Wednesday, February 28, 2018

USCIRF Criticizes Treatment of Iranian Christians Seeking US Asylum

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a press release last week calling attention to some 100 Iranian Christians who have been waiting in Vienna for over a year seeking  asylum in the United States under the special provisions of the Lautenberg Amendment.  That law gives higher priority for refugee status to Iranian religious minorities, including Christians, Zoroastrians and Baha’is. USCIRF says that recent reports indicate these individuals have been denied asylum and could be returned to Iran where they may face discrimination or persecution.

Brazilian Court Rejects Censorship of Play Depicting Jesus As Trans Woman

In Brazil last week, the São Paulo Court of Justice (the highest state court) lifted an emergency injunction that had been issued by a local court banning further performances of the play "The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven." The art news site Hyperallergic reports on developments.  The play is a one-woman show that depicts Jesus living in the present as a trans woman.  The controversial show was described by the lower court as  "disrespectful to a religion," "aggressive," and of  an "extremely low intellectual level." The appellate court, however, held that the injunction was unconstitutional censorship that effectively forbids artistic activity.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Religious Organizations Challenge City's New Anti-Discrimination Law

Five churches and a Christian radio station filed suit last week in a Wisconsin state trial court challenging a De Pere city anti-discrimination ordinance that does not clearly exempt religious organizations.  The complaint (full text) in Hope Lutheran Church v. City of De Pere, (WI Cir. Ct., filed 2/22/2018) says that the city has not been willing to assure churches and religious organizations that they will be exempt from the employment and public accommodation provisions of the law that takes effect next month.  The complaint contends:
As a result, the ordinance is likely to be imposed on churches and other religious organizations in a manner that would mandate government orthodoxy in core religious functions, communication, and conduct.
While the law does permit religious organizations to hire on the basis of religion, it does not exempt them from prohibitions on hiring on the basis of sex, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.  Fox 11 News reports on the law suit.

Another 3rd Travel Ban Cert. Petition Filed

As previously reported, last month the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Trump v. Hawaii, a challenge to the third version of President Trump's travel ban.  In light of that, plaintiffs who were largely successful in a similar challenge in the 4th Circuit (see prior posting) have now filed a petition for certiorari (full text) with the Supreme Court, telling the Court:
The court of appeals denied the cross-appeal below, which argued that the preliminary injunction should not have been limited to individuals with a bona fide relationship with a U.S. person or entity.  This petition seeks certiorari on that question, which is not presented in Hawai‘i. In addition, this petition raises the same four questions already before the Court in Hawai‘i, and requests that the cases be consolidated once again.
Muslim Advocates issued a press release announcing the filing of the cert. petition.

Satanic Temple Sues City Over Invocation Policy

The Satanic Temple last week filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Scottsdale, AZ, challenging on federal and state constitutional grounds the invocation practices of the city.  The complaint (full text) in The Satanic Temple v. City of Scottsdale, Arizona, (D AZ, filed 2/23/2018), alleges that City Council meetings are regularly opened by prayers delivered only by members of Judeo-Christian faiths. An invocation originally scheduled to be given by a member of the Satanic Temple was cancelled, using the allegedly pretextual reason of connection to the community. Subsequently the mayor touted stopping the Satanists in an election pamphlet. The Scottsdale Independent reports on the lawsuit.

2nd Circuit En Banc: Title VII Covers Sexual Orientation Discrimination

In a 10-3 en banc decision yesterday, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, overturning prior 2nd Circuit precedent, held that "sexual orientation discrimination constitutes a form of discrimination 'because of . . . sex,' in violation of Title VII" of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  In Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., (2d Cir., Feb. 26, 2018), Chief Judge Katzmann filed the majority opinion which concluded that (1) sexual orientation discrimination is motivated in part by sex and thus is a subset of sex discrimination; (2) sexual orientation discrimination involves gender stereotyping; and (3) sexual orientation discrimination involves associational discrimination.  Only four other judges joined this opinion in full.

Judge Pooler, without a separate opinion, joined the gender stereotyping and associational discrimination rationales.  In concurring opinions, Judge Jacobs and Judge Sack agreed only with the associational discrimination approach.  Judge Cabranes concurred only in the judgment, saying sexual orientation is a function of sex.  Judge Lohier concurred on the basis of the majority's textualist approach.
Judges Lynch, Livingston and Raggi dissented based largely on legislative history and the intent of the drafters of Title VII. 

In the case, the Justice Department and the EEOC had filed amicus briefs taking opposite positions from each other.  (See prior posting.)  AP reports on the decision. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Monday, February 26, 2018

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SmartCILP:
  • Angela C. Carmella, Catholic Institutions in Court: The Religion Clauses and Political-Legal Compromise, [Abstract], 120 West Virginia Law Review 1-94 (2017).

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Dunham v. Wainwright, (5th Cir., Feb. 22, 2018), the 5th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an inmate's complaint that limits on the number of letters he can send at state expense interferes with his right to send correspondence to religious organizations.

In Jordan v. Commonwealth, (VA Sup. Ct., Feb. 22, 2018), the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a lower court's refusal to allow an inmate to change his name after he underwent a religious conversion. The inmate conceded that the denial would not hinder his free exercise of religion.

In Gillen v. Parker, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26881 (MD TN, Feb. 20, 2018), a Tennessee federal magistrate judge recommended upholding a prison's requirement that Musliim inmates must register their religion in order to participate in Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr celebrations.

In Clemens v. Warden, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27146 (ED PA, Feb. 20, 2018), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that one of his two Bibles was confiscated.

In Dawdy v. Allen, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27207 (ED MO, Feb. 21, 2018), a Missouri federal district court allowed a Jewish inmate to move ahead with a variety of complaints regarding the availability of kosher meals on holidays and the Sabbath; the requirement that there be 5 members for a religious community to have access to materials and services; and the denial of canteen funds for Jewish needs.

In Thomas v. Lakin, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27576 (SD IL, Feb. 21, 2018), an Illinois federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27639, Jan. 22, 2018) and dismissed as moot an inmate's complaint that his requests for a copy of the Qur'an, a prayer mat, religious services, and a religious diet were denied.

In Hartney v. Butcher, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28765 (SD TX, Feb. 21, 2018), a Texas federal district court dismissed a Native American inmate's complaint that some of his religious articles were confiscated.

In Hearns v. Gonzales, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28959 (ED CA, Feb. 22, 2018), a California federal magistrate judge allowed a Muslim former inmate to move ahead with his retaliation and free exercise claims growing out of a correctional officer's pouring bleach on, and confiscating, his prayer rug.

New Jersey Limit On Activities of Religious Cemeteries Is Upheld

In Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark v. Christie, (D NJ, Feb. 23, 2018), a New Jersey federal district court rejected due process and equal protection challenges to a 2015 New Jersey law that prohibits private religious cemeteries from selling headstones, vaults and monuments.  The law was enacted to extend to religious ceremonies the separation of industries law that previously applied only to non-religious cemeteries.  AP reports on the decision.

