Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In López Prater v. Trustees of Hamline University, a federal district court in Minnesota refused to dismiss plaintiff’s claim that her university employer discriminated against her based on religion. Plaintiff, a professor who was disciplined for showing depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in an art class, argues that she would not have been disciplined if she had been a Muslim.
  • Twelve Muslim plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against 29 federal officials in a Massachusetts district court, alleging that the officials violated their federal civil rights by adding them to a terrorist watchlist under vague criteria, Plaintifs claim they were unaware of their inclusion and had no recourse to challenge or comprehend the officials’ decision.
  • In Mirabelli v. Olson, the Southern District of California issued a preliminary injunction to prevent adverse employment action by the Escondido Union School District against two teachers who objected on religious grounds to the district’s policy of maintaining faculty confidentiality when communicating with parents about a student’s change in gender identity. The court found that the district’s policy conflicted with the teachers’ sincere religious beliefs in accurate communication with parents and that the district’s non-disclosure to parents policy was not narrowly tailored and could potentially cause more harm than good.
  • Several Jewish groups have filed a lawsuit against the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Education, alleging that the district’s ethnic studies curriculum includes antisemitic and anti-Israel content, and that the district violated the “Brown Act” by providing inadequate notice and permitting harassment during school board meetings. At one meeting, attendees reportedly made antisemitic remarks, threatened Jews and Israelis, and displayed hostility toward Jewish participants.
  • In 2022, a Kentucky district court found that Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk, violated the constitutional rights of two same-sex couples by refusing to issue them marriage licenses due to religious reasons, and a jury was tasked with determining damages. Recently, in separate trials, the jury in the case of Yates v. Davis awarded zero damages, while in the second case, Emold v. Davis, the jury granted damages totaling $100,000.
  • In Davis v. Wigen, the 3rd Circuit overturned a district court’s dismissal of a RFRA claim filed by a former federal inmate and his fiancée against a private prison for denying their marriage request. The court ruled that the denials, while not explicitly forcing them to violate their faith, placed a significant burden on their religious beliefs, highlighting that government actions closely related to religious practices can be considered a substantial impediment under RFRA.

Prophecy and Politics

The strict separationist model of religion and politics that long has held sway in this country (or, at any rate, that was said to hold sway) often obscured the highly political qualities of religious belief and practice. Among these is certainly the power of prophetic witness, a mode of political engagement that is often uncompromising, idealistic, critical, and even apocalyptic. Professor Cathy Kaveny once called this style of politics “moral chemotherapy.” Indeed, it is an open question whether this mode of politics or its alternative (moderate, realistic, whiggish, pragmatic) is the more effective in implementing its respective vision. And this is one more area of overlap or interaction between law and religion that has been suppressed from view and study in the American liberal dispensation.

Here is a fascinating looking new book that helps to remedy this problem: The Third Sword: On the Political Role of Prophets (Cambridge University Press), by James Bernard Murphy (Dartmouth).

Prophets are wild cards in the game of politics, James Bernard Murphy writes in this startling new book. They risk their lives by calling out the abuses of political and religious leaders, forcing us to confront evils we would prefer to ignore. By setting moral limits on political leaders, prophets chasten our political pretensions and remind us there are values that transcend politics. They wield a third sword—distinct from the familiar swords of state and church power—their sword is the word of God. The Third Sword offers a new take on political history, illustrating a theory of prophetic politics through tales of political crises, interspersed with direct dialogue between the prophets and their persecutors. With chapters on Socrates, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, and Martin Luther King, Murphy brings these prophets to life with storytelling that blends biography, history, and political theory.