Monday, April 23, 2018

European Court Interprets Provision Allowing Churches To Hire On Basis of Religion

In Egenberger v. Evangelisches Werk für Diakonie und Entwicklung eV, (CJEU, April 17, 2018), the Court of Justice of the European Union in a preliminary ruling by its Grand Chamber interpreted Council Directive 2000/78/EC which bars employment discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.  The Directive creates an exception for existing national practices as to "occupational activities within churches and other public or private organisations the ethos of which is based on religion or belief."  It provides that in such organizations:
a difference of treatment based on a person’s religion or belief shall not constitute discrimination where, by reason of the nature of these activities or of the context in which they are carried out, a person’s religion or belief constitute a genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement, having regard to the organisation’s ethos.
In the request for an interpretation from the German Federal Labor Court, the European Court held that effective judicial review must be available as to whether an occupational requirement that one hold particular religious beliefs is genuine, legitimate and justified.  It went on to define how national courts should interpret the exception:
 Thus the lawfulness ... of a difference of treatment on grounds of religion or belief depends on the objectively verifiable existence of a direct link between the occupational requirement imposed by the employer and the activity concerned. Such a link may follow either from the nature of the activity, for example where it involves taking part in the determination of the ethos of the church or organisation in question or contributing to its mission of proclamation, or else from the circumstances in which the activity is to be carried out, such as the need to ensure a credible presentation of the church or organisation to the outside world....
... [T]he church or organisation imposing the requirement is obliged to show, in the light of the factual circumstances of the case, that the supposed risk of causing harm to its ethos or to its right of autonomy is probable and substantial, so that imposing such a requirement is indeed necessary.
.... As the principle of proportionality is one of the general principles of EU law ..., the national courts must ascertain whether the requirement in question is appropriate and does not go beyond what is necessary for attaining the objective pursued.
Law & Religion UK has more on the decision.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:
From SSRN (Islamic Law):
From SmartCILP:

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Merrick v. Ryan, (9th Cir., April 17, 2018), the 9th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an inmate's free exercise and RLUIPA complaints regarding denial of religious materials and practices, finding that the district court properly relied on lack of sincere religious belief.  It also upheld dismissal of equal protection of establishment clause claims.

In Covington v. Bledsoe County Corrections, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63311 (ED TN, April 16, 2018), a Tennessee federal district court allowed a Muslim inmate to move ahead with his complaint that the jail would not allow Muslim inmates to have a feast or allow outside Muslims in to cook or pray for Ramadan.

In Barfell v. Aramark, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63582 (ED WI, April 16, 2018), a Wisconsin federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with his complaint about a 5-day delay in receiving a religious vegan diet and his claim that religious vegan trays routinely contain animal products. However he was not allowed to proceed with his complaint regarding the quality of the vegan food.

In Slater v. Teague, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63263 (D CO, April 12, 2018), a Colorado federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63605, March 21, 2018) and dismissed a former inmate's complaints regarding availability, timing and preparation of kosher food and his limited access to Jewish religious texts.

In Hearns v. Gonzales, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63885 (ED CA, April 13, 2018), a California federal district court, adopting in part a magistrate's recommendation (2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28959, Feb. 22, 2018), allowed an inmate to move ahead with retaliation, free exercise and California Bane Act claims complaining that a correctional officer poured bleach on his legal papers and his prayer rug.

In Sims v. Wegman, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64678 (ED CA, April 16, 2018), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a Nation of Islam inmate's complaint that he was refused an NOI, or alternatively a kosher diet.  Dismissal of one defendant was only because of failure to effect service.

In Johnson v. Roskosci, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65405 (MD PA, April 17, 2018), a Pennsylvania federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing an inmate's complaint that beads and necklaces with religious significance were confiscated.