Christian Leaders Close Church of Holy Sepulcher In Protest of Israeli Tax and Land Policies

Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian church leaders have closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (believed to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial) in Jerusalem in protest of two legal moves by Israeli government officials. YNet News today describes the disputed actions:
As part of a battle with Finance Ministry over budgets to the capital, the Jerusalem Municipality informed the Finance, Interior and Foreign ministry and the Prime Minister's Office that it had started collecting property tax debts of more than NIS 650 million from some 887 properties across the city which belong to churches and United Nations institutions.
Municipality officials said these properties did not include houses of worship, which are exempt from paying property taxes by law, but rather properties used for non-prayer activities, including commercial activities.
Churches are exempt from paying property taxes as part of an agreement with the state, but the Jerusalem Municipality says it is not being compensated by the state for the money it is losing by not collecting these taxes.
Later on Sunday, an Israeli cabinet committee is due to consider a bill that would allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold by churches to private real estate firms in recent years.
The stated aim of the bill is to protect homeowners against the possibility that private companies will not extend their leases. The churches, major landowners in the city, say such a law would make it harder for them to find buyers for their land.
A statement from church leaders calls the moves a "systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land."

Saturday, February 24, 2018

State Appeals Court Rejects Religious Defense By B&B That Rejected Lesbian Couple

In Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast, (HI App., Feb. 23, 2018), a Hawaii sate appeals court held that a 3-room bed & breakfast violated the state's public accommodation law when the B&B owner refused on religious grounds to accept a room reservation from a lesbian couple.  The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The court held that an exemption in a separate housing discrimination statute for small rooming houses does not apply to the public accommodation law.  The court also rejected defendant's state and federal constitutional privacy and free exercise defenses, finding that the state has a compelling interest in prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations.  Hawaii News Now reports on the decision.

Court Says Enforcing Contraceptive Mandate Against Christian College Violates RFRA

Last October, the Trump Administration issued Interim Final Rules that expanded exemptions from the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate for organizations, colleges and businesses that have religious or moral objections to furnishing coverage for employees (or enrolled students), as well as for employees who object to having such coverage. (See prior posting.)  Shortly thereafter, the government entered settlement agreements in at least 13 cases conceding that the mandate imposes a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ exercise of religion and, thus, cannot be legally enforced against them under RFRA. (See prior posting).  In December, two separate federal district courts issued nationwide preliminary injunctions against enforcement of the Trump Administration's expanded exemptions. (See prior postings 1, 2).

Now this week in Wheaton College v. Azar, (ND IL, Feb. 22, 2018),  an Illinois federal district court granted Wheaton College a permanent injunction barring enforcement against it of the contraceptive coverage mandate to the extent that the mandate violates Wheaton College's conscience.  Wheaton is a Christian liberal arts college.  The court's decision came after the government conceded that enforcement of the mandate against the college would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Becket issued a press release announcing the decision.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Christian Group Challenges College's Speech Zone Policy

A lawsuit was filed this week in a Georgia federal district court by a Christian apologetics club against administrators of Kennesaw State University challenging the school's speech zone policy.  The complaint (full text) in Ratio Christi of Kennesaw State University v. Olens, (ND GA, filed 2/20/2018) complains that the school would not allow the group to set up a pro-life display on the Campus Green.  Instead it limited the display to a small area set aside as a "speech zone." The suit alleges in part:
Defendants prohibit individual students from reserving space on campus and require registered student organizations (“RSO”) to submit reservation requests between three and thirty days in advance.... These policies give KSU officials unbridled discretion, both over whether to grant, deny, or modify an RSO’s reservation request and over whether and how much to charge in security fees, and they quarantine any expressive activities KSU officials deem “controversial” to the small, less accessible “speech zone.”
ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

College Coach Sues Alleging He Was Not Hired Because of His Jewish Heritage

A Title VII lawsuit was filed in Louisiana federal district court this week by a former assistant football coach at the Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College.  Plaintiff Joshua Bonadona, whose mother is Jewish, was raised in the Jewish religion.  He converted to Christianity while a student at Louisiana College, and was employed as an assistant football coach there for two years after he graduated.  He then went to Southeast Missouri State University for graduate work combined with a coaching position.  Two years after that he applied for an Assistant Coach opening that had arisen back at Louisiana College.  The complaint (full text) in Bonadona v. Louisiana College,  (WD LA, filed 2/21/2018), alleges that Bonadona received assurances from Louisiana College's head coach that he would be hired for the position.  In reliance on that he resigned his Southeast Missouri position.  However Louisiana College president, Dr. Rick Brewer, vetoed the hiring because of Bonadona's "Jewish blood." The lawsuit contends:
People of Jewish heritage are protected as a distinct race under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Sharre Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, 481 U.S. 615 (1987).  As such, employment discrimination against an individual based upon his Jewish ethnic heritage is prohibited under 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2.
Yahoo Sports and the Bayou Brief report on the lawsuit.

UPDATE: Louisiana College issued a statement denying allegations in the lawsuit.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Americans United Names New Executive Director

Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced yesterday that  Rachel K. Laser has been appointed its new Executive Director.  Laser has had extensive experience in non-profit advocacy, having worked for Planned Parenthood, the National Women’s Law Center, Third Way and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.  She succeeds Rev. Barry W. Lynn who retired last year after 25 years as AU's leader. Washington Post carries an extensive article on Laser's appointment. [Thanks to Michael Lieberman for the lead.]

Supreme Court Defines Prisoner Contributions To Attorney Fee Awards

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in Murphy v. Smith, (Sup. Ct., Feb. 21, 2018), in a 5-4 decision, decided on the proper interpretation of a statutory provision relating to award of attorneys' fees in damage actions by prisoners, including actions alleging a violation of an inmate's First Amendment free exercise rights.  At issue is the provision in 42 USC § 1997e(d) relating to the amount an inmate must contribute out of his or her recovery toward attorneys' fees when the inmate has been awarded such fees.  The majority, in an opinion by Justice Gorsuch, held that the statutory reference to the inmate's contribution of up to 25% of the monetary judgment toward satisfying the award does not give the trial court discretion to require less than 25%.  Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan, dissented arguing that the statute permits the exercise of discretion in determining the percentage (up to 25%) of a judgment that must be applied toward an attorneys' fee award.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rev. Billy Graham Dies At Age 99

The New York Times chronicling his life, reports this morning:
The Rev. Billy Graham, a North Carolina farmer’s son who preached to millions in stadium events he called crusades, becoming a pastor to presidents and the nation’s best-known Christian evangelist for more than 60 years, died on Wednesday at his home. He was 99.

Suit Challenges Ban On Lesbian Foster Parents In Federally Funded Refugee Program

A lawsuit was filed yesterday against the federal government and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops challenging discrimination against same-sex couples in administration of the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program and the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program. The complaint (full text) in Marouf v. Azar, (D DC, filed 2/20/2018), alleges that various federal agencies use taxpayer funds to finance grants to the USCCB to implement these programs based on impermissible religious criteria.  Plaintiffs, a lesbian couple, were told by Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, a sub-grantee of USCCB, that they did not qualify to become foster parents of an unaccompanied refugee child. An official of the organization told them that foster parents must "mirror the holy family."  The complaint alleges in part:
By working to ensure that none of the children for which they are responsible are placed in homes of same-sex spouses based on USCCB’s religious beliefs, USCCB and its sub-grantees not only discriminate against same-sex spouses, but also effectively erase the non-Catholic identities and beliefs of many of the unaccompanied refugee children for which they are responsible. This conduct potentially increases those children’s alienation and vulnerability, while denying them access to loving homes that could serve them best—all at federal taxpayers’ expense.
Lambda Legal issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit. Washington Post reports on the filing of the suit.

