Around the Web

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

  • Justice Breyer denied an injunction in a case challenging the lack of religious exemptions in Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers.
  • In Easter v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suit was filed in the D.C. federal district court challenging the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s contracting with religiously sponsored agencies that prohibit the placement of unaccompanied minor refugees with individuals on the basis of the individuals’ sexual orientation.
  • In National Capital Presbytery v. Mayorkas, the D.C. federal district court held that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when it refused to renew a R-1 nonimmigrant religious worker visa.
  • In United States v. Stafford County, the Justice Department filed a Notice of Dismissal after an ordinance that prevented the “All Muslim Association of America” from developing a religious cemetery for Muslims was revoked.
  • Abundant Life Baptist Church, a Missouri megachurch, was awarded a settlement of $146,750 following a dispute with the local government over COVID-19 restrictions.
  • In Gateway Bible Baptist Church v. Province of Manitoba, a Canadian trial court upheld the public health restrictions imposed by the province on gatherings at places of worship and at private homes. 

Interviewed in the Deseret News

Religion journalist Kelsey Dallas, a past guest on Legal Spirits, interviews me in the Deseret News about my forthcoming essay in the Journal of Law and Religion on courts’ responses to Covid restrictions on public worship. Here’s a sample:

The COVID-19 pandemic has created all sorts of religious freedom conflict, as people of faith fight gathering restrictions, mask requirements and, more recently, vaccine mandates.

Your view on these legal battles likely depends on your professional, spiritual and political interests. Mark L. Movsesian, co-director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University in New York, saw them as opportunities to study the limits of the United States’ approach to religious liberty protections. . . .

When there are no easy, obvious answers, judicial bias can creep in. That’s always problematic, but it’s especially so at a time when liberal and conservative judges often have very different views on the value of faith and what should win out when religious freedom is in conflict with other rights.

“As long as we don’t have a common baseline for how important religion is compared to other things, we’re going to have inconsistent opinions” from the legal system, Movsesian said. And with inconsistent opinions comes political and social strife.

You can read the whole interview here.

Law, Religion, and the Covid Crisis

I have a new draft on SSRN, “Law, Religion, and the Covid Crisis,” comparing how courts across the globe have approached restrictions on public worship and exploring what the cases reveal about social divisions, especially in the United States. Here’s the abstract:

This essay explores judicial responses to legal restrictions on worship during the COVID pandemic and draws two lessons, one comparative and one relating specifically to US 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 US, which expressly calls for judges to weigh the relative costs and benefits of a restriction, or the Employment Division v. Smith test inside the US, 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 US, 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 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-lifetime pandemic.

The essay will appear in the forthcoming volume of the Journal of Law and Religion. Comments welcome!

Around the Web

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

  • In Dahl v. Board of Trustees of Western Michigan University, the Sixth Circuit upheld an injunction barring Western Michigan University from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate against 16 Christian student-athletes who had applied for religious exemptions.
  • In Niblett v. Universal Protection Service, a California federal district court dismissed a damage action by a Muslim woman who was forced by a security guard to remove her hijab to enter a Public Social Services building.
  • In Dr. T. v. Alexander-Scott, a Rhode Island federal district court rejected a request to prevent enforcement of a Rhode Island Department of Health Emergency Regulation that requires all healthcare workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Plaintiffs challenge the regulation’s lack of religious exemptions.
  • In Schrenger v. Shields, a Kentucky police officer filed suit in federal district court seeking damages after the Department suspended him for praying outside an abortion clinic while in uniform, but prior to the start of his shift.
  • In United States v. State of Texas, a Texas federal district court preliminarily enjoined enforcement of Texas’ “heartbeat” abortion ban stating that a person’s right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established.
  • A group of St. John’s University students is suing the University over its vaccine mandate, claiming that the requirement violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • Office of Personnel Management issued guidance to federal agencies for how to handle federal employees who are seeking a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The guidance states that the employee “must first establish that [their] refusal to be vaccinated is based upon a sincere belief that is religious in nature.”

Around the Web

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

  • In New Hope Family Services v. James, a faith-based family services agency that declines to place children for adoption with unmarried or same-sex couples, filed suit in federal district court in New York, seeking to prevent enforcement of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
  • In Crawford v. Trader Joe’s Company, a Christian employee of Trader Joe’s filed suit in federal district court in California because the company refused to provide him a religious exemption from the company’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
  • In Salesian Society v. Mayorkas, a federal district court in the District of Columbia dismissed a suit challenging requirements for special visas for religious workers.
  • In Universal Life Church Monastery v. Clark County, a Nevada federal district court allowed a church to move ahead with its equal protection challenge to the county’s refusal to allow online ministers to solemnize marriages.
  • Two non-Texas residents sued a Texas doctor for performing an abortion in violation of Texas’ “heartbeat law.”
  • The Ukrainian Parliament passed a law banning “antisemitism and its manifestations.” The law prohibits hate speech directed at Jewish people, their property, religious buildings, or communities, and allows victims to claim compensation for material and moral damage.

Around the Web

  • The Department of Justice announced that it has filed suit in a Texas federal district court to prevent the state of Texas from enforcing Texas’ “heartbeat” abortion ban.
  • In Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, et al v. Slatery, the Sixth Circuit upheld a federal judge’s decision to block a Tennessee law restricting abortion. The Tennessee law prohibited abortions once a fetal heartbeat was detected and for certain other reasons, such as a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis or the sex or race of the fetus.
  • In Chaaban v. City of Detroit, a Michigan federal court held that corrections officials who forced a Muslim woman to remove her hijab for a booking photograph after her arrest were not entitled to qualified immunity on her free exercise violation claims. 
  • In John Doe I v. Hochul, health care workers in New York are challenging the absence of religious exemptions in New York State’s mandate that all health care workers receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • In St. Michael’s Media v. City of Baltimore, a Catholic group filed suit in federal district court in Maryland against the city of Baltimore for requiring the cancellation of a scheduled prayer rally.
  • In Ramaekers v. Creighton University, four students sued Creighton University, a Jesuit-affiliated school, for denying their request to obtain religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The university currently allows students to request medical exemptions but does not allow exemptions based on religious objections.
  • India’s Supreme Court dismissed a “forced conversion” case against a Catholic priest who organized a group of theology students to sing Christmas carols.

Call for Papers: “Governments’ Legal Responses and Judicial Reactions during a Global Pandemic: Litigating Religious Freedom in the Time of COVID-19”

The Journal of Church and State has announced a call for papers on the following topic:
“Governments’ Legal Responses and Judicial Reactions during a Global Pandemic: Litigating Religious Freedom in the Time of COVID-19.”

Scholars are invited to submit paper proposals that articulate, examine, and analyze judicial reactions to governments’ responses to the pandemic in different jurisdictions. Papers are expected to use state restrictive measures, international and domestic case law and church documents to support arguments.

Proposals must be submitted by November 20th, 2021. For more information and to submit a proposal, visit this link.

Around the Web

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

  • In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block Texas’ “heartbeat” law while its constitutionality is being litigated. The “heartbeat” law bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat has been detected by a physician.
  • In Dahl v. Board of Trustees of Western Michigan University, a Michigan federal district court issued a temporary order requiring the University to grant religious exemptions from its COVID-19 vaccine requirement to four members of the women’s soccer team.
  • In Zinman v. Nova Southeastern University, a Florida federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a suit by a student against his law school challenging the COVID-19 mask mandates on religious grounds.
  • In Louden County School Board v. Cross, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the reinstatement of a teacher who had been suspended for speaking out against a school’s proposed requirement that staff use students’ chosen names and gender pronouns. The teacher had objected to the policy for religious reasons.
  • A proposed North Carolina bill would require hospitals to allow clergy to visit patients even during a declared emergency.
  • The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors authorized a $400,000 payment to settle a legal battle with Grace Community Church over the county’s ban on indoor worship.

Around the Web

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

  • In New York ex rel. James v. Griepp, the Second Circuit affirmed a New York district court’s refusal to grant a preliminary injunction against anti-abortion protesters who had clashed with volunteer clinic escorts.
  • In Resurrection School v. Hertel, a Michigan Catholic school requested an en banc hearing after the Sixth Circuit denied the school’s claim that Michigan’s mask mandate violated the school’s religious beliefs by preventing students from participating fully in their Catholic education.
  • After Washington state announced a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all employees, the Bishop of Spokane stated that conscience rights should be respected but that priests should not sign documents in support of conscience exemptions.
  • The Biden administration is reviewing a federal rule that prohibits public universities from removing funding from religious student organizations whose policies conflict with campus anti-discrimination rules.
  • Proof of COVID-19 vaccination status or a negative COVID-19 test is now required to visit some of Italy’s most famous Catholic cathedrals.
  • Under President Xi Jinping, freedom of religion in China is being restricted. Examples of the reported suppression include: requiring independent churches to join religious organizations supervised by the Chinese Communist Party, detaining Christians that criticize the government, and banning the sale of the Bible.
  • The Gujarat High Court, in Mumbai, India, granted protection to interfaith couples when it passed an interim order suspending certain provisions of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act.

Around the Web

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

  • The Fifth Circuit sitting en banc in Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton upheld a Texas law enacted in 2017 that bans abortions performed through the dilation and evacuation procedure.
  • In Separation of Hinduism From Our Schools v. Chicago Public Schools, an Illinois federal district court held that plaintiff’s amended complaint sufficiently alleged constitutional violations in a suit challenging Chicago Public Schools’ “Quiet Time Program,” which was led by a Transcendental Meditation instructor.
  • In Solid Rock Baptist Church v. Murphy, a New Jersey federal district court dismissed as moot a challenge to a COVID-19 executive order limiting the number of people who could attend an indoor religious service.
  • In Magliulo v. Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, a Louisiana federal district court issued a temporary restraining order barring a medical college from conditioning students’ enrollment on their COVID-19 vaccination status. The students had previously requested an exemption for religious reasons.
  • Over 80 members of the U.S. Congress have signed a letter objecting to the Biden administration’s decision to drop a lawsuit filed on behalf of a pro-life nurse who was forced to participate in performing an abortion procedure in violation of federal conscience laws.
  • The Justice Department announced the seizure of seventeen funeral scrolls, manuscripts, and community records that were looted from Eastern European Jewish communities during the Holocaust.
  • The archdioceses of Philadelphia, Chicago, California, and New York have instructed their clerics not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions from receiving COVID-19 vaccines stating that “there is no basis in Catholic moral teaching for rejecting vaccine mandates on religious grounds.”
  • The U.S. Treasury Department is set to release a shipment of religious tiles that were intended for a northern Virginia mosque, but were temporarily confiscated at Dulles International Airport.