headscarf.  According to Daily Sabah, the Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, ruled in 2013 that women lawyers had the right to register at the Bar Association with a photo showing them wearing a headscarf. However some judges were still banning headscarves in their courtrooms. The Constitutional Court said this week that such bans violate Art. 10 (equality before the law) and Art. 24 (freedom of religion and conscience) of Turkey's Constitution.

Council Revokes Invitation To Wiccan To Deliver Invocation

WHNT News reports that the Huntsville, Alabama City Council pulled back the invitation it originally extended to a Wiccan clergyman to deliver the invocation at yesterday's City Council meeting.  Wiccan Blake Kirk had been scheduled to deliver the opening prayer, but when the Council agenda was publicly released several Council members received "community concerns" about a Wiccan being invited. Kirk said he gave the invocation earlier this year and no one asked him to identify his faith.

European Court Holds Russia Violated Rights of Jehovah's Witnesses

In Krupko v. Russia, (ECHR, June 26, 2014), the European Court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment held that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights Art. 5 (right to liberty and security) and Art. 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) when in 2006 police disrupted a Jehovah's Witness religious meeting and arrested some of the participants. The court awarded 36,000 Euros as damages and costs. The court issued a press release on the case. RAPSI reports on the decision.

Christian College Denied Relief Against Contraceptive Coverage Mandate Accommodation

In Wheaton College v. Burwell, (ND IL, June 23, 2014), an Illinois federal district court refused to grant a preliminary injunction to a Christian liberal arts college that objects to complying with the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate accommodation for religious non-profits.  It concluded that the 7th Circuit's decision in University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius (see prior posting) is controlling on it:
Because the majority opinion in Notre Dame stands squarely in the path of the principal relief that Plaintiff seeks, Plaintiff cannot demonstrate the requisite likelihood of success on the merits of its claims.
The court added however that if the Supreme Court's upcoming decision in Hobby Lobby calls into question any material aspect of the Notre Dame decision, any party may file a motion for reconsideration.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Supreme Court Strikes Down Massachusetts Abortion-Clinic Buffer Zone Law

The U.S. Supreme Court today in McCullen v. Coakley, (S.Ct., June 26, 2014) struck down the Massachusetts statute that creates a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. The law prevents anti-abortion sidewalk counselors from entering the buffer zone.  The Court's majority decision written by Chief Justice Roberts struck down the law on narrow free speech grounds. While the state has a legitimate interest in preserving access to clinics, and while this is a neutral statute, it burdens more speech that in necessary to accomplish that purpose.  The Chief Justice explains:
Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks—sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history. Respondents assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on those same streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities. But here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a tradi­tional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment. 
Justice Scalia's opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy and Thomas, concurring only in the judgment, criticizes the majority's approach:
Today’s opinion carries forward this Court’s practice of giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents. There is an entirely separate, abridged edition of the First Amendment applicable to speech against abortion.... The ... Court’s analysis today, invalidat­ing the law at issue because of inadequate “tailoring,” is certainly attractive to those of us who oppose an abortion­ speech edition of the First Amendment. But think again. This is an opinion that ... continues the onward march of abortion-speech-only jurisprudence. 
Justice Alito also wrote a separate opinion concurring only in the judgment. The New York Times reports on the decision.

7th Circuit: Church Lacks Standing To Appeal Injunction Against City On Cross Display

In Cabral v. City of Evansville, Indiana, (7th Cir., June 25, 2014), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed for lack of standing an appeal of an Indiana federal district court's injunction barring Evansville from permitting a church's proposed display of 31 six-foot tall crosses on 4-block Riverfront area. The district court concluded that the display would violate the Establishment Clause. (See prior posting.) The city of Evansville did not appeal; the church involved (West Side Christian) which had been an intervenor in the case below did.  The 7th Circuit concluded that since the injunction ran only against the city, vacating it would not necessarily remedy any injury West Side suffered.  The city could still refuse to permit the display. In addition, any decision the 7th Circuit made on the merits would affect only the city which is not a party to the appeal.  The court concluded that in order to obtain standing, West Side would need to apply for a permit and have it denied by the city because of the district court's injunction.  The 7th Circuit then added:
We caution, however, that West Side’s road ahead might not necessarily get any easier if it ever attains standing to challenge the injunction. We question whether a reasonable observer would be put on notice that the “Cross the River” display is strictly private speech given the sheer magnitude of a display that takes up four blocks and has two signs alerting citizens that it is a private display.

Indiana's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Invalidated; Motion for Stay, Appeal Filed As Some Counties Issue Licenses

In Baskin v. Bogan, (SD IN, June 25, 2014), an Indiana federal district court held that Indian's ban on same-sex marriage, and on recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, is unconstitutional. The court found that the ban infringes the fundamental right to marry protected by the due process clause, and discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation in violation of the equal protection clause, adding:
The court has never witnessed a phenomenon throughout the federal court system as is presented with this issue. In less than a year, every federal district court to consider the issue has reached the same conclusion in thoughtful and thorough opinions – laws prohibiting the celebration and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love. In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples, such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as marriage-- not as same-sex marriage.  These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.
The Indianapolis Star reports that county clerks in several counties began issuing licenses for same-sex marriages yesterday. As reported by WTHR, Indiana's Attorney General quickly filed an emergency motion for a stay pending appeal (full text) and a notice of appeal to the 7th Circuit (full text). Two county clerks' offices also filed notices of appeal. Meanwhile the Attorney General contacted all counties stating that while only the five county clerks named in the lawsuits are required to comply with the court's order, everyone should "show respect for the judge and the orders that are issued."