Injunction Against Serving As Temple Director Upheld

In Sikh Temple Turlock, California v. Chahal, (CA App, Feb 20, 2018), a California state appeals court upheld the trial court's resolution of a governance dispute between two factions in a Sikh Temple.  As described by the court:
Following a bench trial, the [trial] court found the election of the First Board was valid. The court further concluded the April 2013 election did not occur and that appellants took control of the Temple by usurpation. Accordingly, the trial court reinstated the First Board and ordered that a judicially supervised election take place. The court also enjoined five of the appellants from serving as officers or directors of the Temple for five years.
The appeals court rejected challenges to the trial court's decision, including a a free exercise challenge to the 5-year injunction.  The court said in part:
 Appellants submitted evidence that a Sikh has a general obligation to perform selfless service. However, there was no testimony that serving on the board is itself a religious act, constitutes a religious practice, or is required to satisfy the seva obligation. In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise.... Thus, appellants’ claim that the ban infringes on the free exercise of their religion has no support in the record.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Christmas As Legal Holiday Does Not Violate County Employee's Rights

In Edelstein v. Stephens, (SD OH, Feb. 16, 2018), a Ohio federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing many of the claims of a state court staff attorney/magistrate who was fired after she requested eight days off for Jewish holidays. One of plaintiff's claims was that the county violated her free exercise and equal protection rights by designating Christmas as a legal holiday without similarly protecting the rights of non-Christians to celebrate their holidays.  The court said in part:
Butler County's policy establishing Christmas as a paid legal holiday for county employees is a neutral law that does not discriminate against a particular religion or set of religious beliefs or prohibit any conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons.... The Sixth Circuit has acknowledged that because there are "legitimate secular purposes for establishing Christmas as a legal public holiday," it follows that the establishment of Christmas day as a legal public holiday neither violates an individual's fundamental rights nor discriminates against her based on her religion.
The Butler County Journal-News reports on the decision.

"Parody Marriage" Bills Are Newest Attempt To Challenge To Same-Sex Marriage

A bill titled Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act (H 4949) was introduced into the South Carolina legislature last week (Feb. 15). A similar bill with the same title (HB 0167) was received for introduction in the Wyoming legislature on Feb. 14.  Taking a new approach to challenging same-sex marriage, the bills define marriage that does not involve one man and one woman as "parody marriage."  The bills then declare that parody marriages, as well as treating sexual orientation as a suspect class, violate the Establishment Clause because they are part of the religion of Secular Humanism.  They declare, on the other hand, that marriages between one man and one woman are secular because they arise "out of the nature of things" and are "natural, neutral and noncontroversial."   According to the Charleston City Paper, the bills in both states were written with the advice of Chris Sevier. Sevier has gained notice by filing lawsuits seeking to have his marriage to his computer recognized--- suits filed in an attempt to discredit non-traditional marriages. (See prior posting.)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Recent Articles and Book of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Law of charities):
From SSRN (European law):
From SSRN (Islam and Islamic Law):
From SmartCILP:
Recent Book:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mother Held In Contempt For Ignoring Custody Order Giving Father Control of Religious Decisions

The Charlotte Observer last week reported that a North Carolina state Superior Court judge has upheld a contempt conviction of 36-year old Kendra Stocks for disobeying a court order regarding custody of her daughter. One day after a district court judge gave full custody, specifically including decisions concerning religion, of Stocks' 3-year old daughter to the child's father, Stocks went ahead with a previously-planned baptism of the child. She did not inform the father of the planned ceremony; he learned of it through Stocks' Facebook postings. The Superior Court reduced Stocks contempt sentence from ten to seven days. [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Mikell v. Folino, (3d Cir., Feb. 13, 2018), the 3rd Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an inmate's complaint that he did not receive Ramadan meals.

In Corbett v. Annucci, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24291 (SD NY, Feb. 13, 2018), a New York federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with claims for injunctive relief alleging that he did not receive Halal meals.

In Jones v. Annucci, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24359 (SD NY, Feb. 13, 2018), a New York federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that he was required to change his religious registration from Islam to Shia before he could participate in Shia religious events.

In Thomas v. Slusher, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25916 (ND OH, Feb. 16, 2018), an Ohio federal district court dismissed an inmate's complaint that he was transferred out of the faith-based prison unit.

In Woods v. Paramo, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25989 (SD CA, Feb. 15, 2018), a California federal court allowed an inmate to move ahead with his suit challenging delays in providing a kosher diet when he is transferred for extensive periods.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

No Free Exercise Defense To Charge of Attending Cockfight

In United States v. Cruz, (SD NY, Feb. 15, 2018), a New York federal magistrate judge rejected a Free Exercise defense to a charge of knowingly attending a cockfight in violation of 7 USC §2156.  The court said in part:
Here, Cruz has failed to make a showing that the act of engaging in animal fighting ventures stems from sincerely held beliefs that are religious in nature. Although Cruz continually refers to the “God given” dominion of man over animals, he does not identify any specific religious tenets or practices that are burdened by the statute. Nor does he identify any religion or denomination from which his beliefs derive. Indeed, in “attest[ing] to the importance of the God given rights of the American farmer,” Cruz cites quotations in which the founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin, exalted agriculture.... This suggests that Cruz’s beliefs are philosophical or political in nature.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ohio Court Gives Custody of Transgender Teen To Grandparents

CNN reports that an Ohio trial court judge today gave custody of a 17-year old transgender male to his grandparents after his parents sought to bar the hormonal transition treatment strongly recommended by the youth's medical team.  Grandparents will now be able to make medical decisions for the teen.  The parents argued that the teen was not old enough to make such a consequential decision.  A county prosecutor contended that the parents objected because of their religious beliefs. Court testimony revealed that the parents, in addition to opposing treatment, refused to call the youth by his chosen name, triggering suicidal feelings in him.

EEOC Sues Over Accommodation For Religious Objection To Flu Vaccine

The EEOC announced this week that it has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against the Owossso, Michigan based Memorial Healthcare.  The company revoked its job offer to Yvonne Bair to work as a medical transcriptionist after she objected on religious grounds to receiving an influenza shot or spray immunization.  Memorial refused her suggested accommodation of allowing her to wear a mask, even though company policy allowed masks as an alternative for those who cannot take a vaccine for other reasons.  MarketWatch reports on the lawsuit.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

