Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
The U.S. Supreme Court grants cert in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. The grant of cert was limited to the question of “[w]hether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
In Mahoney v. United States Capitol Police Board, a clergyman challenged traffic regulations that barred demonstrations by twenty or more people at locations near the U.S. Capitol. While the D.C. federal district court rejected Plaintiff’s Free Exercise and RFRA challenges, it allowed him to move forward with his selective enforcement and free-association claims.
In Christian Medical & Dental Associations v. Bonta, suit was filed by an organization of Christian healthcare professionals challenging the current version of California’s End of Life Options Act (EOLA). Plaintiffs allege that changes made to EOLA last year remove previous protections and now require doctors to participate in assisted suicide in violation of their religious beliefs.
In Chamberlain v. Montoya, a New Hampshire federal district court dismissed the complaint after the parties agreed to settle. The settlement allows the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center to keep a Bible as part of their “Missing Man Table;” however, the organization will now also allow for the sponsorship of a generic “Book of Faith.”
The Missouri Religious Freedom Protection Act has won first-round approval in the Missouri House of Representatives. If enacted, the bill would prevent public officials from shutting down meetings or services held by religious groups.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey demands answers from the Alabama High School Athletic Association after the Oakwood Adventist Academy’s boys basketball team was forced to forfeit a semifinal game in the state tournament due to their observance of the sabbath.
Colombia’s highest court has voted to legalize abortion until the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy.
In Sambrano v. United Airlines, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Texas federal district court’s decision that held no “irreparable injury” had been suffered by United Airlines employees who were placed on unpaid leave after they refused to comply with the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for religious reasons.
In Bishop of Charleston v. Adams, a South Carolina federal district court rejected free exercise and equal protection challenges to Art. XII, Sec 4. of the South Carolina Constitution, which bars the use of public funds to directly benefit religious educational institutions.
In Asher v. Clay County Board of Education, a Kentucky federal district court refused to enjoin a school district from relocating the graves of members of the White Top Band of Native Indians. The court found that the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act does not apply because the land the school purchased was not on federal or tribal lands.
In Mays v. Cabell County Board of Education, suit was filed by students at Huntington High School and their parents alleging that a school assembly featuring Nik Walker, a Christian evangelical minister, violated the Establishment Clause.
In Air Force Officer v. Austin, a Georgia federal district court invoking RFRA and the First Amendment granted a preliminary injunction to an Air Force officer who sought a religious exemption from the Air Force’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, issued a determination letter dismissing a complaint filed by LGBTQ students at Brigham Young University. The letter affirms that the University’s policy that bans same-sex relationships among its students is exempt from the non-discrimination provisions of Title IX.
Suit was filed in a New York federal district court by five Orthodox Jews and one Catholic man challenging New York City’s “Key to NYC” program, which mandates COVID vaccination in a variety of social contexts. Plaintiffs contend that they have religious objections to the COVID vaccine, and some of the Plaintiffs raise unique religious objections not commonly raised in past litigation.
A Christian nurse practitioner formerly employed at a CVS Pharmacy in Texas has filed a religious discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint alleges the company illegally discriminated against her on the basis of her religious beliefs about contraception.
A new Chinese law, Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information, is set to take effect on March 1, 2022. The law will impose new restrictions on online religious content and will essentially outlaw evangelistic Scripture.
The Southern Indian state of Karnataka’s top court has stepped in to hear petitions filed by Muslim students after several government-run educational institutions have banned Muslim female students from wearing hijabs.
Together with fellow MOJ-er Patrick Brennan, we had a day of reflection and presentation of work concerning the theme. John Stinneford and I are having fun co-authoring a paper on “The Common Law, the Catholic Tradition, and the Criminal Law.” We discuss the idea of tradition in Catholicism and the common law, the important concept of “culpa” or blameworthiness within both traditions, and its evolution across time. More soon on this paper.
A programming note: I’m looking forward to participating in this upcoming symposium on religious liberty in Chicago later this spring. The editors of the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal have put together a great program and I’m honored to be among the contributors. Details below:
In Buck v. Hertel, Michigan agreed to settle with St. Vincent Catholic Charities in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The state agreed to pay attorneys’ fees of $550,000 and not to terminate the contract with the licensed child placement agency because of their religious requirements.
In Navy Seal 1 v. Biden, a Florida federal district court issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the military from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccination mandate against two service members who were denied religious exemptions.
The EEOC announced that Wellpath, a provider of health services, agreed to settle a religious discrimination claim brought by a nurse who lost her job after requesting a religious accommodation that would allow her to wear a scrub skirt instead of pants to work. Wellpath agreed to pay the nurse $75,000 and provide anti-discrimination training and a notice of rights to employees.
I’m happy to announce that my essay, “Law, Religion, and the COVID-19 Crisis,” is now available in the Journal of Law and Religion (Cambridge). The essay discusses courts’ responses to COVID restrictions on public worship worldwide, and what the response of American courts indicates about our deep polarization in this country. Here’s the abstract:
This essay explores judicial responses to legal restrictions on worship during the COVID-19 pandemic and draws two lessons, one comparative and one relating specifically to U.S. law. As a comparative matter, courts across the globe have approached the problem in essentially the same way, through intuition and balancing. This has been the case regardless of what formal test applies, the proportionality test outside the United States, which expressly calls for judges to weigh the relative costs and benefits of a restriction, or the Employment Division v. Smith test inside the United States, which rejects judicial line-drawing and balancing in favor of predictable results. Judges have reached different conclusions about the legality of restrictions, of course, but doctrinal nuances have made little apparent difference. With respect to the United States specifically, the pandemic has revealed deep divisions about religion and religious freedom, among other things—divisions that have inevitably influenced judicial attitudes toward restrictions on worship. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed a cultural and political rift that makes consensual resolution of conflicts over religious freedom problematic, and perhaps impossible, even during a once-in-a-century pandemic.