10th Circuit Says Utah's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional

In Kitchen v. Herbert, (10th Cir., June 25, 2014), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, but stayed its mandate pending disposition of any appeal. The majority summarized its 66-page opinion:
We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws. A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union.
Among the justifications rejected by the court was Utah's argument that allowing same-sex marriage "would create the potential for religious-related strife."  Judge Kelly dissenting in part argued that there is no fundamental right to same-gender marriage.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports on the decision. In a statement released yesterday, the Utah attorney general's office says it will file a petition for certiorari seeking Supreme Court review.

Seattle Archdiocese Reaches $12.1 Million Settlement With Abuse Claimants

Reuters reported yesterday that the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle has agreed to settle claims brought by 30 men who were sexually abused 30 to 60 years ago in two diocesan high schools staffed by the Christian Brothers of Ireland teaching order. The lawsuits alleged that the Archdiocese failed to shield the victims from known abusers.  According to a press release from the Archdiocese, the $12.1 million settlement was funded by archdiocesan insurance programs. The Christian Brothers previously reached a $16.5 million settlement with 400 victims.

9th Circuit Denies En Banc Review On Strict Scrutiny For Sexual Orientation Classifications

Earlier this week, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant en banc review to an earlier decision by a 3-judge panel that concluded heightened scrutiny must be applied to equal protection claims based on sexual orientation. In SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories(9th Cir., June 24, 2014), the court reported that the call for en banc review did not receive a majority vote.  However Judge O'Scannlain, joined by Judges Bybee and Bee, filed a dissent to the refusal to review, saying in part:
This case ... came to our court in the posture of an appeal from a simple juror selection ruling during trial. Sadly, it has morphed into a constitutional essay about equal protection and sexual orientation.... The opinion’s unprecedented application of heightened scrutiny to a peremptory strike of a juror who was perceived to be gay bears significant implications for the same-sex marriage debate and for other laws that may give rise to distinctions based on sexual orientation.
Indeed, today’s opinion is the only appellate decision since United States v. Windsor ... to hold that lower courts are “required by Windsor to apply heightened scrutiny to classifications based on sexual orientation for purposes of equal protection.” ... Such holding is wrong, egregiously so. Because of the danger that district courts will be misled by the opinion’s sweeping misinterpretation of Windsor, it is most unfortunate that we denied rehearing en banc.
SCOTUS Blog has more on the decision.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

White House Hosts Global LGBT Human Rights Forum

The White House yesterday hosted the first Global Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Human Rights Forum. It brought together religious leaders along with LGBT and HIV activists, human rights advocates and the private sector. A Fact Sheet issued by the White House reviews the international initiatives that the government has taken to protect LGBT rights. National Security Advisor Susan Rice addressed the Forum. (Full text of remarks.) Asserting that "cultural differences do not excuse human rights violations," Rice later asked: "For the faith community, how can we reinforce to religious groups that God loves all the children of his creation equally?"

Zoning Denial For Catholic School Athletic Field Lighting Violates RLUIPA

In Corporation of the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle v. City of Seattle, WD WA, June 20, 2014), a Washington federal district court held that requiring a Catholic High School to obtain a zoning variance in order to install 70-foot tall light poles in its athletic field violates the "equal terms" provision of RLUIPA. The variance, which was denied, is required because of the 30-foot height requirement for structures in residential zones. The city exempts public school athletic fields from the height requirement. [Thanks to Eric Treene for the lead.]

Congress Passes World War II Memorial Prayer Act

Congress this week gave final approval and sent to the President for his signature S. 1044, the World War II Memorial Prayer Act. The Act calls for an addition to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.  A plaque or inscription containing the words of the prayer that President Franklin Roosevelt delivered on D-Day is to be  installed-- using only private contributions to pay for it. According to the Columbus Dispatch last week, the ACLU calls the law needlessly divisive.

Court Decides Dispute Over Proceeds From Sale of Church Property

In Pacific Southwest District of the Church of the Brethren v. Church of the Brethren, Inc., (CA App., June 23, 2014), a California appeals court dealt with a dispute over sharing of the proceeds from the sale of church property.  The court summarized its holding:
Pacific Southwest District of the Church of the Brethren (PSWD) ... appeal from a judgment in favor of respondents Central Korean Evangelical Church (CKEC) and its pastor Jang Kyun Park. The judgment gave CKEC an 86-percent share and gave PSWD a 14-percent share in the proceeds from any sale of CKEC’s real property, which consists of three lots in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. Appellants argue CKEC holds the property in trust for the Church of the Brethren. We conclude that PSWD is estopped from asserting a trust over the entire property because CKEC joined the denomination on assurances by church representatives that a trust would not apply to property it owned at the time of affiliation, and at that time it already owned two of the three lots. We also conclude that PSWD may assert a trust over the after-acquired third lot. We affirm the judgment to the extent it ordered partition of the property by sale, but reverse and remand for a redetermination of each party’s share in the proceeds from any sale.