4th Circuit En Banc Says Trump's Third Travel Ban Violates Establishment Clause

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals en banc today, in opinions spanning 285 pages, affirmed a Maryland federal district court's grant of a preliminary injunction against the Proclamation setting out the third version of President Trump's travel ban.  In International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, (4th Cir. en banc, Feb. 15, 2018), the court by a vote of 9-4 held that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim.  Chief Judge Gregory's majority opinion said in part:
[H]ere the Government’s proffered rationale for the Proclamation lies at odds with the statements of the President himself. Plaintiffs here do not just plausibly allege with particularity that the Proclamation’s purpose is driven by anti-Muslim bias, they offer undisputed evidence of such bias: the words of the President. This evidence includes President Trump’s disparaging comments and tweets regarding Muslims; his repeated proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States; his subsequent explanation that he would effectuate this “Muslim” ban by targeting “territories” instead of Muslims directly; the issuance of EO-1 and EO-2, addressed only to majority-Muslim nations; and finally the issuance of the Proclamation, which not only closely tracks EO-1 and EO-2, but which President Trump and his advisors described as having the same goal as EO-1 and EO-2.....
While the majority ultimately concluded that it would not rely on President Trump's pre-election statements in reaching its conclusion, it nevertheless indicated that it would have been permissible to do so:
Perhaps in implicit recognition of the rawness of the religious animus in the President’s pre-election statements, the Government urges us to disregard them. This is a difficult argument to make given that the President and his advisors have repeatedly relied on these pre-election statements to explain the President’s post-election actions related to the travel ban....  [I]n McCreary, the Supreme Court reminded us that “the world is not made brand new every morning.” .... Because “reasonable observers have reasonable memories,” these statements certainly provide relevant context when examining the purpose of the Proclamation.
The majority concluded:
In sum, the face of the Proclamation, read in the context of President Trump’s official statements, fails to demonstrate a primarily secular purpose. To the objective observer, the Proclamation continues to exhibit a primarily religious anti-Muslim objective. Our constitutional system creates a strong presumption of legitimacy for presidential action and we often defer to the political branches on issues related to immigration and national security. But the disposition in this case is compelled by the highly unusual facts here. Plaintiffs offer undisputed evidence that the President of the United States has openly and often expressed his desire to ban those of Islamic faith from entering the United States. The Proclamation is thus not only a likely Establishment Clause violation, but also strikes at the basic notion that the government may not act based on “religious animosity.”
Six of the judges would have also found a likelihood of success on at least some of plaintiffs' statutory challenges to the Proclamation. Four concurring opinions and two dissenting opinions were also filed. Pursuant to an earlier U.S. Supreme Court order, the court stayed the injunction pending a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court. Richmond Times-Dispatch reports on today's decision.

NY Governor Issues Executive Order Barring State Contracts With Entities That Fail To Address Discrimination

Earlier this month (Feb. 3), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an Executive Order (full text)  directing all state agencies and departments to amend their procurement procedures to prevent entering into contracts "with entities that have institutional policies or practices that fail to address the harassment and discrimination of individuals on the basis of their age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, sex, marital status, disability, or other protected basis."  State departments and agencies must include non-discrimination provisions in all contracts for goods, services, technology or construction.  In a press release announcing the Executive Order, the governor's office said in part:
The Trump administration has banned transgender people from serving in the U.S. Military, removed guidance nationwide that helped protect young transgender students at school, and completely removed the LGBTQ community from the National Survey of Older Americans. Additionally, in October 2017, the federal government rescinded a contraceptive coverage mandate under the Affordable Car Act. This action has permitted employers and organizations to claim broad exemptions from nondiscrimination laws, which has increased the vulnerability of LGBTQ rights.
Following these actions, which perpetuate and tolerate discrimination and taken this nation in the wrong direction, New York is once again stepping up to ensure the rights of individuals across the state are protected.
The Director of Public Policy of the Archdiocese of New York strongly criticized the new Executive Order, saying in part:
the target of this new action is the very existence of religious agencies, and the intent is to suppress any deviation from the new orthodoxy of gender and sexual ideology.
LifeSite News reports further on these developments.

Murder Convictions Reversed Because Jehovah's Witness Juror Excluded

In Pacchiana v. State of Florida, (FL App., Feb. 14, 2018), a Florida appeals court reversed and remanded for a new trial the murder conviction of defendant.  In companion decisions the convictions of Pacchiana's co-defendants were also reversed: Michael Bilotti v. Florida and in Christin Bilotti v. Florida .

In the case, defense counsel raised a Batson challenge to the state's peremptory strike of an African American member of the jury pool.  The state responded that its race-neutral reason for the challenge was that the juror is a Jehovah's Witness.  The prosecution urged that members of that religion often believe that only God judges and they cannot judge.  In the court's primary opinion, Judge Levine wrote:
the state did not provide a “legitimate” race-neutral reason..... During voir dire, the potential juror stated that she would follow the law and gave no indication that she would allow her status as a Jehovah’s Witness to affect her decisionmaking at all. In moving to strike her, the state merely relied on the juror’s membership in a religion without any testimony that it would actually affect her service as a juror, speculating that “any” practicing Jehovah’s Witness would refuse to sit in judgment of others.
Judge Levine went on to conclude that even if this was a valid religion-based challenge, Batson should be extended to religion-based peremptory challenges, as well as racial ones.  He also concluded that:
striking a potential juror from jury service based solely on membership in a religion, no matter what the juror says during voir dire, is an impermissible “religious test” in violation of the United States and Florida Constitutions.
Chief Judge Gerber concurred only in part, concluding that religion is a race-neutral response to a Batson challenge. However he agreed with Judge Levine's other conclusions that made this an impermissible religion-based challenge.  Judge May dissented, concluding that Batson should not be extended to religion-based challenges.  She also concluded that there were sufficient additional reasons given for the challenge to make it race-neutral. However in co-defendant Christin Bilotti's case, she would remand for resentencing.  The Sun Sentinel reports on the decision.

City Considering Crowdfunding To Pay Ten Commandments Litigation Costs

The Farmington Daily Times reports that the city of Bloomfield, New Mexico may take an unusual approach to paying the $700,000 attorneys' fees of the successful plaintiffs who sued it over a Ten Commandments monument. It is considering using an online crowdfunding site to raise the funds.  While Alliance Defending Freedom represented the city without charge in the litigation, now that the city has finally lost after a denial of review by the Supreme Court, it must pay the ACLU for the cost of representing plaintiffs in the litigation.  The amounts will have to come from the city's general funds if its crowdfunding initiative is unsuccessful.

Cert. Filed In Episcopal Church Property Dispute

A petition for certiorari (full text) was filed last week with the U.S. Supreme Court in Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina v. The Episcopal Church, (cert. filed 2/9/2018).  In the case, the 5-member South Carolina Supreme Court in 5 separate opinions spanning 77 pages resolved a property dispute that arose after a split in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. (See prior posting.)  The question presented in the cert petition is:
Whether the "neutral principles of law" approach to resolving church property disputes requires court to recognize a trust on church property even if the alleged trust does not comply with the State's ordinary trust and property law.
Anglican Curmudgeon blog discusses the cert. petition at length. [Thanks to Don Nichol for the lead.]

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

7th Circuit: Hebrew Teacher Covered By "Ministerial Exception" Doctrine

In Grussgott v. Milwaukee Jewish Day School, Inc., (7th Cir., Feb. 13, 2018), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the ministerial exception applies to prevent a former Hebrew teacher in a Jewish day school from suing for her firing in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Plaintiff taught first and second graders. In concluding that plaintiff should be classified as a "ministerial" employee, the court said in part:
... it is sufficient that the school clearly intended for her role to be connected to the school’s Jewish mission....  Milwaukee Jewish Day School expected Grussgott to follow its expressly religious mission and to teach the Tal Am curriculum, which is designed to “develop Jewish knowledge and identity in [its] learners.”.... This, combined with the importance of Grussgott’s Judaic teaching experience in her being hired, confirms that the school expected her to play an important role in “transmitting the [Jewish] faith to the next generation.”.... Even if Grussgott did not know this, the purpose of the ministerial exception is to allow religious employers the freedom to hire and fire those with the ability to shape the practice of their faith. Thus, it is the school’s expectation—that Grussgott would convey religious teachings to her students— that matters.

