Monday, September 27, 2021

Britain's Court of Appeal Rejects Christian Agency's Ban On Same-Sex Couples Becoming Foster Parents

In The Queen (On the Application of Cornerstone (Northeast) Adoption and Fostering Services, Ltd. v. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills (OFSTED), (EWCA, Sept. 24, 2021), England's Court of Appeal held that Cornerstone, a Christian foster care agency, violated the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 when it required clients with which it placed children to:

Set a high standard in personal morality which recognises that God's gift of sexual intercourse is to be enjoyed exclusively within Christian marriage; abstain from all sexual sins including immodesty, the viewing of pornography, fornication, adultery, cohabitation, homosexual behaviour and wilful violation of your birth sex.

The court said in part:

The detrimental impact on society and on individuals of discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation has led the law to set a demanding standard of justification.... [W]e should be slow to accept that prohibiting fostering agencies from discriminating against homosexuals is a disproportionate limitation on their right to manifest their religion....

... [T]here can be no doubting the value of its work or the sincerity of [Cornerstone's] motives. However, in order to justify a policy of this nature, it needed to provide credible evidence that there would otherwise be a seriously detrimental impact on carers and children. The evidence it actually advanced did not go beyond the level of general assertion.... [W]hile I would not rule out the possibility of an organisation in this position putting up a substantial evidence-based case on justification, Cornerstone simply did not do that....

[Thanks to Law & Religion UK for the lead.]

Russia Labels Church of Scientology As "Undesirable" Organization

As reported by the Moscow Times, last Friday the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation designated the Church of Scientology as non-governmental organizations that are "undesirable" in the territory of the Russian Federation. (Press Release in Russian). The designation applies to both the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises and the Church of Spiritual Technology (L. Ron Hubbard Library). According to the Moscow Times:

Under the law, participants in “undesirable” groups' activities can be punished by up to four years in prison and organizers can receive up to six years.

Since 2007, the Russian government has taken various moves against the Moscow and St. Petersburg branches of Scientology.

British Court Says Fetus Has No Rights Under European Convention On Human Rights

In The Queen (on the Application of Crowter) v. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, (EWHC, Sept. 23, 2021), a 2-judge High Court panel in Britain rejected an attack on provisions in the Abortion Act 1967 that permit late-term abortions where "there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped...." This has been interpreted to include Down syndrome fetuses. The court rejected claims that this provision violates various provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court said in part:

the European Court has never decided that a foetus, even one post-viability, is the bearer of Convention rights.... To the contrary, it has been content to leave the controversial and difficult issue of when life begins to the margin of appreciation of Contracting States. The fact that both domestic legislation and courts, and the European Court itself, have recognised that there may be circumstances in which the foetus has interests which the State is entitled to protect does not lead to the proposition that it enjoys rights under Article 2.

The court also issued a press summary of the case. Law & Religion UK also reports on the decision.

Recent Articles of Interest

 From SSRN:

From SmartCILP:

San Marino Voters Approve Legalizing First Trimester and Certain Other Abortions

In a referendum yesterday, citizens of the tiny, predominately Catholic European nation of San Marino approved legalization of abortion.  According to AP:

Some 77% of voters approved a referendum proposal calling for abortion to be legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.... Abortion would also be legal beyond that point if the woman’s life is in danger or if her physical or psychological health is at risk because of fetal anomalies or malformations.

With the “yes” votes winning, San Marino’s Parliament must now draft a bill to legalize the procedure. Turnout for the referendum was 41% in the microstate of 33,000 people surrounded by Italy.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

3rd Circuit Hears Arguments On School's Presentation of Material On Islam

On Sept. 23, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Hilsenrath v. School District of the Chathams (audio of full oral arguments). In the case, a New Jersey federal district court held that the Chathams' 7th grade World Cultures and Geography course presentation of material about Islam did not violate the Establishment Clause. (See prior posting.) Courthouse News Service reports in detail on the oral arguments, saying that the judges "posed tough questions to both sides." [Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

No Violation In Refusing To Accommodate Prosecutor's Religious Request For Permanent Remote Work

In Leone v. Essex County Prosecutor's Office, (D NJ, Sept. 23, 2021), a New Jersey federal district court ruled against an assistant prosecutor in the Essex County Prosecutor's Office who sought a religious accommodation that would allow him to continue to work from home indefinitely as pandemic remote-work schedules were phased out. Plaintiff claims that his religion "'requires him to pray, including aloud and spontaneously, throughout each day,' preferably in his backyard to access 'peace and solitude.'" Plaintiff rejected numerous proposed accommodations that would allow him to pray while at his office. The court applied rational basis review to plaintiff's 1st Amendment claim, concluding that defendants had articulated "a myriad of reasons" justifying their denial of plaintiff's requested accommodation. It also concluded that there had not been a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