Jury Service Does Not Violate Free Exercise Rights

In Bey v. City of Philadelphia, (ED PA, June 17, 2014), plaintiff sued unsuccessfully for $2 million in damages after the city's Jury Selection Commission denied him an exemption from jury duty which he sought because of his religious beliefs and political views. The court concluded that his free exercise claim is legally frivolous because the state's jury service laws are neutral and generally applicable, and are clearly related to the legitimate objective of maintaining a jury system.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Powers v. Coleman, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 11667 (7th Cir., June 20, 2014), the 7th Circuit refused to overturn a jury's verdict that a Messianic Jewish inmate did not have a sincere religious belief that he needed a kosher diet.

In Sharrieff v. Moore, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82460 (MD PA, June 16, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies a complaint seeking separate religious services and a separate fast during December for Nation of Islam inmates.

In Oliver v. Adams, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80519 (ED CA, June 10, 2014), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with leave to amend, a complaint by an inmate who is an adherent of Shetaut Neter who claims he is being denied a prayer rug, a religious diet, worship services, and religious programming on in-house television while he is in the special housing unit.

In Davis v. Abercrombie, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81780 (D HI, June 13, 2014), a Hawaii federal district court in a very long opinion dealt with claims by Native Hawaiian inmates housed at private prisons in Arizona that their free exercise, RLUIPA and equal protection rights are being infringed as to their daily worship practices, the observance of Makahiki, and access to sacred items, sacred space and a spiritual advisor. The court held that there are genuine issues of fact remaining as to various of the claims.

In Adkins v. Shinn, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81953 (D HI, June 16, 2014), a Hawaii federal district court dismissed a Muslim inmate's complaints about lack of visits from an Imam an difficulty in obtaining a Qur'an, other books and a kufi. However the court permitted him to proceed on his complaint that a kosher diet was substituted for his halal diet.

Pregnancy Service Center Signage Requirement Held Void-For-Vagueness

In Austin LifeCare, Inc. v. City of Austin, (WD TX, June 23, 2014), a Texas federal district court struck down as void for vagueness an Austin, Texas ordinance that requires unlicensed pregnancy service centers that do not have full-time licensed health care providers on site to post signs to indicate whether the center provides medical services and if the services are provided under supervision of a licensed health care provider. The ordinance covers centers that offer pregnancy testing or perform sonograms and then offer options counseling. The court concluded that neither "full time" nor "medical services" is adequately defined in the ordinance. Austin American-Statesman reports on the decision.

Sudanese Appeals Court Overturns Apostasy Death Sentence of Christian Woman

In a case that has attracted widespread international attention, an appeals court in Sudan has ordered the release of Meriam Ibrahim who had been sentenced to death for apostasy. Mail Online reports that a Khartoun appeals court overturned the death sentence of the 27-year old woman who was charged with converting from Islam to Christianity.  Ibrahim's father was Muslim, but her mother was Christian and she was raised as a Christian. It is unclear whether Ibrahim's sentence of 100 lashes for adultery-- because of her marriage to her Christian husband-- also was reversed.  (See prior posting.) Ibrahim's lawyers will meet with U.S. Embassy officials today to discuss possible asylum for her in the United States. Her Christian husband is an American citizen.

3rd Circuit: No Statute of Limitations For Establishment Clause Challenge To Still-Existing Display

In Tearpock-Martini v. Borough of Shickshinny, (3d Cir., June 23, 2014), the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals held that Establishment Clause claims challenging still-existing religious displays are not subject to a statute of limitations defense. At issue was a directional sign on municipal property in a Pennsylvania town pointing the way to a local Baptist church. The sign included a depiction of a cross and a Bible. The court concluded that while the "continuing violation" doctrine does not apply to the display, nevertheless "strict application of the statutory limitations period both serves no salutary purpose and threatens to immunize indefinitely the presence of an allegedly unconstitutional display."

Inter-School Athletic Eligibility Rules Do Not Violate Free Exercise Rights of Home-School Family

In Chapman v. Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, (MD PA, June 18, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court rejected a claim by the parent of a home-schooled student that rules on eligibility to participate in inter-school athletics violate her free exercise rights, as well as her equal protection rights and the right to direct the education of her son.  At issue is a rule that allows home-schooled students to participate only on teams of their local public school, and not on a parochial school team.  Plaintiff claimed that the rule prevented "the home-schooler who is committed to play in a God-centered environment" from doing so. The court found that the rule is neutral and generally applicable so that it need only satisfy the "rational basis" test, and that any burden on religious exercise is minimal.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Another Diocese's Charities Get Preliminary Injunction Against Contraceptive Mandate Compromise

In Brandt v. Burwell, (WD PA, June 20, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against applying the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage accommodation to charitable and educational affiliates of the Greensburg, Pennsylvania diocese.  The court found that the accommodation imposes a substantial burden on free exercise in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  In doing so, the court relied on its earlier decisions on the same issue in Persico v. Sebelius (see prior posting) and Zubik v. Sebelius (see prior posting). The Legal Intelligencer reports on the decision.

SCOTUS Securities Law Decision Involves Charitable Fund That Supports Milwaukee Archdiocese

Today the U.S. Supreme Court decided Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., (S. Ct., June 23, 2014) largely rejecting attempts by a corporate defendant to make securities fraud class actions by investors more difficult to pursue. The corporation was unsuccessful in urging the court to overturn the so-called "fraud on the market" theory that creates a rebuttable presumption that investors relied on public misstatements. The 6-3 decision did give a small concession to defendants, allowing them to present certain rebuttal evidence as the class certification stage. The victory for plaintiffs has implications for the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Lead plaintiff in the case is a charitable fund that has been an important source of funds-- some $600,000 per year-- for the Archdiocese.  Prior to 2009, the Fund was known as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Supporting Fund. (See prior posting.) The Milwaukee Archdiocese is in the midst of a bankruptcy reorganization. (See prior posting.)

