Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Anti-Muslim Facebook Postings Are Subject To Pickering Balancing Test

In Hernandez v. City of Phoenix, (9th Cir., Aug. 5, 2022), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded to the district court a case in which the Phoenix police department had disciplined an employee for social media posts he made disparaging Muslims.  The district court had held that the posts did not address matters of public concern and so were not subject to the balancing test of Pickering v. Board of Education  that protects as free speech some statements by public employees which are objectionable to the public employer. The Court of Appeals disagreed, saying in part:

It is true that each of Hernandez’s posts expressed hostility toward, and sought to denigrate or mock, a major religious faith and its adherents. The Supreme Court has made clear, however, that “[t]he inappropriate or controversial character of a statement is irrelevant to the question whether it deals with a matter of public concern.”...

Having concluded that Hernandez’s Facebook posts constitute speech on matters of public concern at the first step of the Pickering balancing test, we would ordinarily proceed to the next step and assess whether the Phoenix Police Department has shown an adequate justification for punishing Hernandez’s otherwise protected speech. We cannot do so here, however, because the district court dismissed Hernandez’s First Amendment retaliation claim at the motion-to-dismiss stage.... Although it seems likely that Hernandez’s posts could impede the performance of his job duties and interfere with the Phoenix Police Department’s ability to effectively carry out its mission, no evidence of the actual or potential disruptive impact caused by Hernandez’s posts is properly before us at this stage of the proceedings....

In remanding the case, we do not mean to suggest that the Department will face a particularly onerous burden to justify disciplining Hernandez for his posts, given the comparatively low value of his speech.

Reuters reports on the decision.

Preliminary Injunction Bars Indiana Enforcement Of Ban On Transgender Girl Playing On Girls' Baseball Team

A recently enacted Indiana statute prohibits transgender girls from playing on girls' athletic teams sponsored by public schools or certain private schools.  In A.M. v. Indianapolis Public Schools, (SD IN, July 26, 2022), an Indiana federal district court, relying on Title IX, issued a preliminary injunction barring school officials from applying the statute to prevent plaintiff, a transgender girl entering the 5th grade, from playing on the girl's softball team. The court said in part:

[N]otably, § 20-33-13-4 does not prohibit all transgender athletes from playing with the team of the sex with which they identify – it only prohibits transgender females from doing so. The singling out of transgender females is unequivocally discrimination on the basis of sex, regardless of the policy argument as to why that choice was made. The Court finds that A.M. has established a strong likelihood that she will succeed on the merits of her Title IX claim.

The Hill reports on the decision.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Recent Articles of Interest

From SSRN:

From SSRN (Constitutional Interpretation):

From SSRN (Free Speech):

From SSRN (LGBTQ Issues):

From SSRN (Abortion Rights):

From SSRN (Judaism/ Islam):

Sunday, August 07, 2022

No Church Autonomy Defense To Catholic Organization's Sexual Orientation Discrimination

In Doe v. Catholic Relief Services, (D MD, Aug. 3, 2022), a Maryland federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiff who was denied spousal health insurance coverage for his same-sex husband. Rejecting a church-autonomy defense, the court said in part:

CRS insists that any judicial inquiry into this case inevitably requires an inquiry into matters of Catholic faith and doctrine. This is not so; this case concerns a social service organization's employment benefit decisions regarding a data analyst and does not involve CRS's spiritual or ministerial functions.

The court held that Catholic Relief Services violated Title VII, and that the exemption in Title VII for religious organizations only applies to discrimination by them on the basis of religion. It also held that RFRA does not provide a defense because it applies only to claims against the government. The court also found no First Amendment violation, saying in part:

Our Constitution's solicitousness of religious exercise is not carte blanche for any religious institution wishing to place itself beyond the reach of any neutral and generally applicable law. This court need not engage in a strict scrutiny analysis that would apply if a truly comparable secular institution were being treated favorably compared to CRS.

The court went on to find violations of the federal and state Equal Pay Acts, and ordered certification to the state court of a question of coverage by Maryland's Fair Employment Practices Act.

Indiana Governor Signs New Law Restricting Abortions

On Friday, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 1 (full text). Under the new law, Indiana's former limit on abortions after 20 weeks or viability (whichever is sooner) is amended to allow abortions in that time period only when necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the pregnant woman or to save her life, or the fetus is diagnosed with a fatal abnormality. Abortions may be performed during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy when the result of rape or incest. Parental consent for abortion for a minor is not required in the case of rape or incest. The law does not apply to in vitro fertilizations. ABC News reports on the new law.