In Fusco v. Cty. of Putnam, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65444 (SD NY, April 18, 2018), a New York federal district court allowed an inmate to proceed with his claim that he was prevented from attending Catholic mass during his placement in segregation.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Cert. Denied In Abortion Protester's Case

Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in March v. Mills, (Docket No.17-689, cert. denied 4/16/2018) (Order List).  In the case, the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a provision of the Maine Civil Rights Act that prohibits a person making noise that can be heard within a health care facility where the intent is to jeopardize health or interfere with the delivery of health services.  The appeals court rejected a constitutional challenge brought by an abortion protester who is the pastor and co-founder of a church whose mission was described as including "plead[ing] for the lives of the unborn at the doorsteps of abortion facilities." (See prior posting.AP reported on the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]

Friday, April 20, 2018

New Study Says Government Services and Religiosity Are Inversely Related

An interesting new study has been published: Miron Zuckerman, Chen Li & Ed Diener, Religion as an Exchange System: The Interchangeability of God and Government in a Provider Role, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (SAGE) (April 18, 2018). The Abstract reads:
An exchange model of religion implies that if a secular entity such as government provides what people need, they will be less likely to seek help from supernatural entities. Controlling for quality of life and income inequality (Gini), we found that better government services were related to lower religiosity among countries (Study 1) and states in the United States (Study 2). Study 2 also showed that during 2008-2013, better government services in a specific year predicted lower religiosity 1 to 2 years later. In both studies, a combination of better government services and quality of life was related to a particularly low level of religiosity. Among countries, government services moderated the relation between religiosity and two measures of well-being, such that religiosity was related to greater well-being only when government services were low. We discuss the relation between the exchange model and other theoretical approaches to religion.
Miami Herald reports on the study. For those with academic library privileges, the full text is available in he Sage Journals data base, or readers can request a copy from Research Gate. [Thanks to James Phillips for the lead.]

Settlement Order Entered In Chabad's Dispute With New Jersey Town

After lengthy mediation, a settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed in 2016 by Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River, New Jersey and Rabbi Moshe Gourarie challenging Toms River's refusal to allow a Chabad Center to operate out of a large home and garage on 8 acres purchased by Gourarie in 2011. (See prior posting.)  An Order reflecting the settlement was entered in February (Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River, Inc. v. Township of Toms River, (D NJ, Feb. 5, 2018), but the settlement is just now being publicized.  As reported by Toms River Patch:
Rabbi Moshe Gourarie will be permitted to continue to hold religious gatherings at the Chabad's Church Road location, with certain stipulations.... Toms River Township must pay $122,500 to cover the Chabad's attorneys' fees, and an investigation by the federal Department of Justice into the township's zoning practices has been dropped.
Among the stipulations in the settlement are a limit of 35 individuals (in addition to family members) for most gatherings at the Center, with that number going up to 49 for six specific holidays each year.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

6th Circuit: Ohio's Cutoff of Non-Abortion Funding To Planned Parenthood Is Unconstitutional

In Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, Inc. v. Himes, (6th Cir., April 18, 2018), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held unconstitutional a 2016 Ohio law aimed at Planned Parenthood.  ORC §3701.34 prohibits the Ohio Department of Health from channeling funds it receives through six non-abortion-related federal health programs to any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions, or which is affiliated with any entity that performs or promotes such abortions.  The appeals court held that the district court correctly applied the unconstitutional conditions doctrine in enjoining enforcement of the law, saying that "the unconstitutional-conditions doctrine is not limited to First Amendment rights."  According to the court, the question posed in this case is
whether Ohio may require a provider to surrender the right to provide safe and lawful abortions on its own “time and dime” as a condition of participating in government programs that have nothing to do with abortion. 
The court concluded:
Although Ohio women do not have a right to the programs, they do have a right not to have their access to important health services curtailed because their major abortion providers opted to protect women’s abortion rights rather than yield to unconstitutional conditions. 
 The court also held that the law imposes unconstitutional conditions on speech by prohibiting funds from going to any entity that promotes abortion:
§3701.034 affects programs that have nothing to do with abortion or family planning, and seeks to impose restrictions on recipients’ speech outside the six government programs the statute funds.
Columbus Dispatch, reporting on the decision, pointed out that two of the three judges handing down the ruling were Republican appointees. It also reports that the state Attorney General's office is reviewing the decision to determine whether it should seek en banc review or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge and Scott Mange for the lead.]

More Rulings In South Carolina Episcopal Church Split

Earlier this week, a South Carolina federal district court issued another opinion in the long-running battle between competing Episcopal Church factions in South Carolina.  While the underlying dispute over which faction owns church property has been litigated in state court, a federal court suit was filed alleging a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act. Episcopal Bishop Charles von Rosenberg who heads the minority of congregations in South Carolina that remain loyal to The Episcopal Church sued Bishop Mark Lawrence who heads the larger portion of the congregations that in 2012 broke away from the national church. Von Rosenberg alleged that Lawrence engaged in false advertising by asserting that he remained the Bishop of the Diocese.  In vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, (D SC, April 16, 2018), the court allowed plaintiffs to add as defendants the Diocese, parishes and trustee corporation affiliated with Bishop Lawrence.

In a perhaps more interesting second part of the opinion, the court refused to allow the suit to be expanded to assert a novel breach of trust claim.  Last year, the South Carolina Supreme Court decided the property issue largely in favor of those who remained loyal to The Episcopal Church. (See prior posting.)  Plaintiffs sought to add a claim that "the parishes have breached their fiduciary duties by allowing property held in trust for TEC to be used 'in connection with a denomination' other than TEC."  They sought an order against 28 Parishes "to remove from their vestries any persons who cannot demonstrate to this Court's satisfaction that they are capable of and willing to carry out their fiduciary obligations to The Episcopal Church...."  The court held that it is not "free to use trust law entangle itself with religion like a fly in a spider web."  It continued:
Entry of a judicial order telling 28 congregations whom they may or may not elect to their respective parish vestries would foster excessive judicial entanglement with religion....
Of course, there are other ways for TEC to enforce its property rights. For example, TEC could take legal possession of the parish property held in trust for its benefit, rather than asking a federal court to supervise the local congregation's use the property. 
Charleston Regional Business Journal reports on the decision.

New Jersey Supreme Court Says Grants To Churches Violate State Constitution

In Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, (NJ Sup.Ct., April 18, 2018), the New Jersey Supreme Court held that historic preservation grants to 12 churches (totaling $4.6 million) violate the Religious Aid Clause of the New Jersey Constitution.  That clause (Art. I, Sec. 3) provides that no person shall be obliged to pay taxes for building or repairing any church. The court concluded that there is no implied exception to this prohibition for historical preservation.

The Court went on to hold that this interpretation does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution:
The [U.S. Supreme Court's] holding of Trinity Lutheran does not encompass the direct use of taxpayer funds to repair churches and thereby sustain religious worship activities. See 137 S. Ct. at 2024 n.3. We therefore find that the application of the Religious Aid Clause in this case does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.
Justice Solomon filed a concurring opinion:
The majority concludes that the present case exceeds the scope of Trinity Lutheran since Morris County’s taxpayer-funded grants “went toward ‘religious uses.’”... However, that conclusion ignores New Jersey’s separate and substantial government interest at stake in this case -- historical preservation. I believe that had Morris County’s program been applied in a fundamentally neutral manner, the Religious Aid Clause could not bar funding to an otherwise qualified religious institution.
FFRF issued a press release announcing the decision.  Daily Record reports on the decision.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

New Video On Being Muslim In U.S.

The Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life yesterday released an 18-minute video on Being Muslim in the U.S. The video is based on the Center's 2017 survey of U.S. Muslims as well as on personal stories from Muslims across the U.S.

Defendant In Dead Sea Scrolls Debate Avoids Jail

Yeshiva World reports that a long running prosecution of a literature scholar (who is also now a disbarred lawyer) has ended without a jail sentence for the defendant who was charged with online impersonation growing out of an academic dispute over authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Raphael Golb’s conviction wasn’t quite like any other: using online aliases to discredit his father’s adversary in a scholarly debate over the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The 9-year-old case got a New York law thrown out and finally ended Monday with no jail time for Golb, who persuaded a judge to sentence him to three years’ probation rather than two months in jail.
Appeals had put the jail term on hold and narrowed the counts in his criminal impersonation and forgery conviction in a curious case of ancient religious texts, digital misdeeds, academic rivalries and filial loyalty.
"Obviously, I’m relieved not to be going to jail,” Golb said, adding that he remains concerned by having been prosecuted for online activity he said was meant as satire."

