Monday, December 05, 2022

New Resource on Abortion Litigation

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and the Center for Reproductive Rights today announced its State Court Abortion Litigation Tracker, a website that tracks pending and completed state court litigation against abortion bans that were, or would have been, unconstitutional under Roe. v. Wade. The site has been added to the Religion Clause sidebar.  Information on the site will be updated monthly.  This site supplements the Center's Abortion Laws By State website that tracks the current status of abortion laws in each state.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

From elsewhere:

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Today on Wedding Website Designer Who Opposes Same-Sex Marriage

Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in 303 Creative v. Elenis. 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 religious reasons refuses to create websites that celebrate same-sex marriages. The Court granted certiorari only on the question of "Whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment." Over 75 amicus briefs have been filed in the case.  The SCOTUSblog case page has links to them and to other filings in the case. The arguments will be broadcast live beginning at 10:00 AM at this link. SCOTUSblog has a preview of the arguments. I will update this post with links to the recording and transcript of the arguments when they become available later today.

UPDATE: Here are links to the transcript and audio of this morning's oral arguments.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Indiana Court Enjoins Abortion Restrictions as Violating State's RFRA

In Anonymous Plaintiff 1 v. Individual Members of the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana, (IN Super. Ct., Dec. 2, 2022), an Indiana state trial court enjoined the state from enforcing Indiana's law restricting abortions against plaintiffs whose religious beliefs permit or require abortions in situations not allowed under Indiana law.  Plaintiffs were Jewish and Muslim, and one plaintiff of no specific denomination. The court, invoking Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said in part:

26. This Court finds that the Plaintiffs practices regarding abortion are religious in nature: they have established that, under circumstances that would be prohibited by S.E.A. 1, their religious beliefs would compel them to have abortions....

43. The undisputed evidence establishes that the Plaintiffs do not share the State’s belief that life begins at fertilization or that abortion constitutes the intentional taking of a human life. To the contrary, they have different religious beliefs about when life begins, and they believe that under certain circumstances not permitted by S.E.A. 1, they would be required to receive abortions. Under the law, the Court finds these are sincere religious beliefs.

44. The State has not asserted a compelling interest in refusing to provide an exception to the Plaintiffs if the law were otherwise enforceable. Indiana has no interest in violating the sincere religious beliefs and exercise of the Plaintiffs....

49. The Plaintiffs argue that S.E.A. 1 is not narrowly tailored and is underinclusive, in that it provides exceptions for some abortions—though not religious exceptions—in circumstances that directly contravene the State’s purported interest. 

50. The State argues that abortion, regardless of gestational age of the zygote, embryo, or fetus, is the killing of an innocent human being, and its interest is in preventing that killing....

51. However, the statute explicitly allows abortions in circumstances that the State acknowledges constitute the “killing” of an “innocent human being”: for example, where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and where the fetus is viable but will not live beyond three months after birth.

A different state trial court has previously enjoined enforcement of the Act on state constitutional grounds. (See prior posting.)

Indianapolis Star reports on the decision. [Thanks to Daniel Conkle via Religionlaw for the lead.]

Friday, December 02, 2022

Suit By Law Prof and Internet Site Challenges NY Statute on Online Hate Speech

 In May, the New York legislature enacted A7685-A requiring social media networks to provide a means for its users to report postings which vilify, humiliate or incite violence group on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.  They must also have a policy on responding to and addressing such postings.  Yesterday-- two days before the law is to go into effect-- suit was filed in a New York federal district court by law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh and the social media platform Rumble challenging the law on free speech as well as overbreadth and vagueness grounds. The complaint (full text) in Volokh v. James, (SD NY, filed 12/1/2022), alleges in part:

New York cannot justify such a sweeping regulation of protected speech. The Online Hate Speech Law violates the First Amendment because it burdens the publication of speech based on its viewpoint, unconstitutionally compels speech, and is overbroad. It is also vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment....and preempted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Given well-settled Supreme Court precedent, the New York’s law must be enjoined and struck down.

Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

Establishment Clause Challenge to Pending Abortion and LGBTQ Laws Is Dismissed

 In Pickup v. Biden, (D DC, Nov. 30, 2022), plaintiffs-- including four pastors-- asked the D.C. federal district court to declare two bills pending in Congress unconstitutional and enjoin their passage. At issue are the Women's Health Protection Act which assures the right to abortion and the Equality Act which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal Civil Rights Act. Plaintiffs focused primarily on an Establishment Clause challenge. The court described plaintiffs' claims, saying in part:

In their view, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey undermine the Establishment Clause by promoting the religion of “secular humanism.”...  According to Plaintiffs, secular humanism includes a “pro-abortion” denomination and an “LGBTQ” denomination.... Plaintiffs thus argue that the Government violates the Establishment Clause if it promotes abortion or LGBTQ ideology.

