Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- In White v. Goforth, the Sixth Circuit ruled that Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Goforth had qualified immunity in a suit accusing him of failing to intervene in a coerced baptism by Officer Daniel Wilkey. The court explained that while Wilkey’s actions might have violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, there was no evidence that Goforth knew of the improper quid pro quo. The court further clarified that even if there had been perceived government endorsement of religion, it would not have been clearly established that Goforth had a duty to intervene.
- In Sangervasi v. City of San Jose, a California federal court dismissed police officer William Sangervasi’s lawsuit challenging the San Jose Police Department’s refusal to adopt his proposed patch and flag designs, some featuring religious themes. The court rejected Sangervasi’s claims of free exercise, free speech, and equal protection, stating, “the City has not created a public forum in which Mr. Sangervasi has a right to express any views” and “the SJPD’s patch designs amount to government speech and do not burden Mr. Sangervasi’s religious practice.”
- In Caekaert v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, a Montana federal district court addressed the clergy-penitent privilege regarding documents withheld by the Jehovah’s Witnesses parent body concerning reports of known child molesters. The court stated that while it recognizes deference to religious groups in organizing their internal affairs, this doesn’t grant the religious organization the right to define what is privileged solely based on its doctrine. The court also noted that the privilege extends to non-penitential statements made during the church’s disciplinary process.
- Muslim and Christian parents filed suit against the Montgomery County School Board in Maryland, objecting to the introduction of “Pride Storybooks” in pre-K and elementary school education. They allege the policy violates their rights to free exercise and free speech, and their right to control their children’s education, claiming that it “discourages a biological understanding of human sexuality” and “precludes religious viewpoints on the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity,” which they argue is unconstitutional.
- The Texas legislature passed SB763, permitting public schools to employ or accept volunteer chaplains to support students, without needing teacher certification. Proposed amendments requiring chaplain accreditation similar to prison or military standards, parent consent for chaplain interaction, and requirements to provide chaplains from any faith requested, were all defeated. The bill stipulates that chaplains undergo a criminal history review and not have been convicted of specific sex-related offenses.
- The White House has released “The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism,” a 60-page strategy with four pillars aimed at addressing antisemitism in America. The document provides over 100 planned actions to increase awareness of antisemitism and improve safety for Jewish communities. The strategy also defines antisemitism as “a pernicious conspiracy theory that often features myths about Jewish power and control” and endorses the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.