Malaysia's Top Court Denies Leave To Appeal Ban On Catholic Paper's Use of "Allah"

AstroAwani , MSN News  and AlJazeera all report on today's decision by Malaysia's highest court to refuse leave to appeal in a widely followed religious freedom case.  By a vote of 4-3, Malaysia's Federal Court denied an application by the Catholic Church for leave to appeal a Court of Appeals decision that barred the Catholic newspaper, The Herald, from using the term "Allah" in its Malay language edition to refer to God. (See prior posting.)  "Allah" has been widely used by Christians in Sabah and Sarawak to refer to God. However the government argues that its use in non-Muslim literature may confuse Muslims and lead them to convert.

Recent Articles of Interest

From  SSRN:
From SmartCILP and elsewhere:

Australia's Top Court Invalidates Federal Spending For School Chaplaincy Programs

In Williams v. Commonwealth of Australia, (High Ct. of Australia, June 19, 2014), Australia's highest court held that Australia's Parliament exceeded the powers given to the national government when it provided funds for chaplaincy services in public schools run by the states. The suit was brought by an atheist parent who objected to his son learning gospel songs in school.  AP reports on the decision, suggesting that the chaplaincy program could be constitutionally funded by providing grants to the states for the program. It quotes Sydney University constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey:
They could have always done this stuff through the states under grants; they chose to do these things by direct methods and one of the reasons they did that in the past was to get directly the political kudos that come from it.... The chaplaincy program was all about getting direct political support from religious lobby groups....
A Court press release also summarizes the decision. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mormon Church Sues Canadian Sect Leader Over Name Misappropriation

The Vancouver Sun and Reuters reported last week that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the mainline Mormon Church) has filed suit against Winston Blackmore, leader of a polygamous Mormon sect headquartered in Bountiful, British Columbia for misappropriation of the trademarked name, identity and reputation of the mainline Church.  Blackmore, who headed the Canadian branch of the FLDS until he was excommunicated by leader Warren Jeffs, founded his own sect with followers comprised mostly of his extended family in British Columbia, Idaho, Utah and Arizona, and initially incorporated it as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. However he changed it in 2010 to eliminate the word "Fundamentalist."  The mainline church discovered this in January when, after changing the form of its Canadian branch from an Alberta trust to a corporation, it tried to register its name in British Columbia and had its application rejected.  Its filings in the B.C. Supreme Court indicate that the confusion has led to diversion of contributions intended for the mainline Church.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Abdul-Aziz v. Ricci, (3d Cir, June 16, 2014), the 3rd Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a Muslim inmate's complaint that Muslim inmates were served vegetarian meals while donated meals with Halal meat were refused, and that he was not permitted to have prayer oil in his cell. Dismissal of his complaints of retaliation were also affirmed.

In Cotton v. Cate, (9th Cir., June 16, 2014), the 9th Circuit reversed the dismissal of a Shetaut Neter inmate's RLUIPA claim for a Kemetic diet, holding that the government had not adequately shown there was not a less restrictive alternative to denying plaintiff's food request.

In Ali v. Wingert, (10th Cir., June 19, 2014), the 10th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a Muslim inmate's complaint that he had problems with his mail being processed when it contained only his religious name without also including his committed name.

In Stigler-El v. Stilwell, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79939 (SD IN, June 11, 2014), an Indiana federal district court dismissed an inmate's claim of discrimination against his Moorish precepts of Islamism, but with leave to show why judgment should not issue.

In Alexander v. Michigan, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79271 (WD MI, June 11, 2014), a Michigan federal district court, although dismissing a number of defendants on immunity grounds, permitted an inmate to proceed against the warden, the chaplain and the state on his complaint that authorities refused to recognize separately and accommodate the practices of the Ismaili branch of the Moorish Science Temple.

In Oram v. Linderman, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78836 (D AZ, June 9, 2014),an Arizona federal district court dismissed complaints of an inmate who is a gentile practitioner of Torah Observant Messianic Judaism that weekly religious services are limited to 60 minutes (instead of the 3 hours he requested) and that there are limits on the size of prayer shawls.

In West v. Grams, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82030 (WD WI, June 16, 2014), a Wisconsin federal magistrate judge amended his former order that improperly dismissed a Muslim inmate's RLUIPA claim for injunctive relief on qualified immunity grounds, and instead dismissed it on mootness grounds because plaintiff has been transferred to a new prison. The underlying claim related to availability of religious services and alleged retaliation.

In Desmond v. Phelps, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81874 (D DE, June 16, 2014), a Delaware federal district court denied a motion for injunctive relief by inmates who claimed discrimination against Catholics in access to religious services, religious leaders and accommodation of various religious practices after certain Catholic volunteers were banned from the facility.

In Evans v. Godinez, 2014 IL App (4th) 130686-U (IL App., June 18, 2014), an Illinois state appellate court upheld a prison's refusal to provide study groups and prayer services for Nation of Islam inmates.

NYT Details Plight of Christian Convert In Afghanistan

The New York Times yesterday reported at length on the plight in Afghanistan of a Muslim convert to Christianity (identified only as "Josef") who is in hiding as his brother-in-law and uncles are seeking to find him and kill him for apostasy. More generally, according to the report:
In official eyes here, there are no Afghan Christians. The few Afghans who practice the faith do so in private for fear of persecution, attending one of a handful of underground churches that are believed to be operating in the country. Expatriates use chapels on embassy grounds, but those are effectively inaccessible to Afghans.
Only a few Afghan converts have surfaced in the past decade, and the government has typically dealt with them swiftly and silently: They are asked to recant, and if they refuse, they are expelled, usually to India, where an Afghan church flourishes in New Delhi....
That leaves Josef almost nowhere to turn for protection. The police would be no help. Converts report being beaten and sexually abused while in custody.

Split Developing In Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

The New York Times posted an article yesterday titled Ukrainian Church Faces Obscure Pro-Russia Revolt in Its Own Ranks, detailing an "obscure pro-Moscow revolt" faced by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from some of its own clergy.  While the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has already split between its Kyvian and Moscow Patriarchates, now the previously unified Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church faces a possible split:
As with other fundamentalist groups that have split from long-established churches..., the breakaway Ukrainian outfit is obsessed with homosexuality and with preventing any tolerance of what it views as a grave sin. But theological issues, its critics say, mask a geopolitical agenda that puts it firmly on the side of Russia in opposition to Ukraine’s drawing closer to the Europe.

Christian College Wins Preliminary Injunction Against ACA Contraceptive Coverage Mandate

In Colorado Christian University v. Sebelius, (D CO, June 20, 2014), a Colorado federal district court granted a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement against a Christian liberal arts university of the Affordable Care Act contraception  coverage mandate compromise as it applies to coverage for drugs, devices, or procedures that may destroy a human embryo or fertilized egg.  The court concluded that completion of the exemption form that results in coverage directly by the health plan's third-party administrator imposes a substantial burden on the school's religious exercise.  The court said in part:
Any myopic focus on the brevity of the Exemption Form and its ease of completion misses the mark. It is the de facto forced facilitation of the objectionable coverage that is religiously repugnant. The resultant moral abhorrence is not effectively extenuated by a transfer of responsibility via the Exemption Form from CCU to the TPA or another entity. Such legal legerdemain does not expiate the morally unacceptable means or end. Such a compelled concession by an ostensibly innocuous legal prophylactic does not ameliorate the ignominy of the moral obliquity created by the participation in the process.
Further, it is of no moment that ultimately the decision by an employee to elect the objectionable coverage is optional. It is the offer that is morally offensive regardless of the extent of its acceptance.
Becket Fund issued a press release announcing the decision.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Republican Politicians Address Evangelical Christian Conference

Today was the final day of the 3-day Faith and Freedom Coalition 2014 Conference in Washington D.C.. According to Huffington Post, the conference was attended by over 1000 Christian evangelical leaders who were addressed by major Republican leaders.  Videos of the remarks of a number of the speakers are available: Luncheon Speakers (Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX)); Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA); Representative Tom Price (R-GA); Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX); Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY);  Representative Steve King (R-IA); Senator Rand Paul (R-KY); Ralph Reed ; Rick Santorum; Michele Bachman (R-MN); Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) ; Herman Cain.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Court In India Says State Government Must Enforce Ritual Decision of Temple Managing Committee

In Bhabani PR. Mishra v State, (Orissa High Ct., June 20, 2014), the High Court of the Indian state of Orissa held that the state government must abide by the decision of the Managing Committee of the Jagnnath Temple in maintaining law and order during Rath Yatra (Car Festival).  The Temple Managing Committee made a controversial decision that devotees are not permitted to climb on top of the chariots that carry the deities to the Shri Gundicha Temple. According to the Business Standard, the state government had found itself in the middle of a dispute between priests who wanted the tradition of devotees climbing on the chariots to continue, and the Managing Committee that wanted the tradition ended in conformity with the opinion of HH Shankaracharya, Puri.  The state government had appointed a high level committee to resolve the dispute, but now the state law minister says that the government will merely abide by the decision of the High Court.

UN Committee Concerned Over Child Trafficking For Religious Rituals In Britain

As reported by AFP, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child yesterday released its observations on the report of Great Britain relating to child trafficking. (Full text of UN document),   Among other things, the U.N. committee expressed particular concern about trafficking of children for use in religious rituals:
The Committee is strongly concerned that thousands of children continue to be trafficked every year in the State party, particularly for sexual exploitation and labour, and it expresses its deepest concern about reports that hundreds of children have been abducted from their families in Africa and trafficked to the State party for brutal religious rituals, such as the so-called voodoo and juju rituals. 

Break-Away Presbyterian Congregation Sues To Retain Property Ownership

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported yesterday that the Sheboygan County, Wisconsin First Church of Oostburg has filed a state court lawsuit against the Presbyterian Church USA in a bid to retain ownership of congregational property in the wake of its vote last week to disaffiliate from the Presbyterian Church USA and join the more conservative Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. The Church of Oostburg's vote to disaffiliate came just days ahead of the decision at the Presbyterian General Assembly to allow clergy to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies and to redefine marriage as a covenant between "two people".  The Presbyterian Church wants the Oostburg congregation to pay $500,000 in order to keep the property.

Pennsylvania Federal Court Denies Intervention To Appeal Same-Sex Marriage Case

As previously reported, in May a Pennsylvania federal district court held Pennsylvania's laws banning same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced that the state will not appeal the decision.  Some two weeks later, Theresa Santai-Gaffney, clerk of courts in Schuylkill County moved to intervene in order to appeal the court's decision to the 3rd Circuit.  In Whitewood v. Wolf, (MD PA, June 18, 2014), the federal district court rejected the motion to intervene.  The court held that Santai-Gafney has not met the criteria for either intervention as of right or permissive intervention.  The court said:
At bottom, we have before us a contrived legal argument by a private citizen who seeks to accomplish what the chief executive of the Commonwealth, in his wisdom, has declined to do.
AP reports on the decision.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Convictions of Anti-Gay Pride Protesters Reversed

In Faust v. State of Texas, (TX Ct. App., June 12, 2014), a Texas state appeals court reversed the convictions of two members of the Kingdom Baptist Church who were charged with interference with public duties.  The convictions grew out of the church members' attempt at a gay pride parade to cross a police line formed to keep a distance between KBC protesters and the parade. The court said in part:
The skirmish line at issue here was not narrowly tailored to serve the government’s interest in public safety. All members of the church were barred from proceeding down the street regardless of whether they had previously assaulted parade-goers or not, whether they were yelling profanity or threatening words or not, or whether they were even protesting at all. Although there was evidence that the police department had received complaints about the church’s “street preaching” many times in the past, the only evidence the church had ever reached beyond the boundaries of protected speech was that one of their members, Chad Sutherland, had assaulted a parade participant at the 2011 parade. There was no evidence that Sutherland was with the church members at the 2012 parade, that any of the members present at the 2012 parade were involved with the 2011 assault, or that any of the members present were threatening any parade-goers with imminent physical injury. ....
The skirmish line prohibited all members of the church from exercising their right of free speech merely because of their association with the church. This is far too broad a limitation.... Although we do not believe that the police were required to wait until violence erupted before they stepped in, we do believe there must have been some indication that the public’s safety was at risk beyond the history of one assault by a member of the organization who may not even have been present at the time the skirmish line was in place..... Because the skirmish line was not narrowly tailored, it was an unconstitutional infringement upon Appellants’ right of free speech.
Christian News reports on the decision.

Student Religious Liberty Bills Await Governors' Signatures In Missouri, North Carolina

This week the North Carolina General Assembly gave its final approval, and sent to the governor for his signature, Senate Bill 370, protecting students' rights to engage in prayer and religious expression in public schools. It allows students to express religious viewpoints to other students to the same extent that students can express non-religious viewpoints, and to express religious viewpoints in classwork and homework without discrimination. It also requires student religious groups to be treated the same as non-religious groups. However students may not harass or coerce other students. The bill also sets out grievance procedures for students or parents who believe a student's religious expression rights have been infringed.

Similarly, the Missouri General Assembly passed and on May 30 sent to the governor for his signature H.B. 1303 protecting student religious liberty. It requires public schools to treat student expression of religious viewpoints in the same manner that they treat expressions of other viewpoints, and protects expressions of religious viewpoints in school work and on clothing worn to school. It gives student religious groups the same rights as non-religious groups. [Thanks to Blog From the Capital for the leads.]

Court Allows Eruv In Long Island Town

In Verizon New York, Inc. v. Village of Westhampton Beach, (ED NY, June 16, 2014), a New York federal magistrate judge gave at least a partial victory to the East End Eruv Association, a Jewish organization that is attempting to place an eruv in Suffolk County, New York. An eruv is a symbolic boundary, marked off with plastic strips (lechis) on telephone poles. Observant Jews may carry items within the eruv on the Sabbath without violating Jewish religious law.  In this case, Verizon and Long Island Lighting Co. granted the Association the right to use their poles for an eruv, but three municipalities objected.  The utilities sued for a declaration that they had the right to allow use of their poles for this purpose.  This opinion ultimately dealt with only one of the municipalities-- Westhampton Beach.  The court concluded that the utilities' franchise agreements do not limit their authority permit the eruv; the Transportation Corporations Law and the LIPA Act provide authority for the utilities to enter contracts for use of their poles; while Westhampton has authority to regulate utility poles owned by the utilities, it has not passed any regulations that prohibit attaching lechis to the poles.  27East and Jewish Week report  on the decision.

Court Upholds Pennsylvania's Sunday Hunting Ban

In Hunters United For Sunday Hunting v. Pennsylvania Game Commission, (MD PA, June 18, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court rejected constitutional challenges by a hunters' group to Pennsylvania's ban on Sunday hunting for fur bearing animals or game.  Plaintiffs had asserted that the ban violates the 2nd Amendment, the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, and the First Amendment's religion clauses. Rejecting plaintiff's establishment clause claim, the court said in part:
The Court cannot divine Plaintiffs’ injury-in-fact from their allegation that “Defendants [sic] enforcement and prohibition on Sunday hunting no longer has a secular basis but instead a religious basis.”
The court also pointed to Supreme Court precedent upholding Sunday closing laws.  AP reports on the decision. (See prior related posting.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

$108M Damages In Faith-Healing Death Upheld

In Mansfield v. Horner, (MO App., June 17, 2014), a Missouri state appellate court upheld a wrongful death judgment of over $108 million in the faith-healing death of Misty Mansfield growing out of complications after the stillbirth of her child.  The suit was brought by Misty's parents against her husband Caleb Horner and Caleb's brother, John, who was the leader of the faith-healing sect to which Caleb and Misty belonged.  The sect, which Misty joined only when she married Caleb, also required a wife to be submissive to their husband's decisions.  Caleb convinced Misty not to go to the hospital when complications arose during her labor at home, and the breech delivery was botched by Caleb and his religious-based birth team.  Caleb's brother John arrived after the stillbirth and prayed for hours attempting to raise the child from the dead, while Misty was not treated for her vaginal cuts and an emergency team that arrived 9 hours later was denied access to Misty by Caleb. A month after the delivery, Misty died from an ongoing infection.

The appeals court rejected nine objections to the trial court's refusal to override the jury's verdict, including an objection that the suit violates the First Amendment's free exercise clause.  Rejecting that argument, the court said in part:
None of [the jury] instructions required the jury to determine the validity of the Horners' belief in faith healing. The jury never had to determine "the truth or falsity" of faith healing. Instead, the instructions required the jury to determine whether or not the Horners' actions -- particularly with respect to Caleb's actions during the home birth and John and Caleb's actions preventing Misty from seeking medical treatment following the home birth -- constituted negligence. Thus, we do not conclude that the trial court committed plain error in overruling the Horners' motion for JNOV with respect to their claim of a First Amendment violation.

District Court Upholds ACA Non-Profit Contraceptive Mandate Rules

In Eternal Word Television Network v. Burwell, (SD AL, June 17, 2014), an Alabama federal district court granted summary judgment to Department of Health and Human Services, rejecting a Catholic media network's challenges to the rules accommodating religious non-profits' objections to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate.  Rejecting EWTN's "substantial burden" argument under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court said in part:
Legally (if not morally) speaking, there is a world of difference between a law that compels EWTN to provide contraceptive coverage directly and one in which the government places that burden on someone else after EWTN opts out. Because EWTN’s only religious objection to the mandate hinges upon the effect it will have on other parties after EWTN signs Form 700 rather than anything inherent to the act of signing and delivering Form 700 itself, the court finds that the mandate does not impose a substantial burden on EWTN’s religious practice within the meaning of RFRA. As a result, EWTN’s RFRA claim fails as a matter of law.
The court also rejected EWTN's free exercise, establishment clause and compelled speech claims.  It concluded that the mandate is a neutral law of general applicability, and that "the accommodation’s certification requirement does not compel EWTN to express any opinions or beliefs that it does not hold."

In a press release reacting to the decision, EWTN said it would file an immediate appeal to the 11th Circuit.

Utah Supreme Court Refuses To Set Aside Default Judgment In FLDS Land Case

In Wisan v. City of Hildale, (UT Sup. Ct., June 17, 2014), the Utah Supreme Court, in the latest decision in the long running litigation over the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints United Effort Plan Trust, refused on procedural grounds to set aside a default judgment that had been entered against Hildale, Utah and the Twin City Water Authority.  The default judgment came in an attempt by the court-appointed trustee to subdivide the trust land in order to facilitate distribution of separate parcels that did not carry liability for neighbors' tax delinquencies.  The court held that the grounds asserted by defendants are not ones that can be raised in a direct appeal of a trial court's refusal to set aside a default judgment.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Egyptian Appeals Court Imposes Jail Sentence On Teacher For Allegedly Insulting Islam

In Egypt on Sunday, a appellate court sentenced a 23-year old Coptic Christian elementary school teacher to 6 months in jail for insulting Islam.  According to Arutz Sheva, the head of the parents' association at a Luxor school filed a complaint last May against teacher Demiana Emad claiming that she told her students that the late Coptic pope Shenuda III was better than the Prophet Mohammed. However an Egyptian civil rights group says she only presented a lesson in comparative religion. A trial court had imposed a fine equivalent to approximately $14,000 (US) on the teacher.  Both she and the state appealed, and the appellate court imposed the heavier sentence. Apparently an additional appeal can still be filed.

Obama Moves Toward Executive Order To End LGBT Discrimination By Federal Contractors

According to The Hill, a White House official announced yesterday that "the President has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."  No specific date for signing the executive order was announced, apparently in the hope that the House of Representatives will take up the Senate-passed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which would extended LGBT non-discrimination protection to all workers. However this seems unlikely in the face of opposition by House Speaker John Boehner who says that ENDA would cost jobs by creating frivolous law suits.

Man Charged After He Destroys Statue of Jesus For Religious Reasons

Yesterday's Charleston Post and Courier reports on the arrest last Sunday of 38-year old Charles Jeffrey Short for malicious injury to real property after he hammered off the head of a statue of Jesus that stands near a Charleston, South Carolina Catholic church. Short says he was making a religious statement. He told police he battered the statue with a sledge hammer "because the second or first commandment states to not make an image of a male or female to be on display to the public." Police are investigating whether Short was also involved in a similar incident last Friday in which a head and two hands were broken off another statue depicting Jesus and a child that stands at the same church.

Monday, June 16, 2014

SCOTUS Review Denied Over Interesting Dissent In Challenge To School Graduations In Churches

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied certiorari in Elmbrook School District v. John Doe 3, (Docket No. 12-755, cert. denied 6/16/2014), but with an unusual opinion dissenting to the denial of review, written by Justice Scalia and joined by Justice Thomas. (Order List, [scroll to end for opinion]). In the case, the 7th Circuit, in a 7-3 en banc decision, held that two Wisconsin high schools violated the Establishment Clause when they regularly held their graduation ceremonies in the sanctuary of a non-denominational evangelical Christian church. (See prior posting.)

Justice Scalia's dissent focuses largely on the Supreme Court's decision earlier this term in Town of Greece, reading that opinion more broadly than many commentators have so far done. Justice Scalia implicitly sees Town of Greece as impacting more than just invocations before legislative bodies, and says almost nothing about the special concern that the Court has shown historically for religious activities in public schools.  He begins his dissent with this summary:
Some there are-- many perhaps-- who are offended by public displays of religion.... I can understand that attitude: It parallels mine toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky. And I too am especially annoyed when the intrusion upon my inner peace occurs while I am part of a captive audience, as on a municipal bus or in the waiting room of a public agency.
My own aversion cannot be imposed by law because of the First Amendment.
Justice Scalia then goes on to argue first that Town of Greece abandons the "endorsement test" under the Establishment Clause, and that, second, it requires coercion amounting to more than mere offense to show an Establishment Clause violation. Lastly he emphasizes that the Establishment Clause should be interpreted according to historical practices and understandings, a consideration absent from the 7th Circuit's majority opinion. [Thanks to Marty Lederman via Rellgionlaw for the lead.]

North Carolina County Seeks Lifting of Injunction After Town of Greece Decision

The Winston-Salem Journal reported last week that Forsyth County, North Carolina is asking a federal district court to lift a 2010 injunction that barred it from continuing a policy of opening County Board of Commissioners meetings with prayers that are repeatedly Christian. The 4th Circuit had affirmed the issuance of the injunction. (See prior posting.) Last week's motion comes in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Town of Greece permitting a neutral policy that nevertheless results in primarily Christian invocations opening legislative bodies. Here is Forsyth County's brief in support of its motion to lift the injunction.  ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the motion.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

From SSRN (Islamic law):
From SmartCILP:

Hearing Discloses Developments In Reformation of FLDS Land Trust

On Friday, a Utah state trial court held a one-and-a-half hour hearing in the state's 9-year long effort to reform the United Effort Plan Trust.  The Trust holds property of the polygamous FLDS Church in the sect's twin towns of Hilldale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz.  AP and Fox13 report that a number of developments were revealed at the hearing. Judge Denise Lindberg urged the court-appointed trustee to begin evicting residents who have been ignoring the $100-per month housing fee for as long as 7 years. Collectively over $4.18 million in back fees is owed. During the hearing, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes urged the court to appoint a board to take over redistribution of the 750 homes owned by the Trust.  Judge Lindberg said that she has chosen seven people for the board, but will not set it up until fees are being paid so the trust will have a stable source of revenue, and until liability insurance can be obtained for board members. It was also announced that former-FLDS member Willie Jessop has agreed with the court-appointed trustee to cooperate with investigations and litigation in exchange for receiving land.  In yet another development, the Arizona Attorney General's office told the court that it plans to file papers today to dismantle the Hildale/ Colorado City Town Marshal’s Office.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Court Rejects Claims Against Diocese By Victim of Clergy Sexual Abuse

In John Doe v. Corporation of the Catholic Bishop of Yakima, (ED WA, June 12, 2014), a Washington federal district court  dismissed negligent supervision and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims against the Diocese of Yakima brought by the victim of an incident of sexual abuse perpetrated by a deacon that occurred when the victim was 17 years old. While finding that the suit was not barred by the statute of limitations, the court held that no special relationship existed between the diocese and plaintiff, and the diocese had no reason to believe that the deacon posed a risk of inappropriate sexual conduct. National Catholic Reporter reports on the decision.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Jones v. Conrad, (8th Cir., June 2, 2014), the 8th Circuit upheld the dismissal of an inmate's complaint that he was denied permission to receive two religious publications sent to him through the mail. He failed to show that the denial substantially burdened his ability to practice his religion.

In Davis v. Abercrombie, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74934 (D HI, June 2, 2014), a Hawaii federal district court refused to reconsider its prior denial of summary judgment to defendants on Native Hawaiian inmates' complaints that they were denied daily outdoor group worship; and were denied daily access to amulets and bamboo nose flutes. However reconsideration was granted as to inmates' lack of access to certain other sacred items. The court also dismissed certain claims for prospective equitable relief as moot.

In Porter v. Biter, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77476 (ED CA, June 4, 2014), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with leave to amend, a Muslim inmate's attempt to obtain an order allowing him to change his legal name to a religious name and to use the religious name during normal prison activities such as sending and receiving mail.

In Cole v. Danberg, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77773 (D DE, June 6, 2014), a Delaware federal district court permitted a Muslim inmate to proceed with many of his claims for injunctive relief growing out of alleged religious discrimination, denial of right to observe Islamic holidays and have congregational prayer, and refusal to allow the Islamic community to raise funds.

In Schlemm v. Frank, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78601 (WD WI, June 10, 2014), a Wisconsin federal district court dismissed, partly on exhaustion and partly on substantive grounds, a complaint by a Native American inmate seeking sweat lodge ceremonies on a weekly basis, a Ghost Feast meal that includes wild game, and the right to wear multicolor headbands. a ribbon shirt, bear-claw jewelry and a personal pipe.

In Lindsey v. Bradley, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78856 (SD IL, June 9, 2014), an Illinois federal district court permitted a Rastafarian inmate to proceed with his complaint that his dreadlocks were forcibly cut.

In Davis v. Hubler, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78835 (ED NC, June 10, 2014), a North Carolina federal district court dismissed a complaint by a Nation of Islam inmate that he was not permitted to receive the weekly publication Final Call.

In Glenn v. Wilson, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79303 (ND IN, June 10, 2014), an Indiana federal district court dismissed a complaint by an Eastern Orthodox inmate that he was unable to attend Eastern Orthodox religious services first when he was placed in administrative segregation and then when he was transferred to a prison without Orthodox services.