American Pastor Gets Initial Hearing In Turkish Court

According to Al-Monitor, in Turkey a North Carolina pastor finally was able to appear in court after being held in detention for 18 months. Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson, who led a small Protestant congregation in the Turkish city of Izmir, rejected the terrorism and espionage charges against him.  Brunson was among the many arrested after the failed 2016 coup which Turkish officials blame on Fethullah Gulen, who is living in Pennsylvania.  Many believe that the Turkish government wants to exchange Brunson for Gulen.  The court adjourned Brunson's trial until May 7, and ruled that he will continue to be held in solitary confinement. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement saying in part:
We are deeply disappointed that Turkish officials today decided to prolong their prosecution and unjust imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Israeli Court Rules "Am Yisrael Chai" Is Patriotic Slogan, Not A Prayer

In Israel, a Jerusalem Magistrate's Court yesterday ruled in favor of right-wing activist Itamar Ben Gvir in his suit for wrongful detention.  The suit grows out of a 2015 incident in which police held him for several hours because of his conduct at the Temple Mount where religious practices are controlled by the Muslim Waqf. As reported by Times of Israel, under current arrangements, Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount, but they may not pray there.  While Ben Gvir was touring the site with a Jewish group, a Muslim woman shouted Allahu Akbar at them.  He shouted back"Am Yisrael chai" (the Jewish People Live), at which point Israeli police detained him for violating the no-prayer rule.  The court ruled that the phrase used by Ben Gvir is a patriotic slogan, not a prayer.

No Spousal Privilege When Only Religious Marriage Was Entered

In Springfield, Massachusetts, a state trial court judge has ruled that the ex-wife of Ayyub Abdul-Alim may testify against him in his trial on firearms charges.  As reported by MassLive, the judge held inapplicable here the normal rule that bars a witness from testifying to private conversations with her spouse that occurred during their marriage. The parties were married in an Islamic religious ceremony, but never obtained a state-issued marriage certificate.  The court said:
While the court acknowledges that a marriage between the defendant and Ms. Stewart took place in the religious sense, there is no evidence that this marriage was sanctioned by the state through the fulfillment of the legal requirements.

6th Circuit: Church Restaurant Volunteers Are Not Covered By FLSA

In Acosta v. Cathedral Buffet, Inc., (6th Cir., April 16, 2018), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that church volunteers who work at a for-profit restaurant operated by the church on its campus are not subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The volunteers supplement paid staff.  The court held that because the volunteers do not expect to receive compensation and are not economically dependent on the restaurant, they are not "employees" for purposes of the FLSA.

The more difficult question faced by the court was the concern expressed in Supreme Court cases that employers might coerce employees to make assertions that they did not expect compensation.  In this case, it was argued, the church's pastor engaged in coercion of church members to volunteer:
Reverend Angley recruited volunteers from the church pulpit on Sundays....  [B]efore his sermon, Angley would announce to the congregation that more volunteers were needed. Angley said the restaurant was “the Lord’s buffet,” and “[e]very time you say no, you are closing the door on God.” ...Ushers would pass around slips of paper, and parishioners interested in volunteering would write down their phone number and hand it in.
Judge Siler's opinion for the court rejected this argument, saying that "spiritual coercion cannot stand in for the economic coercion" that concerned the Supreme Court in prior precedent.

Judge Kethledge filed a concurring opinion exploring the "coercion" argument at greater length, saying in part:
The Department seeks to regulate spiritual conduct qua spiritual conduct, and to impose significant liability as a result. ... [T]he Department’s position here is that otherwise legal conduct—such as volunteering at a church restaurant—becomes illegal if the worker’s pastor spiritually pressures her to engage in it.... 
Nor is the Department even competent to make the spiritual judgment it purported to make here. “It is not within the judicial ken to question the centrality of particular beliefs or practices to a faith, or the validity of particular litigants’ interpretations of those creeds.”... That same idea of centrality perforce lies beneath any judgment about spiritual coercion. And bureaucrats are no better than judges at making that judgment. Hence it is beyond the ken of federal agencies, or the courts, to determine that congregants were spiritually coerced even though the congregants themselves say they were not.... 
What is perhaps most troubling about the Department’s position in this case, however, is the conceit of unlimited agency power that lies behind it. The power of a federal agency is no more than worldly. The Department should tend to what is Caesar’s, and leave the rest alone. reports on the decision.