Monday, July 22, 2019

DOJ Summit On Combating Anti-Semitism Held Last Week

Last Monday, the Department of Justice held a Summit on Combating Antisemitism.  Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen delivered Introductory Remarks (full text) and Attorney General William Barr delivered the keynote speech opening the Summit (full text). He said in part:
The first panel will focus on combatting anti-Semitism while respecting the First Amendment. Hate-crime and civil-rights prosecutions are important tools but they cannot solve the problem on their own. Hearts and minds must be changed, but that is not always a task to which the government is particularly well-suited. We have a legal obligation to respect the free speech rights of even despicable speakers and our harshest critics. But lines can be drawn by our society, sometimes easily and sometimes not so easily, between that commitment and repudiation of anti-Semitism.
Another panel will focus on the problem of anti-Semitism on campus. On college campuses today, Jewish students who support Israel are frequently targeted for harassment, Jewish student organizations are marginalized, and progressive Jewish students are told they must denounce their beliefs and their heritage in order be part of "intersectional" causes. We must ensure – for the future of our country and our society – that college campuses remain open to ideological diversity and respectful of people of all faiths.
The DOJ website contains photos of the Summit. JTA reports on additional speakers at the Summit.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

Friday, July 19, 2019

Court Expands Injunction On Prayer At High School Graduations

In American Humanist Association v. Greenville County School District, (D SC, July 18, 2019), a South Carolina federal district court expanded its May 2015 order relating to prayer at high school graduation ceremonies in a South Carolina school district. It issued a permanent injunction that includes the following provisions:
(1) The district shall not include a prayer ... as part of the official program for a graduation ceremony. The district also shall not include an obviously religious piece of music as part of the official program for a graduation ceremony.
(2) The district and/or school officials shall not encourage, promote, advance, endorse, or participate in causing prayers during any graduation ceremony....
(4) The district and/or school officials shall not provide copies of student remarks from any prior year’s graduation ceremony to any students selected to make remarks during an upcoming graduation ceremony.
(5) ... No program or flier may direct the audience or participants to stand for any student’s remarks at a graduation ceremony.
(6) If school officials review, revise, or edit a student’s remarks in any way prior to the graduation ceremony, then school officials shall ensure that the student’s remarks do not include prayer.
(7) If school officials do not review, revise, or edit a student’s remarks ..., then a student’s remarks may include prayer, provided that no other persons may be asked to participate or join in the prayer, for example, by being asked to stand or bow one’s head. Moreover, in the event that a student’s remarks contain prayer, no school officials shall join in or otherwise participate in the prayer.
(8) Any program or flier for a graduation ceremony must include the following disclaimer if the ceremony includes a student’s remarks: “The views or opinions expressed by students during this program are their own and do not reflect the policy or position of the school district.”
Greenville News reports on the decision.

FOIA Lawsuit Seeks Information On International Religious Freedom Press Briefing

A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was filed this week seeking State Department records relating to a March 18 press briefing on international religious freedom. The complaint (full text) in Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press v. U.S. Department of State, (D DC, filed 7/17/2019), alleges that the State Department press corps was excluded from the briefing, and they were denied a transcript of the briefing,  a list of faith-based media that were invited, and the criteria used to determine those who were invited. Reporters Committee issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

Quebec Court Refuses To Enjoin Law Barring Officials From Wearing Religious Symbols

In Hak v. National Council of Canadian Muslims, (Quebec Super. Ct.., July 9, 2019) [opinion in French], a Quebec trial court refused to issue a temporary injunction against enforcement of the province's new law that prohibits a lengthy list of public officials, law enforcement and judicial officials as well as teachers from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their official functions. (See prior posting.) According to CBC News:
The government hoped to shield the law from constitutional challenges by invoking the notwithstanding clause; meaning critics can't appeal to the fundamental freedoms section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to get it struck down....
At several points in his decision, [Judge] Yergeau said the injunction request had a steeper hill to climb because the civil society groups couldn't argue the law violated fundamental freedoms protected by the charter.
"The plaintiffs had no other choice for success than to base themselves on purely constitutional arguments, as opposed to Charter arguments, whose validity remains uncertain," the decision reads....
He noted, in particular, the arguments that the law trampled on federal jurisdiction and violated minority rights had enough merit to warrant further consideration by the courts.
But he also said claims that the law had caused irreparable harm were "purely hypothetical and often speculative" given the motion filed so quickly after it was passed.