Friday, August 05, 2022

5th Circuit Hears Oral Arguments In Challenge To Former Health Care Non-Discrimination Rule

Yesterday, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments (audio of full arguments) in Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra. In the case, a Texas federal district court permanently enjoined enforcing the anti-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act or implementing regulations against Christian health care providers and health plans in a manner that would require them to perform or provide insurance coverage for gender-transition procedures or abortions. (See prior posting.) As explained by Reuters report on the case:

The administration argues that the court order, which applies only to the Christian medical groups behind a 2016 lawsuit, is moot because the rule they originally challenged is no longer in effect.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Biden Issues Executive Order On Access To Reproductive Health Care Services

Yesterday, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Securing Access to Reproductive and Other Healthcare Services (full text). The White House also issued a Fact Sheet explaining the Executive Order.  The Executive Order reads in part:

There have been numerous reports of women denied health- and life-saving emergency care, as providers fearful of legal reprisal delay necessary treatment for patients until their conditions worsen to dangerous levels.  There are also reports of women of reproductive age being denied prescription medication at pharmacies — including medication that is used to treat stomach ulcers, lupus, arthritis, and cancer — due to concerns that these medications, some of which can be used in medication abortions, could be used to terminate a pregnancy.  Reportedly, a healthcare provider, citing a State law restricting abortion, even temporarily stopped providing emergency contraception.

As it remains the policy of my Administration to support women’s access to reproductive healthcare services, including their ability to travel to seek abortion care in States where it is legal, I am directing my Administration to take further action to protect access to reproductive healthcare services and to address the crisis facing women’s health and public health more broadly.

The Executive Order among other things directs the HHS Secretary to advance access to Medicaid coverage for patients traveling across state lines for medical care. It also directs the Secretary to promote compliance with non-discrimination laws in obtaining medical care. 

5th Circuit Upholds Qualified Immunity Defense Of Prison Officials Who Confiscated Hijab

In Taylor v. Nelson, (5th Cir., Aug. 2, 2022), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Texas prison authorities who confiscated a female inmate's hijab that exceeded the size permitted by prison policies can claim qualified immunity in a suit for damages against them. The court held that plaintiff failed to identify a clearly established right that officials violated and reasonable officials would not have understood that enforcing the policy on size of hijabs was unconstitutional.

Street Preacher Gets Injunction Against Ordinance Limiting Microphones

In Miller v. City of Excelsior, Minnesota, (D MN, Aug. 2, 2022), a Minnesota federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of a city's ordinance on amplified sound and portions of its special-event permit regulation. Plaintiff wanted to preach on sidewalks in the downtown business area. The city ordinance effectively prevents use of amplification on the narrow sidewalks of downtown. Outside the business district, to use amplification audible more than 30 feet away requires a permit with a $150 per day fee and 30 days advance notice. The court said in part:

By prohibiting all unpermitted amplified sound that can be heard at the property line from where the sound emanates in the B-1 and B-2 zoning districts, it is more likely than not that Section 16-105(b)(3) burdens substantially more speech than necessary to further the City’s interests. The ... restriction effectively eliminates amplified sound in the public ways of those districts. In doing so, the ordinance becomes untethered to the City’s legitimate interests in protecting the use and enjoyment of those public areas....

Miller has shown a sufficient likelihood that the City’s 30-day notice requirement, as applied, is not narrowly tailored. Miller is a single speaker, and a 30 day-notice period places a substantial burden on his right to speak spontaneously in his desired public forum....

On this record, it’s more likely than not that a $150 per-day fee is not narrowly tailored to the City’s administrative expenses in hosting Miller’s First Amendment activity.

Fetus Now A Deductible Dependent On Georgia Income Tax Return

Georgia's Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act amends the definition of "natural person" in Georgia's statutes to mean "any human being including an unborn child". Last month, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the Act. In light of that, Georgia's Department of Revenue has issued Guidance related to House Bill 481, Living Infants and Fairness Equality (LIFE) Act (Aug. 1, 2022), reading in part:

[T]he Department will recognize any unborn child with a detectable human heartbeat, as defined in O.C.G.A. § 1-2-1, as eligible for the Georgia individual income tax dependent exemption. The 11th Circuit’s ruling made HB 481’s amendment to O.C.G.A § 48-7-26(a), adding an unborn child with a detectable heartbeat to the definition of dependent, effective as of the date of the court’s ruling, which was July 20, 2022.