Zoning Ordinance Violates Equal Terms Provision of RLUIPA

In The Church at Jackson v. Hinds County, Mississippi, (SD MS, Sept. 23, 2021), a Mississippi federal district court held that the equal terms provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act is violated by provisions on Agricultural Districts in Hinds County's zoning ordinance. The court issued a preliminary injunction, holding that the ordinance treats religious assemblies on less than equal terms with nonreligious assemblies, specifically recreational facilities. Recreational facilities are permitted unconditionally to locate in areas zoned Agricultural, while religious institutions are required to obtain a Special Use Permit in order to do so.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Supreme Court Review Sought By Christian Wedding Website Designer

A petition for certiorari (full text) was filed today with the U.S. Supreme Court in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, (Sup. Ct., filed 9/24/2021). In the case, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the application of Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act to a wedding website design company whose owner for Christian religious reasons refuses to create websites that celebrate same-sex marriages. (See prior posting.) ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the petition for review.

Ukrainian Parliament Outlaws Antisemitism

 JTA reports that the Ukrainian Parliament on Wednesday passed a law banning "antisemitism and its manifestations."  The vote was 283- 6 with 40 abstentions and 33 not present. (Legislative history). According to JTA:

The Law on Prevention and Counteraction to Anti-Semitism in Ukraine defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, expressed as hatred of Jews.” It lists examples of this, including Holocaust denial and “calling for, concealing or justifying the killing or harm of persons of Jewish origin.” 

The law must still be signed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish.

Rules On Religious Workers' Visas Upheld

In Salesian Society, Province of St. Philip the Apostle, Inc. v. Mayorkas, (D DC, Sept. 22, 2021), the D.C. federal district court dismissed a challenge to the requirements to qualify for religious workers' special immigrant visas. At issue is the requirement that the immigrant will be working in a compensated position in the U.S., and that they worked in a compensated position (or provided their own support) for the two years prior to filing for a visa.  Roman Catholic Salesian Brothers take a vow of poverty. Rejecting plaintiffs' 1st Amendment free exercise challenge, the court said in part:

Plaintiffs object to USCIS’s categorization of the support paid on their behalf for living and other expenses as “non-salaried compensation,” asserting that requiring them to provide corroborating evidence that such support is paid on their behalf would cause them to “lie” because, due to their vow of poverty, “[t]he Salesians do not compensate their ministers.” ... But Plaintiffs have not explained how USCIS’s categorization of the support provided to them as “non-salaried compensation” has “put substantial pressure on [them] to modify [their] behavior and to violate [their] beliefs.”

The court also rejected Establishment Clause and RFRA challenges.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Texas Sues EEOC Over Interpretation of Transgender Rights

The state of Texas this week filed suit in federal district court challenging an EEOC Guidance document (full text) issued in June interpreting the application of the Supreme Court's Bostock decision to rights of transgender employees under Title VII.  The complaint (full text) in State of Texas v. EEOC, (ND TX, filed 9/20/2021), contends that the EEOC's interpretation of requirements for  usage of bathrooms, dress codes and pronoun usage misstates the law, violates the First Amendment and was adopted without following proper procedures. The Texas Attorney General's office issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Suit Says Trader Joe's Failed To Accommodate Religious Objection To COVID Vaccination

Suit was filed earlier this month under Title VII and California state law by a 26-year Christian employee of Trader Joe's who was fired after the company refused to adequately accommodate his religious objections to being vaccinated against COVID. Plaintiff Gregg Crawford was initially granted a religious exemption from the company's mandatory vaccination policy. However an important management meeting was limited to vaccinated employees, and the company refused to arrange an accommodation that would allow Crawford to attend in person or remotely. He was told his non-attendance would negatively affect his performance review. Shortly after Crawford complained about this and consulted an attorney, he was fired. The complaint (full text) in Crawford v. Trader Joe's Company, (CD CA, filed 9/7/2021), alleges violations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and of state anti-discrimination laws. KTLA News reports on the lawsuit.

