Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- In United States v. Harris, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals deliberated on whether a defendant, charged with threatening a federal judge and declared incompetent for trial, could be involuntarily medicated despite his religious objections as a Jehovah’s Witness. The court recognized the importance of religious liberty in this context, concluding that it could be considered a “special circumstance” in deciding the permissibility of involuntary medication, according to Supreme Court precedent in Sell v. United States.
- In Foshee v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, a Maryland federal court dismissed a religious discrimination claim under Title VII by two employees seeking a religious exemption from a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The court found that their objections, based on what plaintiffs assert was guidance from God or the Holy Spirit and personal concerns about the vaccine, were not strictly religious but intertwined with secular reasons, thus not qualifying for a religious exemption. The court emphasized that their beliefs, being “not subject to any principled limitation in…scope,” amounted to an unverifiable “blanket privilege” not strictly religious in nature.
- In Hilsenrath v. School District of the Chathams, a New Jersey court reaffirmed its prior decision stating that a 7th grade curriculum on Islam did not violate the Establishment Clause. The court, after a reconsideration prompted by the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, emphasized that the educational materials were not coercively promoting religious establishments forbidden by the First Amendment, leading to a ruling in favor of the school board.
- In Gospel Light Mennonite Church Medical Aid Plan v. New Mexico Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, a New Mexico federal district court declined to order an injunction that would prevent the state’s insurance superintendent from regulating Health Care Sharing Ministries (HCSMs), cost-sharing organizations intended to cut medical expenses for members. The plaintiffs argued that an official press release, which warned consumers about HCSMs and declared their plans unauthorized insurance products, showed a form of official disapproval of their religious beliefs. However, the court disagreed, and using rational basis review, found that state laws requiring compliance with the Insurance Code were justified and evinced a legitimate governmental concern.
- In The Matter of James Hogue v. Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division upheld the denial of Hogue’s request for a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for New York City Department of Education employees. It ruled that Hogue failed to prove his objection was based on sincere religious beliefs and that granting an exemption would impose undue hardship on the Department of Education. The court dismissed Hogue’s other arguments, including a lack of cooperative dialogue and issues of timeliness in the appeal process.
- In Supriyo @ Supriya Chakraborty v. Union of India, India’s Supreme Court declined to recognize same-sex marriages, aligning with government and religious leaders who opposed the petitions. The Court concurred that the power to legislate on marriage resides with the parliament, not the judiciary. The petitioners had advocated for the modification of the Special Marriage Act to be more inclusive by using the term “spouse” instead of specifying gender. Despite refusing to legalize same-sex marriages, the Court did urge the government to explore and implement extended rights and privileges for same-sex couples, suggesting the formation of a committee to examine this prospect.