Valentine's Day Remains Controversial In Some Conservative Muslim and Hindu Areas

Again this year, Valentine's Day is countering opposition from conservative religious leaders in some nations.  Voice of America reports that Pakistan's  Electronic Media Regulatory Authority sent instructions to radio and television stations based on a ruling last year by the Islamabad High Court that Valentine's Day is un-Islamic, spreading immorality, nudity and indecency.  PEMRA told its licensees:
Respondents are directed to ensure that nothing about the celebrations of Valentine's Day and its promotion is spread on the Electronic and Print media," PEMRA's directive stated. "No event shall be held on an official level and at any public place. PEMRA is directed to ensure that all the TV channels shall stop the promotion of Valentine's Day forthwith."
Meanwhile, the Indonesian province of South Sulawesi has also continued its ban of the celebration of Valentine's Day. (Jakarta Post). And in the Indian state of  Karnataka, Shri Ram Sena pro-Hindu activists have been burning Valentines in effigy, claiming Valentine's Day as anti-Hindu. (MeriNews). Arab News reports however that Valentine's Day has become one of the most celebrated events in Egypt.

DOE No Longer Investigating Transgender Bathroom Access Complaints

The Department of Education yesterday confirmed that it is no longer investigating civil rights complaints from transgender students who are not allowed to use restrooms that conform to their gender identity.  CNN reports that the Department, implementing its prior withdrawal of Guidance documents issued by the Obama administration, now takes the position that Title IX bars discrimination on the basis of sex, but not on the basis of gender identity. A spokesperson said that Title IX does bar discrimination against transgender students based on sex-based stereotypes, but that longstanding regulations provide that sex-segregated bathrooms are not discriminatory.

Some Allegations About CAIR Stricken From Complaint

In Citizens for Quality Education San Diego v. San Diego Unified School District, (SD CA, Feb. 12, 2018), a California federal district court granted a motion by defendants to strike from plaintiffs' complaint certain allegations regarding the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).  The motion was filed in a suit alleging that the San Diego school district's anti-Islamophobia initiative is a "discriminatory scheme that establishes Muslim students as the privileged religious group within the school community." The court held that seven allegations claiming a relationship between CAIR and terrorism should be stricken as "impertinent, immaterial, and scandalous."  The court however refused to strike claims relating to CAIR’s views on Israel and Judaism.

Limits On Krishna Lunch Program Upheld

In Krishna Lunch of Southern California, Inc. v. Gordon, (CD CA, Feb. 9, 2018), a California federal district court dismissed a challenge by a Krishna consciousness organization to a UCLA rule that limits it to holding four event per year on the campus.  The organization, Krishna Lunch, wants to offer a lunch program with sanctified food (prasada) 2 or 3 times per week.  The court rejected free exercise, free speech and expressive association challenges to the limitation.  In rejecting plaintiff's expressive conduct claim, the court said in part:
Plaintiffs’ lunch program ... is afforded First Amendment protection only if there is an intent to convey a particularized message and a great likelihood that message would be understood by those who view it....
The Court previously concluded that Plaintiffs failed to allege a great likelihood their pro-animal/antimeat message would easily be understood by those who view it.  They still have not done so....
... [T]he fact that the Assigned Area (the location where Plaintiffs would conduct prasada) is regularly used by groups for which food distribution is common ... makes it highly unlikely that the ordinary viewer would glean a particularized message from Plaintiffs’ lunch program.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

EEOC Obtains Settlement In Religious Discrimination Suit

In a press release last week, the EEOC announced that Decostar Industries, Inc., a Georgia-based auto supplier, has settled a religious discrimination lawsuit filed against it by the EEOC.  The company refused to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs that prevented her from working between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.  The company will pay the employee damages of $38,500 and has entered a 2-year consent decree which, among other things, requires it to adopt a new religious accommodation policy.

White House Proposed Budget Promotes School Choice

The White House yesterday released its proposed Fiscal Year 2019 Budget (full text).  The Budget includes an increase in Department of Education funding for private (as well as public) school choice, described in part as follows:
The Budget invests $1.1 billion in school choice programs to expand the range of high-quality public and private school options for students, putting more decision-making power in the hands of parents and families.  This investment serves as a down payment toward achieving the President’s goal of an annual Federal investment of $20 billion—for a total of an estimated $100 billion when including matching State and local funds—in school choice funding. The Budget requests $500 million to establish a new school choice grant program to support a wide range of innovative approaches to school choice. These include expanding existing private school choice programs to serve more low-income and at-risk students, developing new private school choice models, or supporting school districts’ efforts to adopt student-based budgeting and open enrollment policies that enable Federal, State and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice....
Americans United issued a press release criticizing school voucher programs, saying in part:
Vouchers divert desperately needed resources away from the public school system, which educates 90 percent of our students, to fund the education of a few voucher students in private, religious schools. Voucher programs are an ineffective and damaging education policy: they do not improve – and can even lead to declines in – student achievement. They also lack accountability to taxpayers, deprive students of civil rights protections and often provide students with fewer resources than they would have in public schools.
Vouchers violate the religious freedom of both taxpayers and religious schools. The government should not compel any citizen to furnish funds in support of a religion with which he or she disagrees – or even a religion with which he or she does agree. Vouchers also threaten the religious liberty and autonomy of religious schools, as vouchers open them up to government audits, monitoring, control and interference from which they would otherwise be exempt.

Monday, February 12, 2018

European Court Upholds Conviction For Inciting Hatred

In Smajić v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, (ECHR, Jan. 16, 2018), a 3-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights rejected a claim by a a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina that his free expression rights were infringed when he was convicted of inciting national, racial and religious hatred, discord or intolerance.  Applicant had posted online action that should be taken by Bosniac citizens of the Brčko District in the event of war and secession of  Republika Srpska (one of the two constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina).  According to the court:
The applicant had used expressions which were highly insulting to members of an ethnic group, such as “this stinking Christmas”, “get rid of the danger behind our backs”, “the city centre should then be slowly cleansed” and “Serbs who came from different shitholes live there”.
Rejecting applicant's argument that his conviction violated Art. 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the court said in part:
31. The Court notes that the applicant’s conviction amounted to an “interference” with his right to freedom of expression. An interference contravenes Article 10 of the Convention unless it is “prescribed by law”, pursues one or more of the legitimate aims referred to in paragraph 2 of Article 10, and is “necessary in a democratic society” for achieving such an aim or aims.
32. The interference in the present case was prescribed by law; namely, it was based on Article 160 § 1 of the 2003 BD Criminal Code... Furthermore, the Court is satisfied that it pursued at least one of the legitimate aims referred to in Article 10 § 2 – namely the protection of the reputation and rights of others.
33. The Court reiterates that freedom of expression is one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfilment. Subject to Article 10 § 2, it applies not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, without which there is no “democratic society”. As set forth in Article 10, this freedom is subject to exceptions, but these must be construed strictly, and the need for any restrictions must be established convincingly....

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Fox v. Lee, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19402 (ND NY, Feb. 5, 2018), a New York federal magistrate judge recommended denying an inmate's motion for summary judgment in his suit claiming to be an adherent of the Anuaki religion and needing to wear his hair in a Mohawk cut for religious reasons.

In Blackbear v. Butler County Jail, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19935 (D KA, Feb. 7, 2018), a Kansas federal district court rejected an inmate's complaint that for 3 weeks he was denied a special diet he needed for religious reasons.

In Sajous v. Withers, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20191 (SD FL, Feb. 6, 2018), a Florida federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20820, Jan. 16, 2018) and dismissed an inmate's complaint that a Haitian Flag Day ceremonial meal was canceled and that he is unable to practice his Vodoo religion.

In Williams v. Paramo, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21191 (SD CA, Feb. 7, 2018), a California federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with his complaint that he was not allowed to participate in Ramadan in 2017.

In Icangelo v. County of Suffolk, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21903 (ED NY, Feb. 8, 2018), a New York federal magistrate judge allowed an inmate to move ahead with this complaint that for 6 weeks he was not allowed to attend Jummah religious services. UPDATE: The magistrate's opinion was adopted by the court at 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32754 (Feb. 28, 2018).

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Small Church Challenges Zoning Changes

Yesterday a small church in Laurel, Maryland filed a federal lawsuit challenging a zoning code change that prevents it from using property it purchased for a non-profit coffee shop and house of worship.  The complaint (full text) in Redemption Community Church v. City of Laurel, Maryland, (D MD, filed 2/9/2018), alleges that the zoning changes violate its right under RLUIPA and the 1st Amendment.  It alleges in part:
4. ... the City changed its zoning code to ban non-profit businesses and to require small churches (those located on less than one acre) to go through an onerous, costly, and uncertain special exception process before locating in the C-V Zone.
5. Churches that can afford more than an acre, and numerous secular assemblies or institutions can locate in the C-V Zone as of right....
7. The City has discriminated against Redemption Community Church, treated it less favorably than similarly-situated secular organizations, substantially burdened the Church’s free exercise of religion, and infringed on the Church’s right to free speech, peaceable assembly, and equal protection in violation of the Church’s federal and constitutional rights.
ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Notre Dame Announces Another Change In Contraceptive Coverage

Notre Dame University on Wednesday announced another change in its policy regarding coverage for contraceptives by its employee health care plan.  Initially Notre Dame sued challenging the Obama administration's rule which required coverage, but allowed the coverage to be provided by the insurance company or third party administrator directly rather than by the University.  When the Trump administration broadened the exemption for religious non-profits so that Notre Dame could completely opt out of contraceptive coverage, the University chose to continue with the pre-existing coverage arrangement. This led to criticism from alumni and others. (See prior posting.)  Now in a letter to faculty and staff (full text), the University has announced a different approach-- one which makes a distinction between Catholic teaching regarding contraception and Church teaching regarding abortion (presumably including contraceptive drugs that prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum).  The letter from Notre Dame's president describes the policy as follows in part:
... [A]llowing the government-funded provision of drugs and services to continue through a third party administrator would provide access to contraceptives without University funding or immediate involvement. The government-funded program, however, includes the provision of abortion-inducing drugs, which are far more gravely objectionable in Catholic teaching. Stopping any access to contraceptives through our health care plan would allow the University to be free of involvement with drugs that are morally objectionable in Catholic teaching, but it would burden those who have made conscientious decisions about the use of such drugs and rely on the University for health care benefits.
I have reached the conclusion that it is best that the University stop the government-funded provision of the range of drugs and services through our third party administrator. Instead, the University will provide coverage in the University’s own insurance plans for simple contraceptives (i.e., drugs designed to prevent conception). The University will also provide in its plans funding for natural family planning options—options that do not use artificial contraceptives but employ natural methods for preventing conception. The University’s insurance plans (as opposed to the government-funded program) have never covered, and will not cover, abortion-inducing drugs.
In response to the new policy, Bishop Rhoades, Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend where Notre Dame is located, issued a statement yesterday (full text) welcoming parts of the new policy but strongly criticizing the University's decision to directly fund contraception coverage. [Thanks to Marty Lederman via Religionlaw for the lead.] 

Hopi's Religious Concerns Give Them Standing To Challenge Snowbowl Water Use

In Hopi Tribe v. Arizona Snowbowl Resort Limited Partnership, (AZ App., Feb. 8, 2018), an Arizona state appeals court has given the Hopi tribe another chance to continue their long-running opposition to the use of recycled waste water to make artificial snow at Arizona's Snowbowl ski resort. (See prior posting).  Reversing the trial court's standing ruling, the appellate court said in part:
At issue is whether the Tribe sufficiently alleged standing to maintain a common law public nuisance claim. For a private party to bring a claim of public nuisance, it must allege both an interference with a right common to the public and a special injury different in kind from that of the public. The parties do not dispute that the Tribe sufficiently alleged that the use of reclaimed wastewater interferes with the public’s right to use and enjoy the Peaks. Because we find the Tribe sufficiently alleged the use of reclaimed wastewater causes its members a special injury, different in kind than that suffered by the general public, by interfering with places of special cultural and religious significance to the Tribe, we reverse the trial court’s dismissal....

Former Magistrate Receives Damages In Settlement Over Refusal To Perform Same-Sex Marriages

According to a press release this week from Becket, the North Carolina court system last November agreed to a settlement with a former North Carolina magistrate who was forced to resign in 2014 because of her objections to performing same-sex marriage ceremonies.  Under the settlement of a complaint filed with the EEOC, magistrate Sandra Myrick will receive $210,000 in damages and $115,000 in attorneys fees. (Full text of settlement agreement).  The settlement came 8 months after the decision by an Administrative Law Judge in Myrick v. Warren, (EEOC, March 8, 2017) holding that the EEOC has jurisdiction over Myrick's religious discrimination complaint under the Government Employees Rights Act of 1991.  The ALJ also concluded that Myrick had demonstrated a prima facie case of religious discrimination and that she had not been offered an accommodation.

Trump Speaks To National Prayer Breakfast

Yesterday President Donald Trump spoke at the 66th Annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. (full text of remarks). The President said in part:
Each year, this event reminds us that faith is central to American life and to liberty.  Our founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence.  Our currency declares, “In God We Trust.”  (Applause.)  And we place our hands on our hearts as we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proclaim we are “One Nation Under God.”  (Applause.)
Our rights are not given to us by man; our rights come from our Creator.  (Applause.)  No matter what, no Earthly force can take those rights away.  (Applause.)  That is why the words “Praise be to God” are etched atop the Washington Monument, and those same words are etched into the hearts of our people.