The court held that the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause bars Plaintiffs’ claims against the congressional Defendants, that it lacks jurisdiction to enjoin a President from performing his official duties, and that plaintiffs lack standing.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Court Rejects Religious Challenges to COVID Mask Requirements

 In Joseph v. Becerra, (WD WI, Nov. 29, 2022), a Wisconsin federal district court rejected a pro se plaintiff's claims that VA and Postal Service COVID masking requirements violated his free exercise and Establishment Clause rights as well as various other rights. The court said in part:

Joseph refuses to wear a mask, which he views as a medical device and religious symbol. A Christian, Joseph claims to practice his faith in part by “taking a stance against what he sees and understands to be evil or unlawful,” such as the masking requirements.... Specifically, Joseph alleges that the masking requirements violate several of the tenets of his faith and promotes “Collectivism” over his individual rights. By promulgating a masking policy, Joseph further alleges that the federal government is seeking to establish “a nameless and covert religion/religious order” that “is a type of scientism ... discriminatory and divisive in nature and in practice.”...

[P]laintiff’s Establishment Clause claim is not only based on a Bivens claim not yet recognized by the Supreme Court, but also on the “faulty premise” that “scienticsm” is a religion. .... Admittedly, the governing case law does not precisely define the contours of what constitutes “religion,” but “courts are well-equipped to weed out spurious Establishment Clause ‘religions’ on grounds of common sense.”...

[E]ven if wearing a mask has substantially impaired plaintiff’s ability to exercise his faith while receiving in-person medical treatment, working, traveling in public spaces, or attending public events, rules that have only an “incidental effect of burdening a religious practice” will pass muster under the Free Exercise Clause provided they are applied neutrally and generally applicable.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Police Officer Sues Over Denial of COVID Vaccine Religious Exemption

This week, a former Boston police officer who is a Jehovah's Witness filed suit in a Massachusetts state trial court seeking $2 million in damages for the actions of the Boston Police Department in denying his request for a religious exemption from the Department's COVID vaccine mandate. He was placed on administrative leave and subsequently terminated. The complaint (full text) in Colon v. City of Boston, (MA Super. Ct., filed 11/28/2022), also alleges that he was ridiculed because of his religious beliefs. reports on the lawsuit.

6th Circuit Affirms Preliminary Injunction Protecting Air Force Personnel Who Have Religious Objections to COVID Vaccine

 In Doster v. Kendall, (6th Cir., Nov. 29, 2022), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court's grant of a class-wide preliminary injunction barring the Air Force from disciplining Air Force personnel who have sought religious exemptions from the military's COVID vaccine mandate. The injunction however did not interfere with the Air Force’s operational decisions over the Plaintiffs’ duties. The 6th Circuit concluded that plaintiffs' RFRA claim was likely to succeed on the merits, saying in part:

Some 10,000 members with a wide array of duties have requested religious exemptions from this mandate. The Air Force has granted only about 135 of these requests.... Yet it has granted thousands of other exemptions for medical reasons (such as a pregnancy or allergy) or administrative reasons (such as a looming retirement)....

Under RFRA, the Air Force wrongly relied on its “broadly formulated” reasons for the vaccine mandate to deny specific exemptions to the Plaintiffs, especially since it has granted secular exemptions to their colleagues.... The Air Force’s treatment of their exemption requests also reveals common questions for the class: Does the Air Force have a uniform policy of relying on its generalized interests in the vaccine mandate to deny religious exemptions regardless of a service member’s individual circumstances? And does it have a discriminatory policy of broadly denying religious exemptions but broadly granting secular ones? A district court can answer these questions in a “yes” or “no” fashion for the entire class.....

In the abstract, the Air Force may well have a compelling interest in requiring its 501,000 members to get vaccinated. It has also largely achieved this general interest, as evidenced by its ability to vaccinate over 97% of its force.... Under RFRA, however, the Air Force must show that it has a compelling interest in refusing a “specific” exemption to, say, Lieutenant Doster or Airman Colantonio.... To succeed ..., the Air Force must identify the duties of each Plaintiff and offer evidence as to why it has a compelling interest in forcing someone with those duties to take the vaccine or face a sanction....

If the Air Force can permanently retain those who cannot deploy because of their religious objections to a war, it must explain why it cannot permanently retain those who cannot deploy because of their religious objections to a vaccine.

(See prior related posting.) Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

7th Circuit: Law on Disposal of Fetal Remains Does Not Violate 1st Amendment

In Doe v. Rokita, (7th Cir., Nov. 28, 2022), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected 1st Amendment challenges to an Indiana statute that requires abortion providers to dispose of fetal remains either by burial or by cremation. The suit was brought both by two women who raise free exercise claims and by two physicians who oppose the requirement that they inform patients of the law's provisions. The court said in part:

[N]either of the two plaintiffs who has had an abortion contends that a third party’s cremation or burial of fetal remains would cause her to violate any religious principle indirectly. What these two plaintiffs contend is that cremation or burial implies a view—the personhood of an unborn fetus—that they do not hold. They maintain that only human beings are cremated or buried. This is questionable. Dogs, cats, and other pets may be cremated or buried, sometimes as a result of legal requirements not to put animals’ bodies in the garbage,,,,. Indiana’s statute about fetal remains therefore need not imply anything about the appropriate characterization of a fetus. At all events, a moral objection to one potential implication of the way medical providers handle fetal remains is some distance from a contention that the state compels any woman to violate her own religious tenets....