Universal Life Church Can Move Ahead With Suit Over Nevada Marriage Solemnization Law

In Universal Life Church Monastery v. Clark County Nevada, (D NV, Sept. 19, 2021), a Nevada federal district court allowed the Universal Life Church (ULC) which ordains ministers online to move ahead with its equal protection challenge to the refusal of the county to allow its ministers to solemnize marriages. A law—which was in effect only during 2016-2017—required a religious organization to be incorporated, organized or established in the state in order for it to be able to certify its ministers to perform weddings. The court rejected the Church’s free exercise claims, saying in part:

[A]n entity, organization, or person has no First Amendment free exercise right to perform civil marriages….. The Court thus finds that Plaintiff ULC does not have standing to bring a First Amendment Free Exercise claim.

Similarly it rejected ULC’s free exercise claim under the state constitution, and its due process claim, saying in part:

The plain language of ... [the Nevada Constitution] is directed to the “religious profession and worship” and makes no mention of the civil law process of solemnizing marriages. Because this language does not explicitly or implicitly create a claim, there is no standing for a religious organization to bring a free exercise claim for not being included in a civil legal process.

The court also rejected ULC’s procedural due process argument. However it refused to dismiss ULC’s equal protection claim, saying in part:

ULC presented evidence that another similarly situated non-traditional church ... was able to satisfy requirements solely because its listing on the Nevada Secretary of State website contained a checkbox showing it was registered as a religious organization. Therefore, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants implemented its approval process in a discriminatory manner.... [W]hether ULC provided the requested documents ... is a genuine dispute of material fact. The Court therefore denies summary judgment as to both parties.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Christian Adoption Agency Sues To Retain Policy Of Placements Only With Married Heterosexual Families

Suit was filed last week in a New York federal district court by a Christian faith-based family services agency seeking to prevent enforcement against it of New York's anti-discrimination laws insofar as they interfere with the agency's policy of refusing to place children for adoption with unmarried or same-sex couples. The complaint (full text) in New Hope Family Services, Inc. v. James, (ND NY, filed 9/17/2021) alleges in part:

In currently ongoing litigation between New Hope and an agency of the State of New York, two federal courts have already found that efforts by the State to force New Hope to change this choice, in violation of its religious beliefs, likely violate both New Hope’s Free Speech rights and its Free Exercise rights, and the district court has already entered a preliminary injunction protecting New Hope’s right and ability to continue to operate and speak in a manner consistent with its beliefs....

[T[he pendency of a governmental investigation and allegations of violations of law quickly damage New Hope’s reputation that was built up over many decades of faithful service, and discourages hospitals, pregnancy resource centers, and social service agencies from referring birthmothers to New Hope to receive adoption services.

ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

Recent Articles of Interest

 From SSRN:

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Muslim Women Can Move Ahead With Suit Challenging NYPD Arrest Photo Policy

In Clark v. City of New York, (SD NY, Sept. 17, 2021), a New York federal district court allowed two Muslim women to move ahead with their lawsuit under the 1st Amendment and RLUIPA challenging the New York City police department's requirement that they remove their hijab when sitting for an arrest photo. The court said in part:

Allowing an arrestee to maintain her ordinary appearance in a Booking Photograph does not undermine the legitimate interest of keeping a photographic record of arrestees... In fact, photographing the arrestee in her ordinary appearance likely furthers law enforcement’s interest in identification—rather than impeding such interest—because arrestees who have a sincere religious belief that requires them to wear a head covering are likely to be wearing that same covering when the need to identify them arises.

The court also refused to dismiss one of the plaintiff's assertion of a private right of action under the New York constitution. 

Suit Challenges California's Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum

Suit was filed earlier this month in a California state trial court challenging a portion of the state's Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.  The complaint (full text) in Californians for Equal Rights Foundation v. State of California, (Super. Ct., filed 9/3/2021), alleges that the chair of the committee that developed the model curriculum has shown in his writings an animus toward Christianity and Catholicism, and reflects this by including in the model curriculum various prayers based on indigenous religious principles. the complaint continues:

The ... ESMC Lesson Resources section contains a prayer entitled the “In Lak Ech Affirmation” .... The Aztec Prayer invokes the names of five beings worshiped by the Aztecs as gods or demi-gods.... The names of these Aztec gods are collectively invoked 20 times.... They are honored and praised by repeatedly invoking their respective names...

The ancient Aztec religion is not a philosophy, dead mythology, historic curiosity, general outlook on life, or mere symbol. Rather, it is a recognized living faith practiced today both by descendants of the Aztecs and by others..... The fact that it is not large, institutional, or well-known does not change its status as a religion.

The complaint also contends that the curriculum also includes the Ashe Affirmation taken from Yoruba religion of Nigeria. The complaint asserts violations of the establishment clause, free exercise clause and no-aid clause of the California constitution. Religion News Service reports on the lawsuit.