Legal Spirits Episode 045: 303 Creative at SCOTUS Next Week

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear argument in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, an important case that pits free speech rights against anti-discrimination laws. A Christian web designer has challenged Colorado’s public accommodations law, arguing that the law will require her to design sites for same-sex weddings and convey messages with which she disagrees. In this episode, Marc and Mark explore several of the issues in the case, from concerns about ripeness and standing to matters of substance: free speech and compelled speech, same-sex marriage, antidiscrimination law, what distinguishes “messages” from “messengers,” and others. Listen in!

Around the Web

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

  • A petition for certiorari has been filed with the U.S Supreme Court in Arkansas Times, LP v. Waldrip (see prior posting). In the case, the Eighth Circuit sitting en banc upheld, against a free speech challenge, Arkansas’ law requiring public contracts to include a certification from the contractor that it will not boycott Israel. 
  • In Weiss v. Perez, a California federal district court allowed a tenured professor to move ahead against most of the defendants she named in a lawsuit, which alleged that the University had retaliated against her because of her opposition to repatriation of Native American remains. Professor Weiss has argued that the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act violate the Establishment Clause by favoring religion over science. Due to this belief, Weiss claims San Jose State University has interfered with her research and limited her professional activities. 
  • In In re A.C. (Minor Child), an Indiana state appeals court upheld a trial court’s order removing from the home a sixteen-year-old transgender child who suffered from an eating disorder and emotional abuse due to their parent’s unwillingness to accept the child’s transgender identity. The parents allege that they could not affirm their child’s transgender identity or use the child’s preferred pronouns because of their religious beliefs. The court rejected the parents’ Free Exercise claims.
  • The EEOC announced that it has filed a Title VII and ADA suit against Global Medical Response, Inc. and American Medical Response, Inc., which operate one of the largest medical transport companies in the country. The suit alleges that the companies refused to accommodate employees in EMT and paramedic positions who wish to wear facial hair for religious reasons. 
  • The EEOC has reached a settlement in a religious discrimination suit it had filed against a Conway, Arkansas Kroger store for failing to accommodate two employees who refused to wear the company’s apron. The employees insisted that the symbol on the apron promotes the LGBT community, which the employees’ religious beliefs preclude them from affirming. Under the settlement, Kroger will pay each employee $20,000 in back pay plus $52,000 each in additional damages. 

Around the Web

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

  • The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Singh v. Berger. In the case, the D.C. federal district court refused to grant a preliminary injunction to three Sikh Marine recruits who wanted to prevent enforcement of the Marine’s uniform and grooming policies during recruit training while their case continues to be litigated. 
  • In Hardaway v. Nigrelli, a New York federal district court issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of the provision in New York law that prohibits possession of firearms at “any place of worship or religious observation.” The suit was filed by two clergy members who allege that, as leaders of their churches, they want to carry firearms on church premises to keep the peace. The court concluded that the state restriction violates the Second Amendment. 
  • Suit was filed in a Wisconsin federal district court challenging the city of La Crosse’s ordinance prohibiting medical and mental health professionals from engaging in conversion therapy with anyone under eighteen. The complaint in Buchman v. City of Law Crosse alleges that the ban on counseling minors to change their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or behaviors violates Plaintiff’s free speech and free exercise rights. 
  • Suit was filed in a California federal district court by two California State University professors challenging the University’s inclusion of discrimination on the basis of caste in its Interim Antidiscrimination Policy adopted in January. The complaint in Kumar v. Koester alleges that the term “caste,” as used in the Interim Policy, is unconstitutionally vague and the Interim Policy violates the rights of Plaintiffs under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 
  • In a tentative decision, a California state trial court concluded that a bakery that refuses on religious grounds to furnish custom-designed cakes for same-sex weddings and instead refers customers to another bakery for such items does not violate the Unruh Civil Rights Act. In Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Cathy’s Creations, Inc., the court held that because California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act is a neutral law of general applicability, the state did not violate Defendant’s free exercise rights. 
  • In L.F. v. S.C.R.L., the Court of Justice of the European Communities held that a private company may prohibit employees from wearing all visible signs of political, philosophical, or religious belief in the workplace. This would not constitute direct discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in violation of Council Directive 2000/78 so long as the company’s policy covers any manifestation of religious, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs without distinction.  