As for the requirement that physicians and other providers tell patients about the statutory options: no one contends that the required notice is false or misleading....

The norm that units of government may require physicians (and other professionals) to provide accurate information to their clients long predates Casey and has not been disturbed since...

State Religious Discrimination Claims Against Airline Union Are Pre-empted By Federal Law

In Brown v. Alaska Airlines, Inc., (WD WA, Nov. 23, 2022), a Washington federal district court dismissed state-law religious discrimination claims brought against the flight attendants' union by two of its members.  Alaska Airlines fired plaintiffs because they posted comments on the company's internal intranet opposing the Airline's support for a federal statute that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal anti-discrimination laws. Plaintiffs claimed their comments were grounded in their religious beliefs. The Union unsuccessfully represented the flight attendants at a hearing appealing their termination.  Plaintiffs then sued claiming not only that Alaska Airlines discriminated against them because of their Christian faith, but that the Union did not defend them as vigorously as it defends other flight attendants because of the flight attendants' religious beliefs. The court dismissed the flight attendants' claims against the Union that were brought under Washington and Oregon anti-discrimination laws.  It concluded that that the "duty of fair representation" stemming from provisions of the federal Railway Labor Act pre-empts claims brought under state anti-discrimination laws where the charge is that a union did not adequately represent an employee in the grievance process.

3rd Circuit: Challenge to COVID Limits on Worship Services Is Moot

In Clark v. Governor of the State of New Jersey, (3d Cir., Nov. 28, 2022), the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of appeals in a 2-1 decision held that a challenge by two Christian congregations and their pastors to former COVID limits on in-person worship services is moot. The court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the suit.  In the case, plaintiffs challenged orders by the Governor of New Jersey that limited religious gatherings while permitting certain essential secular activities to continue. The majority said in part:

Appellants offer nothing more than speculation to suggest that we have a live controversy here. They invite us to hypothesize about future scenarios in which (a) not only does the COVID-19 pandemic reach crisis levels comparable to early-2020, but (b) New Jersey’s executive officials will choose to ignore everything—both legal and factual—we have learned since those early months and bluntly reintroduce legally-suspect gathering restrictions on religious worship. This will not do, and we will therefore affirm.

Judge Matey dissented, saying in part:

[N]o lively imagination is needed to conjure up future competitions between public health and religious liberty given the volatility of respiratory viruses, the increased probability of future pandemics, and the routine declaration of “emergencies” by Governor Murphy. I would take the opportunity to provide an answer now, giving the people of New Jersey, and its representatives, the guidance they are entitled to under the Constitution.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Senate Will Begin Voting on Respect for Marriage Act with Religious Liberty Amendments

The U.S. Senate is expected to begin voting today on an amended version of H.R. 8404, the Respect for Marriage Act (full text). The House has previously passed the original version of the bill, and the Senate has passed a cloture motion ending a filibuster of the original bill.  The Act will assure federal recognition of same-sex marriages that were valid where performed and will require states to give full faith and credit to same-sex (as well as interracial) marriages performed in other states. Amendments designed to protect religious liberty were added in the Senate.  If the bill passes, it will then go back to the House to act on the amended version. Here are the major changes added in the Senate version to protect religious liberty:


       Congress finds the following:

       (1) No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.

       (2) Diverse beliefs about the role of gender in marriage are held by reasonable and sincere people based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises. Therefore, Congress affirms that such people and their diverse beliefs are due proper respect....


       (a) In General.-- Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to diminish or abrogate a religious liberty or conscience protection otherwise available to an individual or organization under the Constitution of the United States or Federal law.

       (b) Goods or Services.--Consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution, nonprofit religious organizations, including churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, nondenominational ministries, interdenominational and ecumenical organizations, mission organizations, faith-based social agencies, religious educational institutions, and nonprofit entities whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion, and any employee of such an organization, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. Any refusal under this subsection to provide such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action.


       (a) No Impact on Status and Benefits Not Arising From a Marriage.-- Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to deny or alter any benefit, status, or right of an otherwise eligible entity or person which does not arise from a marriage, including tax-exempt status, tax treatment, educational funding, or a grant, contract, agreement, guarantee, loan, scholarship, license, certification, accreditation, claim, or defense.

       (b) No Federal Recognition of Polygamous Marriages.-- Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to require or authorize Federal recognition of marriages between more than 2 individuals....

As reported by The Center Square and The Hill, various conservative religious organizations (some expressing extreme concerns about the effect of the bill), as well as some Republican senators, continue to strongly oppose the bill.

UPDATE: On Nov. 29, the Senate by a vote of 61-36 passed the Respect for Marriage Act.  The bill now goes back to the House for a vote on the bill in the amended form passed by the Senate.

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

From SmartCILP: