The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Obataiye-Allah v. Steward, vacated an Oregon federal district court’s holding that prison officials were shielded from damages by qualified immunity in an inmate’s suit alleging that he was denied participation in Ramadan.
A Texas federal district court held, in Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Mack, that a Justice of the Peace who started his court sessions with an opening prayer from a volunteer chaplain violated the Establishment Clause because the attendees were impermissibly coerced into participating in religious activities.
The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed, in Koster v. Harvest Bible Chapel-Quad Cities, the dismissal of a suit against a church and three pastors by a congregant who alleged breach of fiduciary duty, concluding that the claim could not proceed because it would require consideration of the church’s doctrine and religious practices.
The University of Florida concluded that the University’s Student Senate violated the First Amendment when it removed Jack Denton, student president, because he privately shared his belief that the ACLU and other activist organizations advocate for causes that oppose Catholic teachings and his religious beliefs.
A Michigan high school initially directed a graduating senior, Elizabeth Turner, to alter her valedictory speech to remove all religious references, but after receiving a demand letter from the First Liberty Institute, officials at Hillsdale High School announced that religious students will be able to state their religious beliefs in graduation speeches.
In First Things today, I write about recent corporate activism and what it reveals about our deep cultural polarization. More and more, employees and customers expect that firms will take stands on contested political issues. This wasn’t supposed to happen. According to liberal theory, the market is supposed to diminish conflicts over religion and big questions. What’s going on?
All this is happening because, contrary to the doux commerce thesis, people do not easily check their values at the door when they enter the marketplace. And in a society as evenly divided and politically saturated as ours, it’s only natural that many people will want the firms for which they work or with which they do business to reflect their side in public debates. “Employees today…want to know what you stand for,” one CEO recently told the Wall Street Journal. That goes for customers, too. In fact, firms may no longer have the option of staying silent on public controversies, since customers increasingly expect corporations to have political and social commitments. “[I]n these fraught times,” a corporate lawyer recently explained at Harvard Law School’s Forum on Corporate Governance, customers often construe silence on a political controversy as itself “a statement.”
Liberalism depends for its success on habits of mind that liberalism itself cannot create. The doux commerce thesis works fine where people mostly agree on public controversies, or where people believe they can safely remain indifferent to them. In a society like ours, though, where views are polarized and politics is everywhere, it is naïve to think the market will be an exception, or that commerce will somehow cause people to forget about their deep disagreements. Until America reaches a new social equilibrium, our market is likely to be as contentious as everything else.
The University of Messina and LAWS-MDPI are co-sponsoring a seminar on “The Crisis of Religious Freedom in the Age of COVID-19 Pandemic.” The seminar will be held on May 28th, at 4:00 pm Rome time on Microsoft Teams.
Please see the attached conference flyer below for the Microsoft Teams information and a list of speakers.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
The Supreme Court granted review in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center, in which the Fifth Circuit struck down a Mississippi statute that prohibits abortions, with limited exceptions, after 15 weeks’ gestational age.
The Supreme Court dismissed, by a vote of 6-3, the certiorari petitions in three related cases challenging a Trump Administration rule that imposed new restrictions on abortion referrals by health care providers receiving Title X family planning funds.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed an Arizona federal district court’s dismissal of a religious discrimination suit filed by The Satanic Temple, concluding the group failed to prove that religious beliefs were a factor in the decision to not approve its giving a legislative prayer.
A federal district court in Washington denied summary judgment to five current and former high school students who sued the state’s Interscholastic Activities Association for failing to accommodate Seventh Day Adventists’ Sabbath observance in scheduling and administering the high school state tennis championships.
Suit was filed in a Massachusetts federal district court by a church challenging the state’s COVID-19 reopening regulations; the suit alleges that Massachusetts’ phased COVID-19 reopening regulations single out places of worship for differential and disfavored treatment.
A Texas Appellate Court held that under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, a civil court lacked jurisdiction over an age discrimination and fraud case brought by a Catholic priest against his diocese.
A Hawaii federal district court rejected a free exercise challenge to Hawaii’s COVID-19 mask requirements, concluding that the complaint failed to allege that the mask mandate imposed a substantial burden on the plaintiff’s practice of religion.
In First Things today, I have an essay on President Biden’s recent recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915–and why that recognition hasn’t translated into practical help for Armenians suffering ethnic cleansing today. Here’s an excerpt:
Recognition of the Armenian Genocide, suddenly, has become one of the few things on which Democrats and Republicans agree. It would be good if the new willingness to speak forthrightly about history translated into practical help for Armenians facing ethnic cleansing today. That, unfortunately, seems a different story. Shortly after his statement on the genocide, President Biden made another decision that indicates that, when it comes to present-day aggression against Armenia, the United States is prepared to look the other way. . . .
Turkey and Azerbaijan would like very much, in Erdoğan’s words last year, to “fulfill the mission of our grandfathers in the Caucasus”—to remove the obstacle that Christian Armenians place in the way of a unified, pan-Turkish mega-state stretching from Istanbul to Central Asia. American leverage could make Turkey and Azerbaijan think twice about pursuing this strategy. But America’s foreign policy establishment continues to see Armenia as a Russian proxy and therefore undeserving of much assistance. Indeed, neoconservatives have cheered Azerbaijan’s aggression against Armenia as a way to contain Russia and, secondarily, Iran.
This assessment of the situation is wrong and unfair. Surrounded by enemies who would like to make it disappear, Armenia has little choice but to make alliances where it can. Besides, the theory that helping Azerbaijan would weaken Russia has proven spectacularly wrong. As a result of the war, Russia now has military bases both in Armenia and Azerbaijan and wields more influence in the Caucasus than it did before. As for Iran, it voiced its support for Azerbaijan during the war and now hopes to receive Azeri contracts to help with the rebuilding.