Catholic Schools Can Challenge Athletic Competition Rule Change

The Ohio Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision in Ohio High School Athletic Association v. Ruehlman, (OH Sup. Ct., July 16, 2019), allowed a trial court judge to move ahead with a challenge brought by Catholic high schools to a rule change by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.  The rule change which relates to the division to which a school is assigned for post-season competition is designed to adjust for the purported advantage that private schools have by reason of their ability to enroll students from wider geographic areas than public schools.  A Catholic school and the athletic conference to which it belongs sought to enjoin application of the new rule. The Ohio High School Athletic Association here sought unsuccessfully to prevent the suit from moving forward.  AP reports on the decision. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Thursday, July 18, 2019

State Department Hosts Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is hosting the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The 3-day event ends today.  The State Department's website outlines each day's agenda.  The website also has videos of all the speeches and workshops presented during the three days. Secretary Pompeo offered opening remarks at the event. The State Department's website describes the conference:
The Ministerial will reaffirm international commitments to promote religious freedom for all and focus on concrete outcomes that produce durable, positive change. A broad range of stakeholders will convene to discuss challenges, identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for freedom of religion or belief.
The State Department has also chosen 5 recipients of the 2019 International Religious Freedom Awards.

Conservatives Oppose Trump's 5th Circuit Nominee Because of His Contraceptive Mandate Decision

The Washington Times yesterday reported that federal district court judge Halil Suleyman Ozerden, who has been nominated by President Trump for a seat on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is facing opposition from some Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. They have questioned Ozerden's record on religious liberty because of an opinion he wrote in 2012 in Catholic Diocese of Biloxi, Inc. v. Sebelius, (SD MS, Dec. 20, 2012). In that case he dismissed on ripeness grounds a Catholic diocese's challenge to the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate.  Conservative advocacy groups such as the American Family Association and the First Liberty Institute are opposing his selection.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

U.S. Sanctions Top Burmese Military Leaders For Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya

Yesterday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that four top Burmese military leaders and their immediate families will be barred from entry into the United States "for gross human rights violations, including in extrajudicial killings in northern Rakhine State, Burma, during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya." This made the United States the first government to publicly take action against the most senior leadership of the Burmese (Myanmar) military. The announcement was followed by an official briefing on the action by State Department officials. AlJazeera reports on the State Department's action.

New Report Released On Religious Restrictions Around the World

On Monday, the Pew Research Center released its tenth annual report on governmental restrictions and social hostility to religion in 198 countries and territories around the world. The 126-page report titled A Closer Look At How Religious Restrictions Have Risen Around the World, concludes:
Over the decade from 2007 to 2017, government restrictions on religion — laws, policies and actions by state officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices — increased markedly around the world. And social hostilities involving religion – including violence and harassment by private individuals, organizations or groups – also have risen since 2007, the year Pew Research Center began tracking the issue.
Indeed, the latest data shows that 52 governments – including some in very populous countries like China, Indonesia and Russia – impose either “high” or “very high”levels of restrictions on religion, up from 40 in 2007. And the number of countries where people are experiencing the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion has risen from 39 to 56 over the course of the study.

EEOC Sues McDonald's Franchisee For Failure To Compromise On Grooming Policy

The EEOC announced yesterday that it has filed a lawsuit in a Florida federal district court charging the owner of several McDonald's restaurant franchises in central Florida with religious discrimination.  McDonald's grooming policy requires all employees to be clean shaven.  The restaurant refused to grant an accommodation to a Hasidic Jew who was applying for a part-time maintenance position. The job applicant offered to wear a beard net, but said his religious beliefs preclude shaving.

UPDATE: Here is the full text of the complaint in EEOC v. Chalfont & Associates Group, Inc., (MD FL, filed 7/16/2019). [Thanks to Tom Rutledge.]

9th Circuit Rejects Free Exercise Challenge To Tax Injunction Act

In Samaj v. County of Riverside, (9th Cir., July 15, 2019), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected petitioner's free exercise challenge to the federal Tax Injunction Act ("TIA"). The court said in part:
Samaj contends that by stripping the district court of its ability to entertain First Amendment challenges to state taxes, the TIA amounts to a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. We disagree.... Although a more difficult question would be presented if Samaj were altogether precluded from suing to enjoin an allegedly unconstitutional tax, that is not the case here. The TIA only withdraws federal jurisdiction where the party has a “plain, speedy, and efficient remedy” under state law.

Christian Group Settles Harassment Suit

Last week, a Minnesota state trial court entered a mediated settlement agreement in a case in which a lawyer had obtained a temporary restraining order against the Christian Action League of Minnesota.  As related by a press release from the Thomas More Society:
A local lawyer complained about postcards and emails the group sent to her because she advertises in City Pages. The correspondence informed advertisers that the metro Minneapolis-St. Paul alternative newspaper also promoted the adult sex trade and invited advertisers to reconsider supporting a media outlet that did so.
In R. Leigh Frost Law, Ltd. v. Christian Action League of Minnesota, (MN Dist. Ct., July 11, 2019), the court entered a mediated order dismissing the harassment restraining order, but requiring that for the next two years, Christian Action League may not contact petitioner by any means, including e-mail, social media, post cards, regular mail, phone or in person, nor may it encourage others to contact her or her employer.

Britain Announces Next Steps For Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships

In a press release last week, Britain's Government Equalities Office announced the release of its report titled Implementing Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships: Next Steps.  It announces detailed plans for extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples, and to ask for views of the public on whether conversion of marriages to civil partnerships should be permitted. The report says in part:
Broadly, we intend to provide protections to ensure that faith or religious organisations are not compelled to act in a way that would be in contravention of their beliefs.
...We are aware that for many religious groups, the preferred union for opposite-sex couples is marriage and those groups would not wish to host civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples on their premises, or in any way participate in the formation of opposite-sex civil partnerships. They may also have religious objections to employing individuals, including ministers, who are in a civil partnership as opposed to a marriage.
Law & Religion UK has an extensive discussion of the report.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Justice John Paul Stevens Dies At Age 99

New York Times reports that Justice John Paul Stevens who served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 35 years (1975- 2010) died on Tuesday at the age of 99.  The First Amendment Encyclopedia summarizes Justice Stevens' church-state jurisprudence:
Stevens was a consistent defender of church-state separation in freedom of religion cases.  He wrote the Court’s decision in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), invalidating an Alabama moment of silence law.  Stevens reasoned that the Alabama legislature had a clear religious purpose of bring prayer back into the public schools. Stevens also authored the Court’s decision in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), invalidating a Texas high school district’s practice of announcing prayers over the loudspeakers at football games. 
For lengthier discussions of Justice Stevens views on 1st Amendment religion issues, see:

Court Refuses To Dismiss Loss of Sepulcher Claims

In Gutnick v Hebrew Free Burial Society for the Poor of the City of Brooklyn, (Kings Cty.. NY Sup Ct., June 28, 2019), a New York trial court refused to dismiss common law loss of sepulcher claims by the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish man who died. According to the court:
On April 13, 2014, at an open grave site, plaintiff and other mourners gathered around a coffin believed to be the decedent. During the funeral service, plaintiff noticed a handwritten sticker on the coffin with a name that was not the decedent. Plaintiff alerted the Rabbi performing the ritual and was advised that Orthodox Jewish law forbids the opening of a casket once it has been closed. However, cemetery representatives later opened the casket, in plaintiff's presence and discovered the body of an unknown woman. It is further alleged that the location of the decedent was unknown for several hours. Later, Capitol, HFBA, Mount Richmond Cemetery, and Pyramid representatives informed plaintiff that her father may have been buried in another grave. Upon identifying the grave, the representatives disinterred the coffin and opened it to discover the decedent's body, which plaintiff identified.

Suit Challenges Limits On Sharing Religious Message At Gay Pride Events

Suit was filed in a Tennessee federal district court last month challenging the manner in which the Special Events Policy of Johnson City (TN) is interpreted and applied. The complaint (full text) in Waldrop v. City of Johnson City, Tennessee, (ED TN, June 19, 2019) contends that the city's policy unconstitutionally prevents plaintiffs from sharing their Christian message during gay pride parades and events. It alleges:
123. As applied, the Policy unconstitutionally attempts to convert the City’s streets, sidewalks, and parks from traditional public fora into a nonpublic forum during Special Events conducted in the City. 
124. As applied, the Policy unconstitutionally limits Plaintiffs’ freedom of speech by forcing Plaintiffs to move out of a traditional public forum during Special Events....
133. Plaintiffs have a personal belief in the Biblical mandate to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and Plaintiffs engage in activities, for the purpose of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that are prohibited by the Policy, as interpreted and enforced by Defendants.
WJHL News reports on the lawsuit.

9th Circuit: New Title X Limits Remain In Effect For Now

Earlier this month, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals voted to vacate the 3-judge panel's decision in State of California v. Azar, and to grant en banc review of whether the Trump Administration's new regulations on family planning grants may go into effect. The new rules bar recipients of family planning grants under Title X from referring clients for abortions. They also ban clinics that receive Title X funds from sharing office space with abortion providers. Three district courts had enjoined implementation of the new rules, but a 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit had granted a stay of the injunctions, allowing the new rules to go into effect. (See prior posting.) While it was widely reported that the court's action earlier this month granting en banc review had reinstated the district court injunctions, apparently that was not so because a week later in State of  California v. Azar, (9th Cir., July 11, 2019), the en banc court, in a 7-4 opinion, said:
Pursuant to prior order of the Court upon granting reconsideration en banc, the three-judge panel Order on Motions for Stay Pending Appeal in these cases was ordered not be cited as precedent by or to any court of the Ninth Circuit. However, the order granting reconsideration en banc did not vacate the stay order itself, so it remains in effect. Thus, the motions for administrative stay remain pending and were not mooted by the grant of reconsideration en banc.
After due consideration of the emergency motions, the motions for administrative stay of the three-judge panel order are DENIED.
Liberty Counsel, reporting on the decision, says that the new Title X rules will block $50 to $60 million in grants to Planned Parenthood that would have been used for birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screenings.

6th Circuit Affirms Jury's Damage Award To Muslim Inmates

In Heard v. Finco,(6th Cir., July 15, 2019), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury's damage  award totaling $900 to four Nation of Islam inmates whose religious exercise rights were infringed when prison officials reduced the amount of calories they were served in their Ramadan meals. The inmates argued, however, that they suffered spiritual damage in excess of this amount because their hunger made it difficult for them to focus on prayer and Quran readings. The court said:
Here, the jury heard the inmates’ testimony and saw their medical records. The inmates also had two experts—a nutritionist and an Islamic studies scholar—testify about the harms (both physical and spiritual) that the inmates suffered. The jury weighed all this evidence and concluded that each inmate suffered $150 worth of harm for each Ramadan the prison officials disrupted. The district court had no good reason to second-guess this determination, and neither do we.
[Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.] 

Monday, July 15, 2019

3rd Circuit Affirms Injunction Against Expanded Contraceptive Mandate Exemptions

In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. President United States of America, (3d Cir., July 12, 2019), the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court's entry of a nationwide preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Trump Administration's final rules expanding the scope of the exemptions under the Affordable Care Act for employers having religious or moral objections to contraceptive coverage. The court said in part that the agencies involved lacked good cause to dispense with the notice and comment requirements in promulgating the Interim Final Rules expanding the exemptions, and the use of the notice and comment procedure to finalize the rules did not cure the defect.  The court also said:
The Agencies’ effort to cast RFRA as requiring the Religious Exemption is also incorrect. Even assuming that RFRA provides statutory authority for the Agencies to issue regulations to address religious burdens the Contraceptive Mandate may impose on certain individuals, RFRA does not require the enactment of the Religious Exemption to address this burden....
RFRA does not require the broad exemption embodied in the Final Rule nor to make voluntary a notice of the employer’s decision not to provide such coverage to avoid burdening those beliefs.
The Hill reports on the decision and says that an appeal to the Supreme Court is likely.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Non-U.S. Law):
From SmartCILP:

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Religious Discrimination Claim By Security Guard Is Rejected

In Murphy v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, (ND WV, July 11, 2019), a West Virginia federal district court rejected religious discrimination claims brought plaintiff who was removed as a security guard at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility. Plaintiff who is Roman Catholic and whose wife is Buddhist claims he was removed because of a conversation about his religion that he had with a fellow employee. That fellow employee, a Southern Baptist, claimed that plaintiff had created a hostile work environment when plaintiff "placed his hands up, did a short dance, and asked ‘are you the ones that dance with snakes?'" Rejecting plaintiff's Title VII claim, the court said in part:
The Plaintiff fails to present any evidence that the prohibited conduct in which he engaged was comparable in seriousness to misconduct of other employees outside the protected class who received less severe discipline. Accordingly, he has not shown a prima facie case of discrimination.
The court also rejected plaintiff's 1st Amendment claims.

Religious Residential Program Gets Property Tax Exemption

In Aish Hatorah New York v. Passaic City, (NJ Tax Ct., July 10, 2019), the New Jersey Tax Court held that two properties used by the Orthodox Jewish organization Aish Hatorah for its Aish Woman's House are entitled to a property tax exemption as buildings used for "religious purposes" and for "the moral and mental improvement of men, women and children." Aish House is described by the court as "a residential setting for adult unmarried Jewish women to nurture and develop their understanding of, and faith in Orthodox Judaism .... under the supervision and guidance of the 'rabbi-in-residence'...." The city had argued that the two properties were merely a student dormitory and a rabbi's residence, and therefore not exempt from taxation.