Around the Web

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

  • On Monday, the Biden Administration filed an emergency application with Justice Alito after the 5th Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction which protects Navy service members from facing consequences for their faith-based opposition to COVID-19 vaccines.
  • In Byrne v. Bowser, suit was filed in the D.C. federal district court by a nun who is a surgeon and family physician after she was denied a religious exemption from the District’s vaccine requirement for health care professionals.
  • In Dugan v. Bowser, suit was filed in the D.C. federal district court by parents of Catholic school students alleging that imposing the mask mandate on Catholic schools violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment.
  • In Temple of 1001 Buddhas v. City of Fremont, a California federal district court dismissed a suit by a religious adherent who lives on property owned by the Temple of 1001 Buddhas. The claimant challenged the city’s enforcement of the state’s building, electrical, and plumbing codes as a violation of RLUIPA.
  • In Ferrelli v. State of New York Unified Court System, a New York federal district court upheld the system for determining whether employees are entitled to religious exemptions from the COVID vaccine mandate imposed on all judges and employees of the New York State court system. The court concluded that the exemption process was neutral and generally applicable.
  • Virginia senators block a bill that would have prevented the governor from using an executive order to impose restrictions on the exercise of religion and would have prevented any such rule, regulation, or order from any governmental entity.
  • The EEOC has provided employers with updated guidance regarding religious objections to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Around the Web

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

  • The U.S. Supreme Court denied review in Gordon College v. DeWeese-Boyd, in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the ministerial exception does not apply in a suit by a professor at a private Christian college who alleges her promotion was denied because of her public criticism of the school’s policies on LGBTQ students.
  • In U.S. Navy Seals 1-26 v. Biden, the Fifth Circuit refused to grant the Navy a partial stay of an injunction protecting a group of personnel who refuse to comply with the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for religious reasons.
  • In Miller v. Acosta, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court properly found that the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity on an inmate’s free exercise claim.
  • In Poffenbarger v. Kendall, an Ohio federal district court issued a preliminary injunction barring the Air Force from penalizing an Air Force reservist who refuses to comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates due to religious objections.
  • In Sandoval v. Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, a Wisconsin state appellate court upheld the finding that Capitoland Christian Center Church did not engage in employment discrimination after an employee left her job over a policy barring unmarried employees from cohabitating.
  • Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat in Oakland, introduced a piece of legislation that would reduce residential parking requirements for newly built religious institutions to allow for the construction of housing.

Around the Web

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

  • In Keil v. City of New York, Justice Sotomayor refused to enjoin the dismissal of a suit filed by a group of New York City teachers who did not comply with the City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate due to religious objections. The teachers then invoked Supreme Court Rule 22.4 and requested that their petition be resubmitted to Justice Gorsuch.
  • 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.

Around the Web

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

  • In St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church v. City of Brookings, a church filed suit in an Oregon federal district court challenging a city ordinance that limits the church from offering free meals to the needy more than two days per week.
  • 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.
  • In Divine Grace Yoga Ashram Inc. v. County of Yavapai, an Arizona federal district court rejected a RLUIPA claim that the county’s permit requirement violates the “equal terms” provision of RLUIPA.
  • 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.
  • The City of Louisville has agreed to pay Officer Matt Schrennger, Kentucky police officer, $75,000 to settle his lawsuit after he was punished for praying in front of an abortion clinic while in uniform, but off-duty.

Movsesian on Courts’ Responses to COVID Restrictions

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.

Around the Web

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

  • The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in Shurtleff v. City of Boston. Below, the First Circuit affirmed the order of a Massachusetts federal district court granting summary judgment in favor of the City as to Plaintiffs’ complaint. Plaintiffs allege that the City violated their constitutional rights by refusing to fly a Christian flag from a flagpole at Boston City Hall.
  • The Supreme Court granted cert in the case of a former Bremerton, Washington football coach who was removed from his job because he refused to stop praying on the field.
    • The case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, was the subject of a prior Legal Spirits podcast episode.
  • In Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker, the Seventh Circuit affirmed an Illinois federal district court’s denial of an injunction against a now-rescinded COVID order which limited the number of people who could attend religious services. The district court held that the case was moot because Plaintiffs have not been subject to attendance limits for more than nineteen months, and there is no indication that they will be subject to them again.
  • In We the Patriots USA, Inc. v. Connecticut Office of Early Childhood Development, a Connecticut federal district court upheld a Connecticut statute that eliminates the religious exemption from the state requirement for vaccinations for school children. The Court held that mandatory vaccination as a condition to school enrollment does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.
  • Suit was filed in a Georgia federal district court by an Air Force officer who was forced into retirement when she refused, for religious reasons, to take the COVID vaccine. The complaint alleges that the Air Force’s actions violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the First Amendment.
  • In Romano v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a Michigan federal district court denied a preliminary injunction to an employee who was fired because he refused to comply with his employer’s COVID vaccine mandate. Plaintiff’s refusal was based on religious objections; however, the district court concluded that Plaintiff did not meet the “irreparable injury” requirement necessary to support an injunction.
  • The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia has announced a new policy that will begin to keep track of employees who have refused on religious grounds to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The new record system will store the names and “personal religious information” of all employees who make “religious accommodation requests for religious exception from the federally mandated vaccination requirement.”
  • “Atheist Ireland,” an association of atheists based in Ireland, has called upon the U.N. and the Irish government to raise the issue of religious discrimination in Irish schools. Specifically, Atheist Ireland has requested that Irish schools “must allow children to leave the classroom during religion class.”

Around the Web

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

  • In Mays v. Joseph, the Eleventh Circuit held that a prisoner may recover punitive damages for violation of his free exercise rights. The claim centered around a Georgia Department of Corrections’ grooming policy that barred inmates from growing their hair or goatees longer than three inches.
  • In U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden, a Texas federal district court issued a preliminary injunction barring the U.S. Navy from imposing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on thirty-five Navy service members. The court concluded that applying the vaccine mandate to plaintiffs violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.
  • In Abraham House of God and Cemetery, Inc. v. City of Horn Lake, a consent decree was entered in a Mississippi federal district court. The suit alleged that the City of Horn Lake denied approval of the site plan for a proposed mosque because of religious animus.
  • Suit was filed in Ohio state trial court by five school districts and students’ parents challenging the Ohio legislature’s recent expansion of the EdChoice voucher program. The complaint alleges that the program violates Article VI, Sec. 2 of the Ohio Constitution, which calls for separation between church and state.
  • A British tribunal has ruled that a Christian nurse who was forced to resign from a hospital over her refusal to stop wearing a cross was wrongfully discriminated against.
  • The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a complaint against a Christian bakery in Northern Ireland that refused to make a cake supporting gay marriage on religious grounds.
    • The case, Lee v. Ashers Baking Co., was the subject of our first Legal Spirits podcast episode.

Around the Web

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

  • In Barakat v. Brown, a Muslim woman filed a religious discrimination suit in a Missouri federal district court alleging an indoor gun range refuses admission to women wearing hijabs.
  • In Iglesia Pentecostal Filadelfia, Inc. v. Rodriguez, a Texas state appellate court affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of an internal church dispute about church leadership roles on ecclesiastical abstention grounds.
  • In Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski,​​ a federal district court ruled that a lawsuit by a Georgia Gwinnett student alleging that college officials stopped him from sharing his Christian faith on campus should move forward on the merits.
  • In K.W. v. Canton City School District, a high school football player filed suit in an Ohio federal district court after he was forced to violate his religious beliefs as punishment for missing a mandatory class.
  • A North Carolina sheriff refused to remove a Bible verse from his office wall after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation claimed that the “blatantly Christian message in a law enforcement division sends a message of exclusion.”
  • The Archdiocese of Baltimore has declared new COVID-19 protocols, including requiring clergy, liturgical ministers, and all attendees age five and older to wear a mask inside of churches in Baltimore County and Howard County.

Around the Web

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

  • In St. Augustine School v. Underly, the Seventh Circuit sent back to the district court a suit challenging Wisconsin’s refusal to provide bus transportation to students at St. Augustine School, a private religious school. The court concluded that the decision to provide transportation was not justified by neutral and secular considerations.
  • The Eighth Circuit heard oral arguments in Religious Sisters of Mercy v. Becerra. Below, a North Dakota federal district court granted various Catholic-affiliated health care entities with an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws against them in connection with providing coverage for transgender procedures.
  • In Downtown Soup Kitchen v. Municipality of Anchorage, an Alaska federal district court refused to grant injunctive relief to the Hope Center, a faith-based women’s shelter, after a new public accommodation law would require them to provide housing to trans-identifying women. The court concluded that since the city does not consider the Hope Center a public accommodation the center could not demonstrate a credible threat of enforcement.
  • Suit was filed in Virginia state trial court by parents challenging the Albemarle County School Board’s Anti-Racism Policy and the associated curriculum alleging religious discrimination.
  • In Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe v. U.S. Department of the Interior, the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe brought suit alleging that the new Dixie Meadows geothermal energy project will negatively impact the Dixie Meadows hot springs and the surrounding landscape and thus, violate their members’ sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • China has barred the chair, vice-chair, and two commissioners of the U.S. Commission on the International Religious Freedom from entering China.

On the Recent Vaccine Mandate Cases

In Public Discourse today, I have an essay that explains why the Court has declined to address claims that Covid vaccine mandates in places like Maine and New York violate the First Amendment. Here’s an excerpt:

The Court has not explained its reasons in these cases. But the justices’ caution is not surprising, for a few reasons. First, religious exemption claims generally pose hard questions, which are particularly troublesome in this context. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified divisions about the value of religion and religious freedom in our country, and the justices might wish to avoid doing something to provoke further conflict. Second, the Maine and New York lawsuits are currently at the preliminary injunction stage, and the factual records in the cases are still unclear. The Court might reasonably think that it should allow the lower courts an opportunity to consider the claims further before it issues any rulings. Finally, the Court might think that state and local governments will themselves see the prudence of offering religious exemptions, as many already have done, considering the difficulties vaccine mandates have created for healthcare and other services.

You can read the whole essay here.