[Thanks to Scott Mange for the lead.]

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

French Constitutional Tribunal Upholds Regulation Of Religious Associations

France's Constitutional Council last month in Union of Diocesan Associations of France and others  (Conseil constitutionnel, July 22, 2022) upheld the constitutionality of several provisions of law governing religious institutions in France. It upheld the requirement that a religious organization must register with a government official in order to enjoy benefits available specifically to a religious association.  It found that this did not infringe freedom of association, and also concluded in part:

[The provisions] have neither the purpose nor the effect of carrying the recognition of a religion by the Republic or of hindering the free exercise of religion.... Accordingly, the contested provisions, which do not deprive the free exercise of worship of legal guarantees, do not infringe the principle of secularism.

The court also rejected an equal protection challenge to a provision limiting religious organizations to realizing no more than 50% of their revenues from apartment buildings they own. Finally it upheld provisions allowing the state to require a religious association to conform its stated purposes to its actual activities and requirements; for reporting of a religious association's places of worship; and, when requested, to provide a government official with financial information including amounts used for religious activities and amounts of foreign financing. However, the court cautioned:

While such obligations are necessary and suited to the objective pursued by the legislator, it will nevertheless be up to the regulatory power to ensure, by setting the specific methods for implementing these obligations, that the constitutional principles of freedom of action are respected.

The court issued a press release announcing the decision.  Law & Religion UK also reports on the decision.

Massachusetts Law Exonerates Last Convicted Witch

 Section 105 of the Massachusetts FY23 Budget Bill signed by Governor Charlie Baker on July 28 exonerates Elizabeth Johnson, Jr., the last Massachusetts resident who was legally classified as a witch. As reported by Courthouse News Service, Johnson is one of 30 people convicted in Salem witch trials in 1693. All the others have previously been exonerated by the legislature. The exoneration was pushed by an eighth-grade civic teacher in North Andover, Massachusetts where Johnson had lived.

Clergy Sue Challenging Florida's Abortion Restrictions

The Washington Post reports that in Florida, seven members of the clergy-- Christian, Jewish, Unitarian-Universalist and Buddhist-- have filed lawsuits contending that Florida's 15-week abortion ban violates their free exercise, free speech and Establishment Clause rights. Typical of the lawsuits is the complaint (full text) in Hafner v. State of Florida, (FL Cir. Ct., filed 8/1/2022), filed by a pastor of the United Church of Christ.  It alleges in part:

 59. The Act establishes as the law of the State of Florida, a particular and narrow religious view about abortion and when “life” begins. This view is contrary to the religious beliefs of Plaintiff and the UCC, which does not necessarily make a claim regarding when “life” begins, but instead, centers on the mother’s right to have a choice, oversee her own body, and make her own decisions.

60. The Act further provides for no exceptions for the psychological health of the mother or family, non-fatal fetal abnormalities, or victims of incest, rape, or trafficking, which are all circumstances in which the UCC would, amongst other circumstances, support a girl or woman’s decision to have an abortion before or after fifteen weeks....

65. Plaintiff’s beliefs are consistent with the UCC principles set forth above and, as a result, the Act substantially burdens the exercise of her religious faith because it hampers her ability to counsel congregants and speak freely on reproductive rights and issues and burdens her congregants’ ability to seek counsel from their religious leader.

Here is the complaint in a similar suit filed by three rabbis (Pomerantz v. State of Florida, (FL Cir. Ct., filed 8/1/2022).

UPDATE: Here is the complaint in Chotso v. State of Florida, (FL Cir. Ct., filed 8/1/2022), filed by a Buddhist Lama.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Wisconsin Violated Archdiocese Rights In Excluding Clergy As COVID Precaution After Other Outsiders Were Allowed In

 As previously reported, last June a Wisconsin trial court issued a Provisional Writ of Mandamus ordering the Wisconsin prison system to allow Catholic clergy the opportunity, at least once a week, to conduct in-person religious services in state correctional institutions. Access for clergy is mandated by Wis. Stat. 301.33(1). The state had suspended visits beginning in March 2020 to minimize the spread of COVID.  Now, in Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, (WI Cir. Ct., July 14, 2022), the same court issued a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction, concluding that once the prison system allowed some external visitors to enter correctional institutions, it was required to honor the clergy's statutory privilege to do so, and refusal to do so violated plaintiff's free exercise rights under the Wisconsin Constitution. CBN News reports on the decision.