DOJ Imposes More Oversight On US Attorneys In Religious Liberty Cases

In a press release last week, the Department of Justice announced an update to the United States Attorneys' Manual (full text) which adds a section titled "Associate Attorney General’s Approval and Notice Requirements for Issues Implicating Religious Liberty." In order to insure compliance with a memo on protection of religious liberty issued last October (see prior posting), DOJ's new procedures instruct U.S. Attorneys to appoint a contact person to carry out the following instructions:
Immediately inform the Office of the Associate Attorney General upon receiving service of a suit filed against the United States raising any significant question concerning religious liberty;
Coordinate decisions about merits arguments and significant litigation strategy questions in religious liberty cases with the Office of the Associate Attorney General; and
Obtain the approval of the Office of the Associate Attorney General with respect to any affirmative civil suit that impinges on rights under the Free Exercise Clause, Establishment Clause, or Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Yesterday the Center for Inquiry issued a press release criticizing the new oversight policy.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

New Hearing Ordered On Moving Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Remains

In a 3-2 decision in Matter of Cunningham v Trustees of St. Patrick's Cathedral, (NY App., Feb. 6, 2018), New York state's Appellate Division sent back to the trial court for further proceedings the dispute over whether the body of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who died in 1979, should be moved from New York City to Illinois.  Sheen was buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral. However Sheen's niece has now petitioned the court to have Sheen's remains moved to Peoria, Illinois where Sheen's family resides and where a shrine to him is being built in anticipation of Sheen's Beatification by The Vatican. (See prior posting.)  The trial court concluded (full text of opinion) that no factual disputes existed, and granted the request to allow removal of Sheen's remains. However, on appeal the majority held that the trial court must hold a hearing to determine Sheen's wishes as to his place of burial, in light of conflicting evidence on the issue. New York Times reports on the decision.

Senate's Bipartisan Budget Agreement Will Assure FEMA Assistance For Houses of Worship

The Bipartisan Budget Agreement (full text) which will be voted on today by the Senate (CNN report) includes provisions assuring that houses of worship will be able to receive disaster assistance from FEMA. The Stafford Act, Sec. 42 USC  Sec. 5172 allows federal assistance for repair or replacement of non-profit facilities damaged or destroyed by major disasters.  However, until a recent policy change by FEMA, houses of worship were excluded. (See prior posting.)  The bipartisan budget bill (Sec. 20604 at pg. 48) adds the following:
Section 102(11)(B) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122(11)(B)) is amended to read as follows:
‘‘(A) IN GENERAL.—The term ‘private nonprofit facility’ means private nonprofit educational (without regard to the religious character of the facility), utility, irrigation, emergency, medical, rehabilitational, and temporary or permanent custodial care facilities (including those for the aged and disabled) and facilities on Indian reservations, as defined by the President.
‘‘(B) ADDITIONAL FACILITIES.—In addition to the facilities described in subparagraph (A), the term ‘private nonprofit facility’ includes any private nonprofit facility that provides essential social services to the general public (including museums, zoos, performing arts facilities, community arts centers, community centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops, broadcasting facilities, houses of worship, and facilities that provide health and safety services of a governmental nature), as defined by the President. No house of worship may be excluded from this definition because leadership or membership in the organization operating the house of worship is limited to persons who share a religious faith or practice.’’.
(b) REPAIR, RESTORATION, AND REPLACEMENT OF DAMAGED FACILITIES.—Section 406(a)(3) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5172(a)(3)) is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘‘(C) RELIGIOUS FACILITIES.—A church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other house of worship, educational facility, or any other private nonprofit facility, shall be eligible for contributions under paragraph (1)(B), without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility. No house of worship, educational facility, or any other private nonprofit facility may be excluded from receiving contributions under paragraph (1)(B) because leadership or membership in the organization operating the house of worship is limited to persons who share a religious faith or practice.’’. 

Pakistani Court Sentences 31 In Lynching of Student Falsely Accused of Blashpemy

Agence France-Presse today reports that a court in Pakistan has sentenced one person to death, five others to life in prison and 25 to three years in prison in the lynching of a student who was falsely accused of blasphemy.  26 others were acquitted. According to the report:
Mashal Khan, 23, was stripped, beaten and shot by a gang made up mostly of students last April before being thrown from the second floor of his dormitory at Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan....
Around two thousand people gathered at the main entrance of Mardan city, Khan's hometown, showering the acquitted students with flowers, chanting slogans against the provincial government and demanding the release of those convicted.

Louisiana School District Sued Over Prayers and Proselytizing

Four parents yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against the Bossier Parish, Louisiana school board alleging widespread Establishment Clause violations.  The complaint (full text) in Does 1-4 v. Bossier Parish School Board, (WD LA, Feb. 7, 2018) alleges in part:
3. School officials throughout the Bossier Parish School System regularly deliver or promote the delivery of Christian prayers at school-sponsored events.  Prayers begin and often end graduation ceremonies, sporting events, sports teams’ practices and banquets, pep rallies, and student-council meetings. Many of these school-sponsored events are also held in churches, including within the sanctuary or other rooms bearing religious iconography, thus creating an atmosphere closer to Sunday school than to public school.
 4. What is more, some Bossier Parish teachers proselytize during class, pray aloud for students, require young students to memorize sectarian prayers, and tell students of all religious backgrounds that to be a good person one be Christian.  Bossier Parish teachers and administrators have also placed religious displays in their classrooms and offices, advertised events sponsored by local churches, and incorporated religious teachings, beliefs, or doctrine, like Creationism, into the curriculum. Further, some Bossier Parish teachers, staff, and administrators have endorsed and conferred special favors on sectarian religious clubs and have developed practices that expose the private beliefs of students who do not wish to participate in these organizations, subjecting these children to coercive pressure to join, and ostracization by their classmates if they do not. 
Americans United issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

EEOC Wins Settlement of Religious Accommodation Lawsuit

In a January 30 press release, the EEOC announced that the logistics company  XPO Last Mile, Inc. has settled a religious discrimination suit filed by the agency.  The company will pay $94,541 in monetary relief to a job applicant whose job offer was rescinded when he informed the company that he needed to start work one day later than scheduled because of his observance of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.  The company also entered a 3-year consent decree preventing unlawful denial of religious accommodation to employees.

Congress Holds Hearing On Preventing Mass Atrocities

Yesterday, Congress' Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on prevention of mass atrocities around the world. Transcripts of prepared statements by a number of witnesses and a video of the entire hearing are available on the Commission's website.  In his opening statement, Commission co-chairman James McGovern said in part:
We are persuaded that atrocities are not the product of “ancient” ethnic or religious hatreds but rather of conscious, strategic decisions by ruling elites and non-state actors to achieve specific ends. Those actors need a reason to commit atrocities, and the means and opportunity to do so. The issue becomes how to change their strategic calculus.
We think impunity is one of the elements in that strategic calculus. If the perpetrators enjoy impunity, this may be seen as a “green light” to expand a genocidal or mass atrocity campaign.

California Baker May Refuse To Create Cake For Same-Sex Wedding

A California state trial court has held that a bakery owner has the right to refuse to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple when the owner has religious objections to same-sex marriage. The court pointed out:
The Unruh Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, as well as sexual orientation.
The bakery had arranged to refer orders from same-sex couples to a competing bakery that has no objections. In Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Miller, (CA Super., Feb. 5, 2018), the court said in part:
The right of freedom of thought guaranteed by the First Amendment includes the right to speak, and the right to refrain from speaking. Sometimes the most profound protest is silence....
No artist, having placed their work for public sale, may refuse to sell for an unlawful discriminatory purpose. No baker may place their wares in public display case, open their shop, and then refuse to sell because of race, religion, gender, or gender identification.
The difference here is that the cake in question is not yet baked. The State is not petitioning the court to order defendants to sell cake. The State asks this court to compel Miller to use her talents to design and create cake she has not yet conceived with the knowledge that her work will be displayed in celebration of marital union her religion forbids. For this court to force such compliance would do violence to the essentials of Free Speech guaranteed under the First Amendment.
The Bakersfield Californian reports on the decision.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Israeli Rabbinical Judges Immune In State Court At Suggestion of State Department

In Ben-Hiam v. Edri, (NJ App., Feb. 5, 2018), a New Jersey appellate court held that a State Department "suggestion of immunity" in a suit against foreign officials is binding on New Jersey courts when the State Department has found that the foreign officials were acting within the scope of their authority for a foreign sovereign.  At issue is a suit brought in New Jersey against six Israeli rabbinical judges and an official of the Rabbinical Religious Courts Administration of Israel.  The suit grew out of a divorce and child custody dispute filed in Israeli courts by a couple who lived in New Jersey, but were Israeli citizens who were married in Israel and had traveled to Israel when the divorce action was filed.  While the Israeli litigation was pending, the husband (plaintiff in this case) returned to the United States.  Competing custody rulings for the couple's daughter were issued in the U.S. and Israel. The Israeli rabbinical court awarded custody of the daughter to the mother, but was unable to grant a divorce because the husband refused to grant the wife a get (Jewish divorce document).

What happened next is explained by the New Jersey court:
Israeli law gives rabbinical courts the authority to issue certain sanctions to pressure a nonconsenting spouse to give consent to a get. Accordingly, to compel plaintiff to consent to the get, the rabbinical court issued a series of escalating sanctions against plaintiff. Ultimately, the rabbinical court issued an order finding that under Jewish law, plaintiff's refusal was criminal and that Jewish persons must avoid dealing with plaintiff. That rabbinical court order was sent to plaintiff's rabbi in New Jersey, and was published on several websites.
In April 2015, plaintiff filed a civil complaint ... in New Jersey. Specifically, plaintiff contended that defendants aided and abetted in the kidnapping of his daughter, defamed him, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on him.

European Court Upholds Company's Religiously Objectionable Ads

In Case of Sekmadienis Ltd. v. Lithuania, (ECHR, Jan. 30, 2018), the European Court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment held that Lithuania's State Consumer Rights Protection Authority violated a clothing company's freedom of expression when it imposed a fine because of a series of the company's ads that were seen as offending Christians. The Economist, reporting on the decision, described the ads:
The case refers to a Kalinkin campaign in 2012 which featured a bare-chested young man and a woman, both with halos: the man was sporting jeans and tattoos, and the female figure wore a white dress with a string of beads. The captions consisted of lines such as: “Jesus, what trousers!”, “Dear Mary, what a dress!” and “Jesus, Mary, what are you wearing?”
The European Court concluded that Lithuanian courts "failed to strike a fair balance between, on the one hand, the protection of public morals and the rights of religious people, and, on the other hand, the applicant company’s right to freedom of expression."  The Court issued a press release summarizing the decision. Chamber judgments may be appealed to the Grand Chamber.

Denial of Spousal Health Benefits Because of Religious-Only Ceremony May Violate Equal Protection Clause

In Ali v. Cooper, (ND CA, Jan. 30, 2018), a California federal district court refused to dismiss an equal protection claim by an employee of the Alameda Housing Authority (AHA) after her husband's health insurance coverage was terminated.  The action was taken by the Executive Director (Cooper) and Director of Human Resources (Basta) because the couple were married in a Muslim solemnization ceremony without a civil marriage certificate. Plaintiff claims that the two defendants were motivated by religious animus in singling her out and invoking a rarely used obscure policy to deny coverage. The court said in part:
Plaintiff adequately states a claim for intentional discrimination on the basis of her religion under the Equal Protection Clause against Defendants Cooper and Basta. This claim, however, is inadequately pled against the AHA ... because Plaintiff does not allege that the official marriage-certificate policy itself was motivated by animus, but rather, that the Individual Defendants’ enforcement of the policy against her was motivated by animus....
There may be an argument that Defendant’s marriage-certificate policy might not be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest if it fails to recognize a marriage that lacks a civil certificate but is nevertheless legally valid. At this time, however, Plaintiff has not alleged that her marriage was legally-valid.... Additionally, Plaintiff has not alleged that the marriage-certificate policy burdens a sincerely held religious belief. Thus, at this time, this First Amendment theory is inadequately pled.

Challenges To Placement On Terrorist Watch List Are Dismissed

In Amiri v. Kelly, (ED MI, Jan. 30, 2018), a Michigan federal district court dismissed claims challenging denial of a visa to a British national and placement of him and his wife (a permanent U.S. resident who is an Iranian national and a British citizen) on a terrorist watch list.  Plaintiffs claim that the data bases used by the government in making these decisions contain unsubstantiated information based on plaintiffs' imputed Muslim religious beliefs.  In rejecting plaintiffs' 1st Amendment challenge, the court said in part:
Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for a violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment, as they have identified no government action with a non-secular purpose that has a principal effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, or that results in excessive government entanglement with religion..... Plaintiffs also fail to state a claim under the free exercise clause. They do not allege that they have been compelled to engage in a practice that violates their religious convictions, refrain from doing an act required by their religious convictions, or affirm or deny a belief contrary to their religious convictions. Indeed, Plaintiffs do not claim to be Muslim, but rather accuse Defendants of presuming they are Muslim.... 
Plaintiffs also fail to state an equal protection claim as they fail to allege that they have been treated differently than similarly situated individuals of a different nationality....  Nor do they allege that they are treated differently based on their religion, as they do not claim to be Muslim.

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Michalski v. Semple, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13382 (D CT, Jan. 28, 2018), a Connecticut federal district court allowed a Native American inmate t move ahead with his complaint that officials refused to provide adequate winter clothing during his smudging times. It also permitted adding of a defendant to his complaint over denial of smudging.

In Stoltzfus v. Hutchins, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14539 (SD IN, Jan. 30, 2018), an Indiana federal district court dismissed an inmate's claim that he was denied access to a Bible.

In Slater v. Askew, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14757 (MD AL, Jan. 30, 2018), an Alabama federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing for failure to exhaust administrative remedies a Muslim inmate's complaint regarding wearing a beard, religious services and classes, religious mail, religious ID cards and other religious items.  UPDATE: The court adopted the recommendation at 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30940 (Feb. 27, 2018).

In Staples v. Bellafonte, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14950 (D NJ, Jan. 26, 2018), a New Jersey federal district court dismissed an inmate's free exercise and religious discrimination claims against a county jail.

In Wright v. Stallone, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15732 (ND NY, Jan. 31, 2018), a New York federal district court issued a preliminary injunction allowing a Muslim inmate to engage in individual demonstrable prayer during outdoor recreation, but denied a preliminary injunction as to group prayer.

In Pouncil v. Sherman, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15961 (ED CA, Jan.31, 2018), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed with leave to amend a Muslim inmate's complaint that he was denied meals on one night of Ramadan.