Around the Web

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

  • In Taylor v. Nelson, the Fifth Circuit held that Texas prison authorities who confiscated a female inmate’s hijab that exceeded the size permitted by prison policies could claim qualified immunity in a suit for damages against them. The court held that Plaintiff failed to identify a clearly established right that officials violated and that reasonable officials would not have understood that enforcing the policy on hijabs was unconstitutional. 
  • The Fifth Circuit recently heard oral arguments in Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra. In the case, a Texas federal district court permanently enjoined enforcing the anti-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act and implementing regulations against Christian health care providers and health plans in a manner that would require them to perform or provide insurance coverage for gender-transition procedures or abortions. 
  • A class action Settlement Agreement was recently filed in an Illinois federal district court in Doe 1 v. NorthShore University HealthSystem. The suit was brought on behalf of approximately 523 employees who requested, but were denied, a religious exemption or accommodation from the hospital system’s COVID vaccination mandate. The hospital system will pay $10,330,500 in damages if the court approves the settlement. 
  • In Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, a Wisconsin trial court issued a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction requiring the Wisconsin prison system to allow Catholic clergy the opportunity to conduct in-person religious services in state correctional institutions. While the clergy were initially restricted due to COVID-19 concerns, the court concluded that once the prison system allowed some external visitors to enter correctional institutions, it was required to honor the clergy’s statutory privilege to do so ­– and refusal to do so violated Plaintiff’s free exercise rights under the Wisconsin Constitution. 
  • Seven clergy members in Florida have filed lawsuits contending that Florida’s 15-week abortion ban violates their free exercise, free speech, and Establishment Clause rights. 
  • France’s Constitutional Council last month, in Union of Diocesan Associations of France and othersupheld the constitutionality of several provisions of law governing religious institutions in France. The Council upheld the requirement that a religious organization must register with a governmental official in order to enjoy benefits available specifically to a religious association. The Council found that this did not infringe freedom of association and did not hinder the free exercise of religion. 

Around the Web

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

  • In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a school district violated the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses when the district disciplined a football coach for visibly praying at midfield following football games. Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch found that the coach sought to engage in private, sincerely motivated religious exercise and decided that the district could not bar this activity because of its own Establishment Clause concerns. In reaching this decision, the Court repudiated the Lemon test – which had been relied upon by the lower courts in deciding the case. 
  • In LaCroix v. Town of Fort Myers Beach, Florida, the Eleventh Circuit preliminarily enjoined a town’s ban on all portable signs. The ordinance was challenged by an individual who was cited for carrying a sign on a public sidewalk that conveyed his “religious, political and social message” that Christianity offers hope and salvation. 
  • In Apache Stronghold v. United States, the Ninth Circuit held that a proposed federal government land exchange in Arizona will not substantially burden Apache religious exercise in violation of RFRA. The court also held it will not violate the First Amendment because the Land Exchange Provision is a neutral and generally applicable law. 
  • In Halczenko v. Ascension Health, Inc., the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction that had been sought by a pediatric critical care specialist. The specialist was fired from his hospital position after he refused, on religious grounds, to comply with the hospital’s COVID vaccine mandate. The court concluded that Plaintiff had shown neither irreparable injury nor inadequate remedies through a Title VII action. 
  • In Mishler v. Mishler, a Texas state appellate court held that there is neither a state nor a federal free exercise issue with a divorce decree, based on the parties’ prior agreement that the husband would deliver certain property to the wife only upon the wife’s acceptance of a “Gett” (a Jewish divorce document that the wife must accept for the divorce to be valid under Jewish religious law). 

Have Americans Given Up on Free Speech?

At Law and Liberty today, I have a review essay on Jacob Mchangama’s new book, Free Speech. Mchangama argues that the United States, and the world generally, needs to recommit to free speech principles before it is too late. I argue that the real problem is not a failure to believe in free speech, but a lack of social trust. Here’s an excerpt:

It is a striking feature of American life in the first quarter of the 21st century that we have somehow created a culture in which everyone feels aggrieved. This is especially true when it comes to free speech. Both conservatives and progressives believe their opponents are out to silence them—not just beat them in debates and prevail against them in elections, but intimidate them, put them on mute permanently, eliminate any possibility of resistance. Many on each side see the other as not simply wrong, but ill-motivated and dangerous, an existential threat to be defeated before it is too late.

This state of affairs is more the norm in American history than we care to admit. Perhaps because we see ourselves in providential terms—“the last best hope of earth,” as Lincoln said—Americans always have been sensitive to threats our democracy faces and often have worried about enemies within spreading “disinformation.” Eras of Good Feeling occur relatively rarely. Even so, the level of recrimination just now seems quite high, and many Americans apparently believe we must silence our opponents before they succeed in silencing us.

In Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media, Jacob Mchangama maintains that a renewed commitment to free expression can help us through these perfervid times. Mchangama, a lawyer and the founder of Justitia, a human-rights organization in Denmark, has written a programmatic history that “connect[s] past speech controversies with the most pressing contemporary ones.” Today’s debates about free expression recapitulate those of long ago, he believes, and just as our ancestors did, we must defend the right to speak against those who would take it away.

To write a comprehensive history like this one is an ambitious undertaking, and Free Speech is a mixed success. Mchangama writes engagingly and has done his research. The chapters on the Internet and social media are especially good. But even at 500 pages, a history that spans thousands of years and many civilizations is bound to be a bit superficial at times. Moreover, as he himself recognizes, tolerance for others’ speech depends as much on culture as it does on law—and in today’s polarized, distrustful America, we are less and less likely to give our opponents the benefit of the doubt and let them have their say even if the law permits it.

You can read the whole essay here.

Around the Web

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

  • The U.S. Supreme Court grants cert in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. The grant of cert was limited to the question of “[w]hether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
  • In Mahoney v. United States Capitol Police Board, a clergyman challenged traffic regulations that barred demonstrations by twenty or more people at locations near the U.S. Capitol. While the D.C. federal district court rejected Plaintiff’s Free Exercise and RFRA challenges, it allowed him to move forward with his selective enforcement and free-association claims.
  • In Christian Medical & Dental Associations v. Bonta, suit was filed by an organization of Christian healthcare professionals challenging the current version of California’s End of Life Options Act (EOLA). Plaintiffs allege that changes made to EOLA last year remove previous protections and now require doctors to participate in assisted suicide in violation of their religious beliefs.
  • In Chamberlain v. Montoya, a New Hampshire federal district court dismissed the complaint after the parties agreed to settle. The settlement allows the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center to keep a Bible as part of their “Missing Man Table;” however, the organization will now also allow for the sponsorship of a generic “Book of Faith.”
  • The Missouri Religious Freedom Protection Act has won first-round approval in the Missouri House of Representatives. If enacted, the bill would prevent public officials from shutting down meetings or services held by religious groups.
  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey demands answers from the Alabama High School Athletic Association after the Oakwood Adventist Academy’s boys basketball team was forced to forfeit a semifinal game in the state tournament due to their observance of the sabbath.
  • Colombia’s highest court has voted to legalize abortion until the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy.
  • The Judicial Selection Committee of Israel has appointed the first Muslim to a permanent seat on Israel’s Supreme Court.

Around the Web

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

  • In Johnson v. Baker, the Ninth Circuit held that the Nevada prison system violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) when it banned a Muslim inmate from possessing scented oil in his cell for use during religious prayer.
  • In Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of a Roman Catholic Church that was sued by a former employee. The court held that churches and religious groups have the right to hire and supervise staff according to their beliefs and without government intrusion.
  • In Young Israel of Tampa, Inc. v. Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority, a Florida federal district court held that free speech rights of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue were violated when the local transit system refused to accept its display ad promoting its “Chanukah on Ice” event.
  • A Tennessee federal district court has set the trial date for Waldrop v. City of Johnson City, Tennessee, a suit on remand from the Sixth Circuit over two street preachers who were removed from a Pride event. The court found a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the officers removed Plaintiffs for a content-neutral or content-based reason.
  • The EEOC has announced that Tampa Bay Delivery Service, an Amazon delivery provider, has settled a religious discrimination suit brought by the EEOC on behalf of a driver who was fired after refusing Sunday shifts in order to attend church services.
  • A former government minister in Finland faces criminal charges under the country’s “war crimes and crimes against humanity” criminal code after tweeting a Bible verse. The former minister has pleaded not guilty to these charges as the trial is set to begin.

Legal Spirits Episode 039: Praying on the 50-Yard Line (Again)

In this episode, Center Co-Directors Marc DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian explore the Court’s decision last week to cert grant in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which a high school football coach challenges his employer’s decision to discipline him for praying on the field after games. The case, which we discussed in an episode three years ago when the Court denied cert at an earlier stage in the litigation, raises interesting free speech and free exercise issues. Why did the Court take the case now, and what are the arguments on either side? Listen in!

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.”